Thursday, February 21, 2008

Gary Gallagher: Save the Aisle Seat


Gary Gallagher, prolific author and editor of American Civil War books, current University of Virginia and former Penn State University history professor, likes some movies, doesn't like others.

Glory (1989) *****
A moving depiction of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry and its colonel, Robert Gould Shaw.

Pharaoh’s Army (1995) ****½
A very satisfying small film about the impact of the war on one backwoods Kentucky family.

The General (1926; silent) ****
Buster Keaton’s masterful treatment of an 1862 incident in north Georgia.

The Red Badge of Courage (1951) ****
John Huston’s adaptation of Stephen Crane’s classic novella.

Gone With the Wind (1939) ****
The most-watched Civil War film in history, based on Margaret Mitchell’s best-selling novel.

The Andersonville Trial (1970) ***½
Directed by George C. Scott, focuses on the war crimes trial of a prisoner-of-war camp commander.

Gettysburg (1993) ***½
Ron Maxwell’s adaptation of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Killer Angels.

Ride With the Devil (2000) ***
A flawed but worthwhile examination of the vicious guerrilla war in Missouri and Kansas.

Cold Mountain (2003) *
A gripping opening quickly gives way to a remarkably silly treatment of the war in North Carolina.

Gods and Generals (2003) *
Slow-moving and confusing to anyone but Civil War buffs.


CWL and the aisle seat: CWL and Gallagher agree except for Cold Mountain, which needs to be taken on its own terms: a romance in an historical setting. Gods and Generals is hagiography and is the next best thing to actually being at the shrine to Jackson's arm and reading portions of Old Testament's Book of Psalms. CWL thinks Gallagher overrates Gone With the Wind by at least a star; it, like Cold Mountain, is a romance with an historical setting. And where is Birth of a Nation? High on my list. Of course, are we rating entertainment, storytelling, or illustrated history lessons?

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