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The Civil War is raging; there’s gunfire in the air,
But farmer Charlie Anderson insists he doesn’t care.
His six sons and one daughter and one daughter-in-law too
May disagree to some extent but never follow through.
They love the stubborn patriarch, who goes to service late,
And he loves all his family, but troubles soon await.
He’s urged to join the fighting for Virginia’s stately pride,
But since this war is not his own, he stays off either side.
When Sam, a soldier, courts his only daughter nervously,
He talks with him and lets them wed, which fills the pair with glee.
As soon as they are married, Sam is called away to fight,
Which leaves his wife despondent, still arrayed in bridal white.
When Charlie’s youngest son is on a coon hunt with a friend,
They come upon Confederates, who meet a bloody end,
And since the Boy is wearing a gray cap that he had found,
The Union takes him prisoner but leaves his pal unbound.
The black friend runs to tell his pa, and Charlie is upset.
He takes five of his children on a trip they won’t forget.
They leave behind son James, his wife, and Martha, their new baby,
To watch the farm till they return with Charlie’s youngest—maybe.
The closest Union leader doubts that Charlie will succeed.
There are far too many prisoners to find one Boy in need.
The Andersons decide to stop a loaded prison train.
They locate Sam, but not the Boy, and further search in vain.
Meanwhile, Charlie’s Boy joins with Confederates who flee.
They hide a bit but soon are caught in battle suddenly.
A friend assists the wounded Boy and helps him to escape.
Back on the farm, though, James is killed and his wife suffers rape.
Still hunting for the youngest boy, the searchers hear a gun.
A sleepy soldier takes a shot and kills the eldest son.
Though Charlie is heartbroken and does not claim to forgive,
He sees the soldier is a boy and lets the young man live.
Returning home, they learn the news, but Martha’s fine and fed.
Affected by the war at last, poor Charlie mourns his dead.
He nonetheless still goes to church, where one loss is restored.
He reunites with his dear Boy, and all sing to the Lord.

Having lived in the Shenandoah Valley, I typically enjoy films set in this gorgeous region of the Appalachians, and Shenandoah doesn’t disappoint. Jimmy Stewart gives a memorable performance as Charlie Anderson, a much more angry and bitter role for him than usual. Instead of the idealism of Jefferson Smith or George Bailey, Anderson evokes vicious protectiveness, dogged determination, and stubborn values. (That last one is common to his other roles, though.) He’s definitely the star, and his masterful acting, combined with the excellent script, raises the film above most war films of the 1960s.

While most of the sons aren’t really given a personality, the three with larger roles certainly earn audience sympathy as terrible things happen to them, particularly the Boy, played by Phillip Alford (Jem from To Kill a Mockingbird). The film is also notable for introducing Rosemary Forsyth and Katharine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), who both play strong female characters. Additionally, it features Dabbs Greer (Reverend Alden) and Kevin Hagen (Doc Baker) from Little House on the Prairie, the latter of whom has a much darker role than his more familiar TV persona.

The battle scenes are well-executed and largely bloodless, though one character receives a surprising (but not gory) shot to the head. Laudably, the film unfairly demonizes neither the Confederates nor the Union, showing good and bad on both sides. Instead, it serves as a critique on war and how it affects everyone negatively, even those who want no part of it, anticipating future backlash against the Vietnam War.

Jimmy Stewart makes the film, and the intense emotions sparked by his losses, coupled with his kindly and insightful wisdom about the ways of women, make his character well-rounded and admirable. The film might have been a complete downer, but the final scene ends it on a touching high note (literally).

Best line: (Charlie, to his dead wife Martha) “I don’t even know what to say to you any more, Martha. There’s not much I can tell you about this war. It’s like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning. And the politicians who talk about the glory of it. And the old men who talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home.”

Artistry: 6
Characters/Actors: 8
Entertainment: 7
Visual Effects: 5
Originality: 6
Watchability: 6
TOTAL: 38 out of 60

Next: #232 – Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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