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By John Chard March 6, 2017

When Yellow Becomes Red.

The Red Badge of Courage is directed by John Huston who also co-adapts to screenplay with Albert Band from the novel of the same name written by Stephen Crane. It stars Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, Andy Devine, Robert Easton, Douglas Dick, Royal Dano, Arthur Hunnicutt and Tim Durant. Music is by Bronislau Kaper and cinematography by Harold Rosson.

The American Civil War and Union soldiers head South to confront the Confederate army. Young Henry Fleming (Murphy) is ill prepared for the horrors of war, so when the crunch comes he retreats from the first battle he’s faced with and has a life choice of either being known as a coward, or find something from within to make him strong enough to return to the front line.

Nutshell History Of The Production.

John Huston believed that this could have been his masterpiece, but an MGM power struggle saw the film butchered. A narration was insisted upon after poor test screenings, Huston washed his hands off the picture, while Lillian Ross produced a critically acclaimed book about the production. With no fanfare or bunting put out by the studio to promote the picture, the eventual 70 minute cut of the movie flopped as audiences didn’t quite like the tonal flows of the piece. Over time, even in its truncated form of just under 70 minutes, pic has garnered praise to become something of a classic as it stands, while also being considered as a lost masterpiece due to the cut material apparently being lost forever.

Beautifully photographed by Rosson, it’s a film that has often been tagged as some sort of arty exercise. Yet it never once feels like it has ideas above its station, it quite simply is a very intimate and touching portrayal of Americans fighting Americans. It doesn’t soft soap anything, deftly imbuing the narrative with the awfulness of the war and the effect on those wearing the uniforms. The period design is superb, the battle sequences crafted with great skill by Huston, and in Murphy the pic has a great fulcrum for youthful confusion acted with a skill that many still think he didn’t have.

Up close and personal, with raw emotional seeping from its pores, The Red Badge of Courage is a potent exercise in war film making. As Audie stands there at culmination of battle charge, holding in his hands the battered flags of both the Union and the Confederacy, the impact is quite something to behold. 8.5/10

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