Horse Soldiers, The (1959)

The Horse Soldiers (1959), directed by John Ford.

Ford's only Civil War film, inspired by Grierson's Raid, a Union cavalry mission deep into Confederate territory during the Vicksburg campaign.

As you would expect with this director the historical details look realistic. Union destruction of railways involves heating the rails and twisting them into bow-ties, a nice touch. Some authentic period music, although we also have a generic action score.

On the down side it wavers on what sort of story to tell: historical reenactment or improbable romance? I think the silliest part is Colonel John Wayne's hatred of all medical men (his wife died in surgery) and his conflict with the humane army doctor, William Holden. The commander's drunken emotional outbursts seem childish.

Constance Towers, last seen with a shaved head in The Naked Kiss (1964), plays a crafty southern belle. When she discovers their plans the raiders must take her along.

The story is mostly from the Union point of view, but the rebels (apart from two drunken deserters) and treated respectfully. In a funny and poignant bit the blue-bellies are routed by cadets from a local boys school.

An unlimited number of film epics could still be mined from the history of the Civil War. The Vicksburg campaign itself is an incredible story.

Available on Blu-ray. ClassicFlix has it, Netflix doesn't. I've seen it economically priced in stores. The image quality varies and is never better than "fair".