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Film / Shenandoah

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"There's nothing much I can tell you about this war. It's like all wars, I suppose. The undertakers are winning it. Oh, the politicians will talk a lot about the 'glory' of it, and the old men will talk about the 'need' of it. The soldiers, they just want to go home."
Charlie Anderson

A 1965 American historical anti-war drama film directed by Andrew V. McLaglen and starring James Stewart, whose personal anti-war stance played a large part in the movie's existence. The supporting cast includes Doug McClure, Glenn Corbett, Patrick Wayne, Rosemary Forsyth, Katharine Ross, and Phillip Alford.

Widowed farmer Charlie Anderson (Stewart) is living in Virginia with his children when the American Civil War breaks out. Anderson wants nothing to do with the war and does his best to keep his family out of it despite the Confederate Army trying to recruit his sons and his daughter Jennie being married to a Confederate officer named Sam.

However, when his youngest son is taken by Union forces who mistake him for a Confederate soldier, Anderson decides it is now "his war". He, his other sons (except the eldest, James, who stays behind with his wife Ann and their infant daughter Martha), and Jennie set out to save the boy. Before the film is over, the Anderson family will find itself drastically reduced.

Later adapted into a 1975 Broadway musical starring John Cullum (who took home a Best Actor Tony for his performance).

Includes Examples of:

  • Anyone Can Die: James, Ann, Jacob are all doomed main characters
  • Bittersweet Ending: The boy returns home, but the Anderson family has lost three members to the Civil War despite their best attempts to stay out of it.
  • Book Ends: Near the beginning, they go to church. At the end, the boy returns during a church service.
  • Break the Haughty: While Charlie is a highly sympathetic Papa Wolf who refuses to support slavery, he can come across as rather arrogant early on and sad and deflated in the final scenes. His daily prayer to God is a rather condescending speech that he made his farm such a success without owing it to anyone else, but tradition says to thank God anyway. Charlie also expects to be able to browbeat government officials from both sides. At the end of the movie, three members of his family have died under tragic circumstances, something which visibly ages him.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: Sam's proposal goes slowly and nervously.
  • Ceiling Cling: Several escaped Confederate POWs successfully hide from a Union patrol in the rafters of a covered bridge.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Boy finds a Confederate hat at the start of the film. This becomes very important later, when it gets him captured.
  • Child Soldiers: Gabriel and the Boy are teenagers who end up fighting in the war.
  • Contrived Coincidence: The train hijacked by the Anderson happens to be the prisoner of war transport Sam is on.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: A Dangerous Deserter arrives on the farm and impales James with a sword seconds after James generously tells him he's welcome to all the water he can drink and carry.
  • Happily Married: Charlie and Martha both "liked" and "loved" each other deeply until she died; James and Ann, until they die.
  • No Name Given: "Boy" is never called anything else. His name isn't even given in the credits.
  • Karma Houdini: The three men who murder James and rape and murder Ann are apparently never caught.
  • Noble Confederate Soldier: Downplayed. Many of the individual Confederate soldiers (especially Boy's friend Carter and Jennie's fiancé Sam) are highly sympathetic characters who just want to survive the war (the only explicitly racist character is Gabriel's owner, a civilian) and some of them are conscripts who don't have a choice about fighting. The only completely villainous Confederate soldiers in the movie are deserters. However, Charlie emphasizes to his sons in an early scene that fighting for the CSA boils down to fighting to preserve slavery, and none of the Confederates try to claim that they're fighting for states' rights.
  • The Patriarch: Charlie Anderson has seven children and one daughter-in-law in his household and imparts a lot of wisdom and authority to them about some things, while behaving detachedly about others. His main goal and focus is to keep his entire family out of the war. When push comes to shove, he's quite the Papa Wolf while rarely ever raising his voice.
  • Politically Correct History: Averted, notably for its time, as neither side in the conflict is portrayed particularly flatteringly. A few scenes remind the audience that the primary purpose of the Confederacy is to keep slavery alive and that they take young men and livestock for a losing war effort while being reluctant to take no for an answer. On the other hand, several prominent Union characters keep their prisoners in horrible circumstances and don't show much sympathy for neutral civilians.
    • Played straight with the portrayal of African-American Union soldiers, who fight alongside white soldiers instead of being in segregated regiments like in real life.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Ann acts like a demure, well-dressed wife and mother for the most part, but when Tomboy Jennie fires a warning shot at several horse thieves, Ann is standing behind her, with a second rifle ready. Unfortunately, she doesn't have that gun handy when a trio of Dangerous Deserters show up.
  • Talking to the Dead: Charlie often visits his wife's grave and goes into monologues.
  • Team Mom: Ann does most of the housework for the family, has some Silk Hiding Steel scenes and is a source of good advice and moral support.
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Charlie's mission to rescue his youngest son from captivity fails and indirectly gets three other family members killed, while the boy ends up escaping and getting home on his own. However, the whole affair isn't quite a Shoot the Shaggy Dog tale, as his quest does end up rescuing his son-in-law Sam from being taken to a Hellhole Prison where he might have died like so many other prisoners in the war.
  • Tomboy: Jennie — "Yes, I'm a woman, but I don't see anyone here I can't out-run, out-ride, or out-shoot!"
    • (Neither her father, nor any of her brothers, attempt to contradict her.)
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: When Carter offers to let the boy join his escape plan, he doesn't describe his plan. That night, he, the boy, and their companions wait until the guards are busy shooting after whoever inevitably tries to escape by swimming across the river, then go into the water themselves but cling to the river bank, just out of sight of the nearby guard, and then slowly move off to the side until they're out of sight rather than cross the river.

The musical also provides examples of: