Movies on the American Civil War: A List

Quite a long time ago I have written a post with a list on the American Indian Wars, now is finally the turn of the American Civil War. In a few weeks you can expect a list of movies on the war of Independence. Like with most of my earlier lists, I haven’t seen all of he movies and I may very well have forgotten some. Do, as always, tell me which are the ones you like best and add those I have forgotten. I still need to review Ride With the Devil, which is together with Glory my favourite. I had a hard time watching Gettysburg and really needed the subtitles. I could hardly understand the accents. Gone with the Wind is an epic I’ve seen more than once as a child. It was one of those movies that was always on TV around Christmas. I’m curious to know whether Gods and Generals and Andersonville are any good. If you have seen them, let me know.

  • The Battle of Gettysburg (US 1913) directed by Charles Giblyn, starring Willard Mack, Charles K. French, Herschel Mayall
  • Birth Of A Nation (US 1915) directed by David W. Griffith, starring Lillian Gish, Mae Marsh, Henry B. Walthall
  • The General (US 1926) directed by Buster Keaton & Clyde Bruckman, starring Buster Keaton, Marion Mack, Charles Henry Smith
  • Gone With The Wind (US 1939) directed by Victor Fleming, starring Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable, Olivia de Havilland
  • They Died with Their Boots On (US 1941) directed by Raoul Wals, starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Anthony Quinn
  • The Red Badge Of Courage (US 1951), directed by John Huston, starring Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin
  • The Great Locomotive Chase aka Andrews’ Raiders (US 1956) starring Fess Parker, Jeffrey Hunter
  • Friendly Persuasion (US 1956) directed by William Wyler, starring Gary Cooper, Dorothy McGuire, Anthony Perkins
  • The Horse Soldiers (US 1959) directed by John Ford, starring John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers
  • Major Dundee (US 1965) directed by Sam Peckinpah, starring Charlton Heston, James Coburn, Richard Harris
  • Shenandoah (US 1965) directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, starring James Stewart, Doug McClure
  • The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (US/IT/SP 1966) directed by Sergio Leone, starring Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Eli Wallach, John Bartha
  • Alvarez Kelly (US 1966) directed by Edward Dmytryk, starring William Holden, Richard Widmark, Janice Rule, Patrick O’Neal
  • The Undefeated (US 1966) directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, starring John Wayne, Rock Hudson, Antonio Aguilar
  • The Andersonville Trial (US 1970, TV) directed by George C. Scott, starring William Shatner, Cameron Mitchell
  • The Beguiled (US 1971) directed by Don Siegel, starring  Clint Eastwood, Geraldine Page, Elizabeth Hartman, Jo Ann Harris
  • The Outlaw Josey Wales (US 1976) directed by Clint Eastwood, starring Clint Eastwood, Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke
  • The Blue and the Gray (US 1982, TV mini-series) directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, starring  Stacy Keach, Lloyd Bridges, John Hammond, Rip Torn, Warren Oates, Gregory Peck
  • North and South (US 1985–1986 mini-series)  starring Patrick Swayze, James Read, Kirstie Alley
  • Glory (US 1989) directed by Edward Zwick, starring Matthew Broderick, Cary Elwes, Morgan Freeman, Denzel Washington
  • Dances with Wolves (US 1990) directed by Kevin Costner, starring Kevin Costner, Mary McDonnel, Graham Greene
  • Ironclads (US 1991, TV) directed by Delbert Mann, starring Virginia Madsen, Alex Hyde-White, Reed Diamond, Philip Casnoff
  • Gettysburg (US 1993) directed by F. Maxwell, starring Tom Berenger, Jeff Daniels, Martin Sheen, Stephen Lang
  • Heaven & Hell: North & South, Book III (US 1994 TV mini-series) directed by Larry Peerce, starring Philip Casnoff, Kyle Chandler, Terri Garber, Lesley-Anne Down, Jonathan Frakes, Genie Francis, Terri Garber, Mariette Hartley
  • Andersonville (US 1996, TV) directed by John Frankenheimer, starring Jarrod Emick, Frederic Forrest, Ted Marcoux
  • The Hunley (US 1997, TV) directed by John Gray, starring Armand Assante, Donald Sutherland
  • Ride with the Devil (US 1999) directed by Ang Lee, starring Tobey Maguire, Skeet Ulrich, James Caviezel
  • Gods and Generals (US 2003) directed by Ronald F. Maxwell, starring Stephen Lang, Robert Duvall, Jeff Daniels
  • Cold Mountain (US 2003) directed by Anthony Minghella, starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Natalie Portman
  • The Battle of Gettysburg (US 2008, TV) directed by Michael S. Ojeda, starring Allen Brenner, Michael L. Colosimo

Something which really surprised me when I linked the titles to the IMDb page was the fact that none of these movies has a rating which is lower than 7+. That’s quite amazing. Most movies are rated 7.5 – 8.2. Usually when I compile such lists I have quite a few with 5* ratings. Are they really all that good or were some die-hard Civil War fans voting?

