Red Badge of Courage, The (1951)

The Red Badge of Courage (1951), directed by John Huston.

A more sensitive, detailed treatment than is usual for war pictures. Finely photographed. The center of the story is uncertain young soldier Henry, who worries that he will cut and run in his first battle. Which he does, but after a day and night of wandering, comes back and is extra fierce in battle the next day.

Often in this sort of film the soldiers just appear on the line, ready for the action scenes. Here we see the tedious movements to get into position on the dusty terrain. Also with glimpses of camp life, with the rumor mills working overtime.

A favorite bit: Henry is on sentry duty in the moonlight. A rebel voice from across the river: "Hey, Yank, would you mind stepping back into the shadows? Be a shame to shoot you on a fine night like this".

The voice-over narration from the book is unnecessary and distracting.

The highly decorated Audie Murphy is the lead. His fellow infantryman and two-time Pulitzer winning cartoonist Bill Mauldin plays his best friend.

Many recognizable character actors of the period:

Although liked by critics at the time it did not find much of an audience. Huston's work was done after he delivered his version; he left the country to make The African Queen (1951) and had no more to do with it. After two poor sneak previews the studio trimmed it down to 69 minutes and added the narration.

The whole story is told in Picture by Lillian Ross, an acclaimed "inside Hollywood" account. She seems snide to me, a literary figure finding that movies are made by shallow sycophants.

It was true even then: young people determine what movies get made. Films need audiences and if teens aren't interested in a topic then neither are the studios -- for very long.

Available on DVD.