Monday, October 17, 2011

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? Shenandoah


      “Shenandoah” is a war movie set in the Civil War starring James Stewart. It is set in the Shenandoah Valley and centers on the Anderson family with their patriarch Charlie (Stewart). They own a 500 acre farm and although they are Virginians they don’t own slaves and are not secessionists. Charlie growls “this war is not mine and I take no note of it.” Since Charlie is a dictator, he is preventing his sons from going off and having fun as soldiers. What a party pooper! Luckily, they live in a part of the South that was little touched by the war – the Shenandoah Valley.  (For those of you who don't get that snark, the Shenandoah Valley saw more action than any other area by far.)

      This idyllic life comes to an end when the war hits home. When a Confederate unit arrives “recruiting”, Pa turns them down and they are subsequently ambushed and wiped out. Not their problem. Later, a comical G-rated Hollywood fight breaks out when government agents try to confiscate some of their horses. A connection to the war is established when the Anderson daughter marries a Confederate officer named Sam (Doug McClure) who is called away right after the wedding. Things get worse when the youngest son, simply called "the Boy" (Phillip Alford), is captured by a Union patrol because he is caught wearing a Rebel cap. His best friend, a black kid named Gabriel (Eugene Jackson), ends up in the Union army.

     Pa and all the family except his married son and his daughter-in-law go searching for the Boy. They block the tracks to stop a train carrying prisoners. They free all the prisoners, but no Boy. Instead, guess who’s on board – Sam! Meanwhile, Boy escapes and joins a Rebel unit. He participates in a battle that must not have involved any reenactors based on the lack of authenticity. The ridiculous combat features soldiers loading their muskets with powder horns! Boy is wounded, but rescued by Gabriel who is fighting in an integrated unit. Too bad their were none in the Union Army.

     While the family is away, tragedy strikes back home when marauders kill James (Patrick Wayne) and his wife Ann (Katherine Ross). The movie has now grown as dark as Charlie’s mood. Another son is killed by a jittery sentry. Pa almost strangles him, but decides to leave it at a sermon demanding the soldier suffer mentally for the rest of his life. It looks like the quest is futile and they return home. An unhappy ending is avoided when the Boy appears at the back of the church on crutches during mass.

     This movie is like a tragic episode of “Bonanza” and has the same production values. It looks like a made-for-TV movie. The cast, other than Stewart, are second bananas (McClure and Ross were early in their careers). Stewart dominates as the crusty Charlie Anderson. You would not want to be that cigar he chomps on throughout the movie. This is all comparative because Stewart does not give one of his better performances.

      The movie is cheesy. The dialogue is corny. The situations are unrealistic. The Shenandoah Valley shows little of the devastation that was wreaked there. The action is ridiculous. There is one scene where Confederates hiding in trees ambush a Yankee unit. Their bullets cause wagons to explode! I hope those explosions were not the reason the movie was nominated for an Oscar for Best Sound. That’s right – this movie was nominated for an Academy Award! Oh, by the way, some people saw some analogies to the Vietnam War in this movie. Those hippies need to stop seeing what they want to see.

Classic or Antique? Dusty, old antique.

RATING - 5/10


  1. Now that's a movie you treated unkindly. Lol.
    I haven't seen it but I have a feeling I wasn't missing out.
    Which is your favourite Civil War movie? Gettysburg?

  2. the war movie buffOctober 19, 2011 at 9:48 PM

    My favorite is "Glory". Possibly the best war movie ever made.

  3. Love the blog. I also teach history. This used to be a favorite when I was young but now it seems dated and melodramatic.
    But I laughed when you called the church service mass. Protestants wouldn't call it mass, just worship or church service

  4. Glad you like it. I had the same nostalgic feelings toward the movie. Sometimes it is best not to revisit childhood favorites. As to the mass miss, we Catholics don't really care about what heretics are doing lol.


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