HTF REVIEW: "The Red Badge of Courage" (with screenshots)

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Ronald Epstein, Feb 2, 2003.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Founder

    Jul 3, 1997
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    Ronald Epstein

    The Red Badge of Courage

    Studio: Warner Bros. (MGM)
    Year: 1951
    Rated: NR
    Film Length: 69 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Full Frame (1.33:1)
    Subtitles: English, French and Spanish

    In preparing myself to review The Red Badge of
    , I did a bit of background research on
    the initial release of John Huston's directed film
    adaptation of the famous Steven Crane novel. What
    I was shocked to find was the huge amount of
    controversy that surrounded this film at the time
    of its release. The year was 1951, the height of
    the McCarthy era, and there was a movement in this
    country against anti-war films. When Huston left
    production immediately after its completion to fly
    overseas to make The African Queen, MGM studio
    chiefs began cutting away at the film, removing
    much of the director's questioning of the necessity
    of warfare and adding narration by James Whitmore.
    They reduced the film to a mere running time of 69
    minutes and showed it as a secondary feature. In
    the 1970s an attempt was made to revive the uncut
    version, but to best of knowledge, a print of the
    original cut no longer existed.

    The Red Badge of Courage is taken from
    Stephen Crane's story of the American Civil War.
    What is most interesting is that this American Civil
    War novel was written by someone too young to have
    seen action. In fact, Crane admits he never did
    go into battle, but it still did not prevent him
    from writing intuitively about a heredity instinct.

    Set in the spring of 1862, a group of green Union
    recruits find themselves standing on the outskirts
    of the Civil War, practicing drills day in and day
    out. These men grow restless waiting for the orders
    that will take him into battle. When the orders
    finally arrive, the entire company begins cheering
    as if going into battle was the greatest thing that
    ever could happen to them. They begin to boast
    amongst each other about what they would do when
    under fire for the first time, promising to give
    the rebs a "good licking."


    Then there's Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy), a young
    man who has a different opinion of marching off to
    war as he struggles between wanting to fight and
    doubting his own courage. One thing is for sure, he
    secretly hates the men who seem unconcerned by the
    future. When he finally marches onto the battlefield
    and senses the pending doom, he panics and runs off.
    Wandering alone in the wilderness he does his best
    to convince himself that anyone smart enough to
    see the inevitable outcome would have done the same
    deed. Along a road he comes across a group of
    injured, insane and deserting soldiers who make
    him realize the atrocities of war. When news
    reaches him that his regiment had actually held
    back the Confederate assault, he begins cursing
    himself for his poor luck.


    The next day he rejoins his regiment who are again
    marching into battle. This time, however, Henry
    feels the monster of war come upon him, as he and
    his buddy Tom Wilson (cartoonist and WWII veteran
    Bill Mauldin) forge to the front lines with flag in
    hand, leading their comrades to victory. By the
    time it's all over, the soldier realizes that the
    real experience of warfare is that one cannot
    predict the circumstances that will make him run
    or stand and fight.

    John Huston paints a very impersonal picture of war
    that is often bleached out by smoke and shadowy
    images making the enemy seem like a mysterious
    entity. These are the most powerful moments of the
    film that successfully create an intense mood,
    properly conveying the fear and struggle of battle.

    How is the transfer?

    I have been increasingly impressed by the respect
    that Warner Bros. continues to give their library
    of classic B&W releases. Despite the fact that
    many of the original elements of these releases are
    in decayed condition, the studio manages to restore
    these films to nearly pristine condition.

    I am uncertain whether The Red Badge of Courage
    went under any extensive restoration, but the
    overall quality of this release can only be described
    as excellent. Most prominent here is a remarkably
    clean print that shows very little sign of age.
    I'll be darned if anyone can find a substantial
    amount of blemish or dirt anywhere on this print.
    Overall image quality is quite good, though contrast
    levels are a little uneven throughout with some
    scenes looking overly brighter than others. I doubt
    anyone will be disappointed with this transfer.


    The Dolby Digital mono soundtrack begins to sound
    a bit scratchy as you add volume, but overall, sound
    comes across very clearly without any background

    Special Features


    Alas, the extras are quite minimal here. In
    addition to the film's original theatrical
    there is the standard cast and crew
    page without the ability to click on any name for
    further information.

    It's almost a wonder that there isn't a sort of
    AMC True Hollywood Story included here to
    give some background on MGM's attempt to cut the
    film as they deemed fit, removed much of the
    director's questioning of the necessity for warfare.

    Final Thoughts

    The release of The Red Badge of Courage
    couldn't come at a better moment in our history.
    As we find ourselves on the brink of yet another
    war, this film's powerful message is now more
    relevant than ever.

    Be sure to give this film a watch!

    Release Date: February 4, 2003

    All screen captures have been further compressed.
    They are for illustrative purposes only and do not
    represent actual picture quality
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator

    Dec 9, 1998
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    I echo everything that Ron has to say about this dvd release. I was very pleased with the dvd transfer, however, I wish additional material was provided, particularly about the film cuts which kind of mirrors what happen with Orson Welles and "The Magnificent Ambersons".

  3. Agee Bassett

    Agee Bassett Supporting Actor

    Feb 13, 2001
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    Excellent review, Ron. [​IMG]

    For those interested in more of the backstory on this title, Lillian Ross' fascinating chronicle of the making-cum-butchering-cum-release of The Red Badge of Courage is one of the finest of its kind ever written, and absolutely essential reading. All the more remarkable is the fact that this wry, knowing portrait of the personal and political vicissitudes which went into the making of the film we now know was published in 1952.

    If not a masterpiece, what we are left with is a superb, if flawed, specimen of good old-fashioned Hollywood expertise, yoked with, and invigorated by, that trademark maverick John Huston spirit. Quickening the spectacular staging, rousing Bronislau Kaper score, and excellent lead performance by Audie Murphy, is some interesting Huston experimentation in non-professional casting and high-contrast, deep-focus cinematography (courtesy of visual wizard Harold Rosson). Required ownership for every serious cineaste. [​IMG]
  4. Jeff_A

    Jeff_A Screenwriter

    Mar 6, 2001
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    This is a must purchase. Thanks for the great review, Ron. [​IMG]

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