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Courage Under Fire (1996)

I have seen at least six of Edward Zwick’s movies (Glory, Legends of the Fall, Last SamuraiBlood Diamond and Defiance) and was only disappointed once when I watched Defiance. Courage Under Fire may not be the best but I still liked watching and re-watching it. For one it’s one of the very rare war movies with a female main character but it also tells a suspenseful and quite complex story. It may not be anti-war as such but manages to make us understand a few things. Last but not least I tend to watch every movie with Denzel Washington. Zwick has worked with him before, notably in Glory which is one of the most outstanding war movies you can watch.

Colonel Sterling (Denzel Washington) is asked to investigate whether chopper pilot K. Walden (Meg Ryan) who was killed in action was worthy of a medal of honour. The assignment is Sterling’s second chance, an opportunity to rehabilitate himself. Ever since he came back from Iraq where he took part in Desert Storm, he has changed. He is drinking, withdrawn and slowly unraveling. He cannot forgive himself that due to his order a friendly tank was blown up. Far less can he accept that the event is not called what it was and that he had to lie to the parents of one of the crew and tell them their son died as a hero under enemy fire.

As a first step in the investigation of officer Walden’s worthiness he questions the crew her chopper came to rescue before it was shot down. The men tell what they heard, they didn’t see a lot. Walden’s huey and her crew went down between those they came to rescue and the enemy. They took all of the fire during the night and in the early morning.  The men remember having heard a M16 until just before both parties were rescued by another chopper.

At this point in time, Sterling doesn’t know that Walden is not only a heroic soldier but that Walden is a woman and would be the first woman to ever receive a medal of honour. After having questioned the rescued crew he has to interrogate Walden’s crew members one by one. Her co-pilot is in a wheel chair, he was seriously wounded and cannot remember what happened on the ground. Ilario the medic (Matt Damon), parises Karen and her decision making but Monfriez (Lou Diamond Phillips), an angry, aggressive soldier, tells him that Walden was a coward.

The whole story is revealed layer by layer and in flash backs. We see what happened from different points of view and after a while it is clear someone is lying. It will be Sterling’s duty to find out whether she was a coward as some say or a hero deserving of the highest decoration.

The movie interweaves two stories, the investigation of Karen Walden and Sterling’s fight to come to terms with what happened in Iraq.

I liked the way the movie showed how different points of view change a story, how there may be more than one truth. Despite the fact that some of her crew lied, they still all saw different aspects of how it happened. It’s not a court-room drama but it has elements of it and is quite suspenseful.

One of the main topics however is women in the military. When Sterling hears that the medal of honour is destined for a woman we see that he has a problem. The idea is so new and strange to him that he has a hard time to absorb it at first. On the other hand, because the medal is destined for a woman, his superiors hope this is an opportunity to get as much positive media coverage as possible and would give it to her whether she deserved it or not.

The actors are good but that is to a large extent due to the characters. They are all interesting, very well-developed characters. What I liked a lot is the way the movie is structured. The changing between action- and dialogue sequences and more introspective moments. It’s a very balanced movie. The message is another story. It’s not an anti-war film. It is about people who love being in the military, who find the life as a soldier or pilot the most fascinating there is. People who put duty and honor before their family but still struggle to find a balance.

I think it’s very well done, entertaining and certainly a must for all the Denzel Washington, Meg Ryan and Matt Damon fans and those who appreciate the solid work of Edward Zwick.

Here are some of my reviews of other movies by Edward Zwick

Glory

Last Samurai

Defiance

Glory (1989) A Tale of the American Civil War

When I first watched Glory it made my Top 10. Many movies later and after having seen it for the second time, it doesn’t make the Top 10 anymore but it is still one of the very best war movies ever. I would even argue it’s flawless. The acting is superior, cinematography is beautiful, score is great, themes are interesting. I suppose it’s accurate as well. It’s a 5/5 movie but… for me to really like or rather love a movie it needs to have something more than perfection, something like complexity. I decidedly have no problem with Matthew Broderick but I’m not very familiar with him. Some people criticized this choice because they saw him in other movies and thought he was too young at the time.

The movie tells the story of the 54th all black Union regiment led by Col Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick). This is the first all black regiment ever. The whole regiment is composed of volunteers who are eager to join, train and eventually fight. It’s not easy to train these men, many of them are former slaves, runaways, analphabets and all in all an unwieldy bunch. Especially Private Trip (Denzel Washington) isn’t one who easily takes no for an answer. If Shaw wasn’t such a truly humane, kind and just leader and if he hadn’t the support of his friend Major Forbes and the ever so wise older soldier Rawlins (Morgan Freeman) maybe the whole enterprise would have been a failure. Luckily it isn’t or we wouldn’t have this highly watchable movie in which people can be seen how they overcome the worst adversity.

