Some Fine Civil War Films
Mr Peter G George | Ellon, Aberdeenshire United Kingdom | 05/21/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The three films included on this DVD provide the modern viewer with an astonishing link to the Civil War period. This is not least because actual Civil War veterans would have seen them. It is easy to imagine these old men going into the theatres of the time and being reminded of what happened to them fifty years previously. These films would have recalled to them their youths `touched by fire', in a similar fashion to the way a film like Saving Private Ryan brought back memories for WWII veterans. Somehow when watching these silent re-enactments of the Civil War, that period seems less remote. This DVD collection includes two short films and one feature. The two shorts, The Drummer of the 8th and Granddad were directed by Thomas Ince, while the feature length The Coward was written and produced by Ince and directed by Reginald Barker. The two short films, each lasting just under half an hour, are wonderful. This is partly because they look absolutely stunning. I have never seen prints from 1913 look this good. There is almost no print damage and the colour-tinted images are clear, sharp and vivid. But it is not just the prints which make these two films so enjoyable. The Drummer of the 8th is a moving story full of action which says something about the futility of heroism. Granddad, on the other hand, is a film about how difficult it is for veterans to fit into a later world and shows how the Civil War had moments of self-sacrifice and altruism as well as carnage. The story of The Coward is also impressive and Charles Ray, as a man doubting his courage, gives a subtle performance, showing the fear that so many young men must have faced. Frank Keenan plays the domineering, stern father who forces Ray to fight. Keenan ably portrays the pride and sense of honour that his character feels and his outrage that his son appears to be a coward. The Coward unfortunately has not survived in as pristine a condition as the two short films. Throughout the film scratches and lines mark the image and there are apparently some frames missing as the action occasionally jumps forward rather abruptly. Also there are some brief scenes where a print from an inferior source has been used to fill in gaps in the main print. Nevertheless this tinted print on the whole looks fairly good. It may have damage but the images are always clear and it is possible to see the detail on the expressions of the actors. The film remains enjoyable and perfectly watchable. All three films on this DVD are accompanied by music scores mainly consisting of Civil War era music. One interesting exception is when Verdi's `Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves' is played to accompany a slave serving at the dinner table. This works well as a comment on the action. The films on this DVD are essential for silent film fans and for anyone interested in the Civil War period."
For silent film lovers
J. L. Gomer | Marysville, CA United States | 03/12/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Mr. George's review is excellent and comprehensive. The pace of The Coward is a little slower and the acting more stagey than in the shorter films, but I thoroughly enjoyed all three of these films and found them interesting, with well-filmed battle sequences for the period. Charles Ray, who plays the title role in The Coward, had a long silent film career. To appreciate the range of his roles, try The Busher (included in the Kino DVD "Reel Baseball") and The Garden of Eden, one of the best comedies of the silent era."