Monday, March 24, 2008

Civil War Movies

Over the years I have amassed a decent collection of Civil War oriented movies. These have all been, at one time or another, available on DVD.
This is not all-inclusive by any means – just what I own in my collection. Shortly after I became a Civil War living historian/reenactor, I bought anything and everything of the era – I couldn’t get enough. Well, most of what I purchased was a worthy investment. The others, well...mistakes happen.

The following is what I do have in my collection. Some are good and some are bad - I included a small review for each. I am interested in what my one or two readers think about it. Maybe send me some of your own favorites…maybe even what you consider to be the best or the worst.

Gods & Generals – One of my very favorite CW movies. It’s filled with drama as well as the great early battles of the War. Unfortunately, it does not include Antietam, which was filmed for the movie but cut from the original. Supposedly, there was talk of releasing a director’s cut which would include this and other deleted scenes, but so far nothing. The only downside to this movie is that it is very rebel-centric. It should have been more balanced.
Many reenactors do not like it because there is quite a bit of drama, but, to me, that’s what makes it real.
Gettysburg – This is right up there with Gods & Generals. The battle scenes are terrific and the feel is real. It really helps one to understand how horrifying this three-day battle actually was. The beards are obviously fake, however – one would think they would have taken more time in the make up department.
There is a director’s cut available on VHS but not DVD – go figure.

The two above films use reenactors extensively.

Ride With the Devil – This is a movie that shows what the War was like for those living in the boarder state of Missouri. Southern leaning, there are some battle scenes, but the action takes place mainly on the homefront – the personal battles between Jayhawk and Bushwack.
Violent and touching at the same time.
Friendly Persuasion – A flick from the 1950’s that only touches on the Civil War itself, but the film centers around the lives of a Quaker family and how they learned to deal with the violence that eventually surrounded them due to the War. A fine, exceptional film.
The Blue and the Gray – Made for TV in 1980, this is OK as far as a story goes. It shows a number of things that took place during the War that other films never have: brother against brother, battle tactics (use of hot air balloons), folks setting up blankets and chairs to watch some of the early battles…
Due to this being made before extensive research of the era was accomplished, there is a lot of farbiness in this flick, especially in the clothing department. I guess it’s good to watch if you’re in the mood to watch a lengthy (6 hours) light-hearted film with your wife who may not like war movies. Not for the serious CW fan.
Cold Mountain – A depressing but good movie. The short battle scene at the beginning is great – unfortunately, that’s it as far as battles go. But then, this is not a battle movie. It’s more of an adventurous love story.
The look and feel of Cold Mountain is gray and sad. It portrays the times well. Great music.
North and South – Made for TV in the early 1980’s.
Um…it’s bad. Especially the first couple of hours. No one ages – even after twenty years. Not a wrinkle. The clothing is, except for a few exceptions, not period correct. Prom clothing galore. Lots of fornication/adultery going on here as well, like every half hour or so. Lots of cleavage, too.
Why did I buy this? Because, at the time, I didn’t know any better. Why do I still own it? To throw it on when fellow reenactors are over we watch it for a good laugh.
Wicked Spring – A film made by reenactors starring reenactors. The ten minute introduction is like spying into a portal to the past. Very accurate in almost every way – clothing, buildings, scenery. The battle scene that follows is as good, if not better, than any I have ever seen. Lots of screaming and writhing with a “you are there” feel to it.
The rest of the movie is so-so. The plot is questionable and the acting is OK to fair.
But, it’s worth getting for the first 30 minutes.
Andersonville – About the Confederate prison for Union soldiers located in Georgia. Except for a battle at the beginning, the rest shows the awful life in the prison and how the prisoners plan (and attempt) an escape. A very well-done movie.
Gangs of New York – No battles but it’s based on the tough intersection of lower Manhattan during the draft riots of the early 1860’s. Graphic violence for the sake of violence.
I don’t know if I would consider this a Civil War movie per se, but it is based around the War’s effects.
The Love Letter – OK, I may be grasping at straws here but read on and tell me what you think:
A man purchases an antique desk and finds a secret compartment with letters written by a young woman from 1863 stuffed inside. He responds to the letters and sends them to this woman of the past via a historic post office. She received the letters and the two begin corresponding. There is a scene from the battle of Gettysburg inserted in the middle where this woman’s “man” is about to fight.
A romantic time-travel (in a way) Hallmark movie. That’s it in a nutshell.
Glory - (thanks for reminding me that I have this Mike!!). A super movie about the colored infantry of the 54th Mass. Volunteer Infantry. Shows marching and drilling excercises better than any other CW movie.

There are also movies such as Dances With Wolves and Into the West, which touches on the Civil War as well. However, these are very anti-whites of European descent movies. Watch them to see what I mean.
You will notice that I haven't mentioned Gone With the Wind. That's because I don't own it. We'll leave it at that.

1 comment:

Mike Gillett said...

As a ACW reenactor, I've got to pitch in my two cents. I have most of the ones you mentioned. And agree with you pretty much down the line.

I have "Red Badge of Courage"... bought for TWO reasons. One, "Civil War". Two, "Bill Mauldin" - who played the loud soldier - a cartoonist-hero of mine who had a short stint at acting.

The story is a classic. And it is a 'must-own' regardless of it flaws and foibles.

The acting is typical Post WWII - Audie Murphy stuff. There is some things laughable - the obligatory Andy Devine as a goof-ball, the farby uniforms (i.e. even my then non-reenacting and then young teenaged daughter caught the wrong brass insignia on the infantry kepis... instead of the correct hunting horn, the had what could be either the crossed cannons of artillery or the crossed sabers of the cavalry... but I swear they look like crossed rifles! Anyone?).

"Glory" is terrific.

"Gods & Generals" and "Gettysburg" both are wonderful and favorites of mine.

"The Last Confederate: the story of Robert Adams" is something I do not own (won't) and picked up at the video store. Low-budget, it is based on a true story, it is written, directed, produced, filmed and acted by some of the descendants of the Rebel Robert Adams and his Yankee girl. I am sure it would have been an entertaining story (true stories usually are), but my bride and I couldn't get pass the first few minutes. The clothing was too off (i.e. prom dress) and the language too incorrect (i.e. "Hello!"). Someone else might have a differnt take.

I love the low-budget "Wicked Spring"... and "Friendly Persuasion" is a much loved favorite. As a retired Friends pastor, it is a neat insight to the movement. And the story (written by a Friend), is terrific... great, great acting. And I love the end - with the goose and the soldier