The Red Badge of Courage Movie (1951)

The Red Badge of Courage (1951) DVD

The 1951 film The Red Badge of Courage stars Audie Murphy-the highly decorated army veteran of World War Two.  Also appearing in the film is Bill Mauldin, himself a World War Two veteran- who became famous as a cartoonist. Of particular interest to those who study Abraham Lincoln, Mauldin created the cartoon drawing commonly known as the “Weeping Lincoln” after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  It features the statue Abraham Lincoln-as known in the Lincoln Memorial- sitting with his head in his hands as if he is crying and/or in anguish.  The film is worth seeing, if only for historical interest- if nothing else, because of the presence of Audie Murphy and Bill Mauldin.

Most people are familiar with Stephen Crane’s novel from which the film is based. It’s the story of a Union soldier (Henry Fleming-as played by Murphy in the film) who initially runs from a battle in fear but later redeems himself in combat. The film was directed by the renowned John Huston and narrated by James Whitmore.  It is said that Huston wanted the movie to be his masterpiece. However, the studio shortened his work down to 78 minutes and added the narration to make it more receptive to an alleged unresponsive audience during test screenings. Personally, I don’t mind the narration. In fact, it’s probably a necessary invention because it helps the audience understand what young Fleming is struggling with in his thoughts. I also didn’t think the end result of the editing of the movie’s length made any negative impact. Some viewers think the movie is “choppy.” Judge for yourself.

The film is shot is black and white and is dramatic in shades and hues. I don’t think I would like the movie near as much if it was in “color.”  Huston also shoots the film using unusual camera angles. Sometimes, as in the case of the battle scenes, the camera shot is sweeping and panoramic. It is evident Huston was a “master.”

Unfortunately, the costume department failed in this movie. The Union uniforms are often incorrect. The kepis worn by the actors look like the kind bought at a museum gift shop for children. Some of the rifles carried by the troops also have the “toy” look. Notice that the privates are wearing the incorrect belt buckles for their rank. Notice the accoutrements are often incorrectly placed on their persons. It’s a mess, frankly. One has to get past the obvious costume errors to begin to enjoy or, at least, appreciate the movie.

That being said, the movie The Red Badge of Courage is still worth seeing. No, Audie Murphy was not a superb actor. However, he does a decent job. It’s not a great movie but to anyone with an interest in the Civil War and the associated history in the making of the film it has value. A television movie of Crane’s classic Civil War drama was released in 1974 starring Richard Thomas. It has not been marketed on DVD as yet. That production- in 1974, along with the 1951 version, are the only renderings of The Red Badge of Courage on film.

Famous Bill Mauldin cartoon of grief stricken Abraham Lincoln

 Mail this post

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply