Updated: Jun 24
BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS
James Stewart in one of his last great performances as farmer and family man Charlie Anderson welcoming his youngest son Boy (Phillip Alford) back home.
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Blu-ray; 1965; Not Rated
Best extra: More like Most Interesting Extra: “The Defiant Virginian,” a silent, (snowy/scratchy) 8mm short encapsulating the first act of “Shenandoah” distributed to the public schools by Castle Films, a subsidiary of Universal Studios.
AS THE AMERICAN Civil War grinds to its bloody end, Charlie Anderson (James Stewart in one of his last great performances), stubbornly keeps an island of neutrality on his farm in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Widowed with six sons, a daughter, and a daughter-in-law, Charlie holds the war, those that fight in it, and The Almighty in not-too-subtle contempt.
Every Sunday before dinner, he gives thanks – sort of – to the Good Lord for everything the Anderson family was able to extract from the earth, making a point that it was he and his family who are responsible. The "blessing" is one of the many wryly humorous parts of what is essentially a deeply dramatic story. Also every Sunday, Charlie is questioned about his stance on the war by his eldest son, Jacob, played by a solid, stolid Glenn Corbett. Charlie’s response is to remind them all that, even though they are Virginians, they do not own slaves, don't much favor the ownership of slaves, and don't see the sense in fighting for a government they don’t want in their business.
But as the fighting draws closer to the Anderson farm, they find themselves drawn into it when the youngest son, Boy (Phillip Alford – “Jem” from “To Kill a Mockingbird”), is taken prisoner by Union forces who mistake him for a Confederate soldier. With five of his sons and the daughter (Rosemary Forsythe in her film debut, looking like Grace Kelly's twin sister!), Charlie mounts a rescue expedition. They leave one son, James (Patrick Wayne), his wife (a young Katharine Ross, also in her first film), and their baby at the farm.
(1) Some scenes of “Shenandoah” were filmed near Eugene, Oregon even though director Andrew V. McLaglen went to the University of Virginia located near the Shenandoah Valley. (2&3) Charlie Anderson prepares to pray over the meal but notices his son Boy is wearing a hat he found in the river at the dinner table. (4) Charlie talks to his wife at her gravesite near the family home before heading to Sunday church.
Tragedy and bitter loss will befall the Andersons on their journey, leaving Charlie – an extremely grounded man – with major existential questions. Not all of them are answered, but I defy you to get past the closing scenes without the aid of Kleenex. James Lee Barrett’s script helps bring the conflict to very human terms. Not unfamiliar with the big questions. Barrett is also responsible for “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “In the Heat of the Night.”
This was director Andrew V. McLaglen’s first major film and the one he repeatedly said he was happiest with. Son of actor Victor McLaglen and godson of John Ford, he was raised on movie sets and worked for years as Ford's Assistant Director on many projects.
If you’re a fan of old television, you might notice an episode or two of “Perry Mason” or “Gunsmoke” that’s just a little peppier, and more action-oriented than the rest. McLaglen cut his teeth on lots of series television before diving into big-screen projects. Many of us are fans of his later work such as "Ffolkes" and “The Wild Geese.” He’s got an unparalleled flair for action films. “Shenandoah” has several battle scenes put together by Hal Needham, a frequent Burt Reynolds collaborator a decade later.
Back to television, there’s a clean, well-scrubbed look to most of the actors, costumes and sets in “Shenandoah” except in scenes that specifically want to convey atmosphere. Universal Studios who shot most of this on their lot, with a few scenes in Oregon – much to the consternation of my fellow citizens of The Old Dominion – was doing lots of series television, and made for TV films at that time. Second lead, Doug McClure who plays Rosemary Forsythe’s newlywed husband, was wildly popular from his stint as “Travis” on “The Virginian.” The actors who played the sons and most of the smaller parts are very familiar faces for those who watched a lot of TV back in the 1960’s.
Being released close to the centenary of the end of the Civil War, “Shenandoah” was released to the public school systems, and kicked around there well into the 1980’s. It was also reworked into a successful Broadway musical.
(1) Character actor Denver Pyle plays Pastor Bjoerling, who asks, “There are no doubt some present, Charlie Anderson, who wonder why you and yours are never on time for the Lord’s services.” (2&3) During the service Charlie gets his son, James (Patrick Wayne, son of John Wayne) attention to grab the string and fishing hook from Boy. (4) Confederate Officer Sam (Doug McClure) has feelings for daughter Jennie Anderson (Rosemary Forsythe).
There’s a commentary by film historians Constantine Nasr, C. Courtney Joyner (novelist and close friend of Andrew V. McLaglen), and Michael Blake; the aforementioned “The Defiant Virginian” silent short, and trailers for a variety of Stewart and McLaglen projects: “Shenandoah,” “Made for Each Other,” “Broken Arrow,” “No Highway in the Sky,” “Bend of the River,” “Thunder Bay,” “Night Passage,” “The Rare Breed,” “The Way West,” and “The Devil’s Brigade.”
Clear and crisp in English on a 2.0 Mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio track. Dialogue, effects (cannon, gunfire, battles) and score by Frank Skinner are well-balanced. Skinner, who also composed the score for Stewart’s “Harvey,” mixes in folk music as emotional cues. I don't recall having to adjust the sound once during the entire show or back up to get anything I missed. Subtitles are also available.
Kino Lorber’s 1080p presentation in 1.85:1 aspect ratio is sharp, with one exception that might or might not have been intentional. As mentioned previously, some of the big action shots were done by Hal Needham and look as good as most of the rest of the film. However, some battle footage borrowed from the 1957 Montgomery Clift/Elizabeth Taylor epic “Raintree County” is just a wee bit too grainy. This footage is used in the very beginning of the film to establish the situation.
Color is less saturated and more natural, with authentic skin tones.
In spite of certain dark themes and violence real and implied, “Shenandoah” is basically family entertainment, well written, not historically inaccurate, and quite involving.
— Mike Reynolds
(1) Lieutenant Sam and Jennie Anderson get married before he heads into action. (2) Daughter-in-law Ann Anderson (Katharine Ross) holds her baby son. (3&4) Boy and his best friend Gabriel (Gene Jackson) are raccoon hunting, when they stumble upon a Union patrol, where Boy is mistaken for a Confederate soldier and taken prisoner.
(1&2) Charlie mounts a rescue expedition to find Boy, with three of his sons and his daughter. (3) He asks Union Colonel Fairchild (George Kennedy) for help. “My youngest son - your people came on my farm and they took him,” says Charlie. “Why?” asks Col. Fairchild. “That’s what I’d like to know, Colonel. But, he’s a prisoner and your army’s got him,” he says. “He isn’t a Confederate?” asks Fairchild. “No, sir. He’s an Anderson and that’s all he is.” (4&5) During the search the Anderson family finds Lt. Sam on a train heading to a Union prisoner of war camp, and they torch the train. (6) The search continues for weeks, with an excellent composite matte painting from Albert Whitlock. (7) Boy and several Confederate soldiers (center, Harry Carey Jr.) escape from a Union prison. (6) Tragedy continues to follow the Andersons.