The sesquicentennial (150th) of the Battle of Antietam was celebrated on Sept 17. That battle has been called the “bloodiest day” in American history. Which raises the question: Has the Civil War, the most important conflict in American history, been neglected by Hollywood in favor of Westerns, World War II and Vietnam War films? This week the List looks at some noted Civil War films made over the years.
- 15. “Cold Mountain” (2003) — In this Civil War epic, Jude Law plays a Confederate soldier who goes absent without leave from a military hospital in Richmond in the closing months of 1864. He’s heading for home on the mountains of far western North Carolina, where he hopes to find a transplanted Charleston, S.C., belle, Ada Monroe, played by Nicole Kidman. A strange and haunting film.
- 14. “The Horse Soldiers” (1959) — Directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne and William Holden, this film is based on the true story of Col. Benjamin H. Grierson and the Battle of Newton Station. A Union Cavalry outfit is sent behind Confederate lines to destroy a railroad supply depot. The plan for the mission is overheard by a Southern belle who must be taken along to assure her silence.
- 13. “Gods and Generals” (2003) — This is a prequel to “Gettysburg” and the second film in a Civil War trilogy produced by Ted Turner and written and directed by Ronald F. Maxwell. Robert Duvall replaced Martin Sheen as Gen. Robert E. Lee. It is one of the few films that depict Stonewall Jackson in any detail. The film ran a little long — three hours, 49 minutes — and was panned by critics.
- 12. “The Outlaw Josey Wales” (1976) — In this movie, directed by Clint Eastwood, Mr. Eastwood plays Josey Wales, a pacifist Missouri farmer who joins a band of Confederate guerrillas after his house is burned and his family is killed by a group of “redlegs,” a group of Kansas militants loosely affiliated with the Union. Rather than surrender to Union authorities at the end of the war, Wales flees to Texas to make a new life for himself. On his journey to Texas, he encounters war refugees, Indians, bounty hunters and carpetbaggers while being pursued by a cadre of Union soldiers with orders to bring him in.
- 11. “Shenandoah” (1965) — Jimmy Stewart plays a Lincolnesque widower from Virginia who is adamant about keeping his sons out of the Civil War. He believes in America, not the North and South, and although the battles are practically at his front door, he wants none of it. A gem of a film.
- 10. “The Beguiled” (made in 1970, released in 1971) — In one of his five collaborations with veteran director Don Siegel, Clint Eastwood portrays a wounded Union soldier who is discovered and nursed back to health by members of an all-girl boarding school in Louisiana during the closing days of the Civil War. While the headmistress disapproves of him and wants to turn him over to the Confederate authorities, the staff and the students are reluctant to do so, as they don’t mind having a man around, even if he is a Yankee. As Mr. Eastwood begins to convalesce, he charms and eventually has secretive romantic encounters with several of the women. When they eventually discover what he is up to, they slowly and diabolically take their revenge on him.
- 9. “Andersonville” (1996) — Director John Frankenheimer’s excellent piece of television focuses on the most notorious Confederate prisoner-of-war camp in the American Civil War. The Andersonville camp operated from February 1864 until April 1865, when the Confederacy collapsed. More than 40,000 Union soldiers, overwhelmingly enlisted, passed through the camp designed for 8,500, with a peak population of more than 30,000 on a miserable 16 acres. The two-part movie aired on TNT and won Frankenheimer an Emmy.
- 8. “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (1966) — In this movie, set against the backdrop of the Civil War in the American Southwest, three men — Clint Eastwood, “the good”; Lee Van Cleef, “the bad”; and Eli Wallach, “the ugly” — search for $200,000 in buried Confederate gold. The true carnage of the Civil War can be seen throughout this epic film, from the depiction of life in a Union prisoner-of-war camp to the battle for control of a bridge, to the last puff on a cigar by a dying soldier.
- 7. “Gettysburg” (1993) — An exceptionally long (248 minutes) but stirring and memorable version of “The Killer Angels,” the 1974 Pulitzer Prize novel by Michael Shaara. The famous Civil War battle is depicted with admirable immediacy and eloquence. Jeff Daniels stars as Union Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Martin Sheen plays Gen. Robert E. Lee, Tom Berenger portrays Confederate Lt. Gen. James Longstreet, and Stephen Lang is brilliant as Maj. Gen. George Pickett.
- 6. “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” or “La Riviere du Hibou” (1962) — This French film is an adaptation of Ambrose Bierce’s short Civil War story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Peyton Farquhar is a Confederate sympathizer who is about to be hung on a North Alabama railroad bridge. The rope breaks, and he lands in the river. Dodging bullets, he swims to shore and begins to make his way home. While the journey is arduous, thoughts of his wife enable him to keep going. This film, with relatively little dialogue, jolts its audience in the climactic scene where Farquhar arrives at his plantation and is about to embrace his wife.
- 5. “The Red Badge of Courage” (1951) — Audie Murphy, a hero from World War II, plays Pvt. Henry Fleming in this film, directed by John Huston and based on Stephen Crane’s classic book of the same name. Fleming is a Union soldier sent into battle for the first time. He is unprepared for the fight, but by the time battle breaks out, he finds his endurance and courage tested.
- 4. “Birth of a Nation” (1915) — A provocative and opportunistic film by D.W. Griffith, sometimes known as the “father of film.” This silent film ran nearly three hours, portraying the saga of the Civil War and Reconstruction with remarkable scenes of the war. The film negatively portrayed blacks in the South and made heroes of the Ku Klux Klansmen.
- 3. “Gone With the Wind” (1939) — This classic film is based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling historical romance about human survival in wartime. Clark Gable is the indispensable Rhett Butler in pursuit of the headstrong and selfish Scarlett O’Hara, a Georgia belle played by Vivien Leigh. It’s a great film, but there are no Civil War battle scenes.
- 2. “Glory” (1989) — This sensational and haunting achievement chronicles the formation and sacrifice of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment, the first volunteer black infantry unit organized by the Union Army during the Civil War. The film stars Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman and Denzel Washington, and the depiction of the impregnable artillery battery of Fort Wagner is spectacular.
- 1. “The General” (1926) — An epic re-enactment of the Civil War is the backdrop to Buster Keaton’s immortal silent comedy and one of the great comedy chase films ever made. Keaton plays the heroic engineer Johnnie Gray, employed on the Western & Atlantic Flyer in Georgia as the Civil War begins. Johnnie is pursuing his beloved locomotive, “The General,” after it is stolen by Union agents who exploit it as a moving platform for sabotage.
Compiled by John Haydon and John Sopko
Sources: The Washington Times, Wikipedia and IMDb
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.