The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

Starring Audie Murphy, Bill Mauldin, Andy Devine, Robert Easton, Douglas Dick, Tim Durant

Directed by John Huston

Expectations: Moderate. It will be interesting to see how the Civil War is portrayed in a 1950s film.


[Note: This is another review I did for my History class, in slightly edited form.]

John Huston’s The Red Badge of Courage is not your typical war film. It’s more detached from the battles than standard entries into the genre, choosing to focus on the emotional makeup of one company of soldiers, and specifically the youth Henry Fleming (Audie Murphy). Murphy was a highly decorated soldier during World War II so he was no stranger to the nature of war. He plays the role of the scared, worried Army private very well, communicating the fear that any young man must face in the heat of battle.

The film’s tone is very contemplative and features readings from the source novel as narration to drive the story forward and connect the viewers with the struggles of this young man. Huston chooses to shoot many dialogue scenes using low angles which might show how the character is powerful in another film, but here it shows how Fleming wrestles furiously with his feelings. In one particular scene, Fleming meets up with a wounded squad mate who inexplicably runs to the top of a hill. Fleming chases after and when he catches him, the wounded man speaks incoherently while they are both framed from a low angle. The nobility of the wounded man confronts Fleming in these low angle shots. He cannot turn away from the imminent death of the comrade he deserted, his mind filled with the crushing regret and shame of his actions. He longs for “the red badge of courage,” a wound that would prove he was the man he wanted to be.

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