Shaw has to fight hard to earn recognition and justice for his men. They are lacking everything, shoes, uniforms, weapons and when finally they get their equipment and have undergone a successful training they lack the opportunity to show that they are worthy soldiers.

There are a lot of infuriating scenes in this movie, after all it deals with racism. Racism has many faces but at the end of the day, whatever face it has, it’s an ugly one.

It’s uplifting to see the suppressed overcome obstacles and all the more because it’s a true story. Glory is based on the letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (you can find them here Blue-Eyed Child of Fortune: The Civil War Letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw)

I haven’t seen many Civil War movies, I think only three so far. While I had a hard time to follow Gettysburg, I thoroughly enjoyed this one but the one I prefer is Ride with the Devil.

How about you? Any preferences?

My Top 10 Favourite War Movies – Revisited

I re-watched Glory the other day and while I still think it’s a very good movie, I don’t think it deserves to be in my Top 10 nor will it end up in my Top 20. Top 50 certainly. This made me think that it’s about time to revisit my Top 10. I had to replace Glory and I also decided to get rid of Band of Brothers. It is excellent, absolutely deserving of being watched and re-watched but it’s a mini-series and not a movie.

So here is the list which will probably change again, sooner or later.

Black Hawk Down

Stalingrad

Platoon

When Trumpets Fade

The Thin Red Line

Gallipoli

Joyeux Noel

Hamburger Hill

Cross of Iron

The Army of Crime

Two movies were almost included Days of Glory and Das Boot.

I’m in the process of re-watching and while I know that Black Hawk Down, Stalingrad, Hamburger Hill, Platoon and The Thin Red Line will stay on the list, I’m not a 100% sure about the others.

Which movies would have to be on your Top 10?

African American Soldiers in War Movies

It is a fact that until recently African American actors were almost nonexistent in war movies. This is quite unfair since they were also fighting for their country. Even though they are not omnipresent in today´s war movies, they seem to get a fairer share.

The makers of Generation Kill faced quite some questioning as to the reasons why there was no African American cast in the series. As fishy as this may have seemed initially there was a very good explanation for this. Generation Kill is based on the true story of the First Recon Company, a highly specialized troop, in which there were actually no African American soldiers, or only one, as we can deduce from the group photo in Evan Wright´s book.

The questioning however was very justified since there is really no war movie on contemporary conflict in which there are no African American actors. Be it Battle for Haditha, Redacted, The Hurt Locker, Stop-Loss, Home of the Brave and many more. There are always African American actors and this is highly justified since many of the troops are of said origin.

How does the situation look regarding other wars? For example Vietnam? When it comes to combat movies – with the exception of We Were Soldiers – black soldiers are very often present. The best example is certainly Hamburger Hill that has a big African American cast. But they are not absent from Platoon or Full Metal Jacket either. Now what about We Were Soldiers? I honestly don´t know. Since it is based on a true story it might be possible that there were no African American soldiers in that company. If anyone knows the reason, tell me please.

WWII is another story altogether. Looking at the massive production of WWII movies it is incredible how absent African American actors are. Sure there are a few exceptions. A Soldier’s Story that I reviewed a while back is a good example. And then we have the Tuskegee Airmen based on the true story of the African-American 332nd Fighter Group of the Army Aircorps (see my movie review). This fine movie illustrates how unjustified the belief was that Blacks were not capable of flying modern fighters. But apart from these two examples? And what about Flags of our Fathers? It´sad to say that there were 900 black troops participating in the battle of Iwo Jima but not one of them is represented in Eastwood´s movie. He has been questioned many times and asked to clarify but he did not reply. This infuriated many people, among them the film director Spike Lee. I think his Miracle at St. Anna might be a direct response to Eastwood´s omission. It is actually incredible but the absence of African American actors in Flags of our Fathers makes Pearl Harbor look good in comparison. At least  Cuba Gooding Jr had quite an important role. Spike Lee´s just mentioned Miracle at St. Anna focuses on the 92nd Infantry Division that fought in Italy. This division was the result of the segregation of the times. It was a purely African-American division, also called Buffalo soldiers  (I must admit that I have not seen Miracle at St. Anna but read many reviews that did NOT appreciate it). I think we are still waiting for a truly good depiction of African American participation in WWII.

And WWI? I am lost. Have no clue if there ever was  a WWI movie with African Americans in it.

Let´s rewind some more: The Civil War. And yes here we finally find an outstanding movie with a largely African American cast. One of my Top 10. Yes, I am talking about Glory. If you haven´t seen it yet, watch it.

Looking at the whole picture again we can say, it is getting somewhat better, but a contemporary movie, based on a conflict younger than the civil war, with an African American main actor is still outstanding. Now, don´t mention Hotel Rwanda (Don Cheadle was actually also in Hamburger Hill). Although it is an impressive movie  there was really no chosing a white main actor. Not even Clint Eastwood would have had the insipidity to do so.