Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Shenandoah, 1965 With Jimmy Stewart

It has been quite a few years now since I stumbled onto Hollywood Jesus. It has in fact been some 12 or 13 years ago now that I started writing reviews for Hollywood Jesus. I originally posted in the comment sections and later on, around the year 2,000 was asked to come on board by David Bruce as a regular reviewer. It has been enjoyable and I have made many new friends over the years.

In the early days of Hollywood Jesus it wasn’t unusual for people to visit the web site and make comments on movies that were not in current release. Remember, even here the real hay day of the DVD’s or VHS rentals hadn’t exploded. A lot has happened in the 10 plus years in the world of movies. One of the things that were quite the norm at Hollywood Jesus was to search out older movies and make comment on them, even on occasion, do a review of one. That is what I am doing today, giving a review of an older movie I recently watched on television for over the 10th time. The film is one of my all time favorites, Shenandoah starring James Stewart.

I remember first seeing Shenandoah, the 1965 release as a small child. The movie was released in the shadow of the Vietnam War and while the backdrop of the story happens during the Civil War, the images and horrors of war, beyond the battlefield left a haunting impression on me. The story of a widower living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia during the Civil War fighting to keep his land, and his family out of the war movingly tells the story of how a family can become involved in the complexity of war, whether they want to or not. Charlie Anderson, a widower, played by Jimmy Stewart has 7 children, a daughter in law expecting a baby and a new son in law on the way, all of which stay in his home. He doesn’t see the Civil War as his war and does what he can to stay out of the war until his youngest son is taken hostage by the Union Army under the pretext that he is a Confederate soldier.

While Shenandoah was released in 1965, its themes, acting, score, direction and story withstand the test of time as well as anything of the era. Simply put, there is a reason Shenandoah is a classic film; unfortunately, it is also a film that is still relevant, especially in the time of war.

We see Charlie Anderson as a man of principal and direction early on in the outset of the story. Whether standing up for his beliefs, or his family, he is a non compromising man of principal. While his bluntness may have caused trouble with many in his community, especially those encouraging him to fight and send his sons to war, he holds true to his convictions, almost to a point of fault. We see a man who loves his family. He visits the grave of his wife on a regular basis, and while he isn’t per say a religious man, he honors his former wife’s request to raise the family in a home where they go to church and pray before each meal. While the prayer is not a typical prayer, it is a prayer with sincerity and one of honesty between Charlie and God.

We also see in a beautiful way the love of brothers and sisters, and the love of a father for a daughter about to be wed. Shenandoah does an excellent job at developing characters we care about. While there are numerous siblings, we care about all of them, especially the principals in the story. The direction provided by Andrew V. McLaglen has certainly passed the test of time.

Shenandoah is a film that addresses so many vital points of faith that are relevant to this day. Among the themes addressed are the complexities of war and its impact on family. So many times, war is presented as something light without ever taking into consideration the lives changed, not just the soldiers in the field, but the families left behind. The reasoning and justification of war in reality doesn’t really take away from the distraction and pain caused on the families left behind. In Shenandoah, after Charlie’s youngest son is taken captive, Charlie and the remainder of his family get involved out of the love for family. What transpires is a horror that leads to a deeply moving experience. The love and appreciation of family is strongly displayed as is the complexity of war. In one of the closing quotes by Charlie as he visits the grave of his wife, he summates quite well the totality of war: “There's not much I can tell you about this war. It's like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning, and the politicians who talk about the glory of it, and the old men who talk about the need of it, and the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home.”

Seen by many as an anti-war movie, Shenandoah was made at a time when American’s largely supported the war in Vietnam. Stewart himself was a Brigadier General in the reserves when the film was made. It is in Stewart’s honesty of the portrayal that gives strength to Shenandoah.

In the struggle of family, the difficulty of war, we see a man who loves his children, learn to love and appreciate even more his children. He sees and understands the value of family but he also starts to see and develop an even more complex understanding and acceptance of God. While there are times of doubt, there are also times of grief that has God as the only one he can turn to. The mirroring of real life relationship displayed on screen was one of Jimmy Stewart’s greatest attributes as an actor, he shines in Shenandoah. To the viewer, Charlie Anderson isn’t just a character being portrayed on screen; he and his family are like real people that we find ourselves caring about. In the growth of Charlie, in his heartache, we also see his prayers change, from prayers where he wants credit for everything, to prayers where he has legitimate value and appreciation for God. He realizes that while he may have lost a great deal, he needs to appreciate what he has left.

Shenandoah has one of the most memorable, touching closing scenes I have ever seen in a movie. In that scene, even though I have seen the film 10 or more times, I am still touched to tears. It takes place in a church while seeking and being faithful to God that one discovers the unexpected miracles. It is here the viewer is touched as Charlie, his family, and the congregation experience one of those miracles. It is here that we are reminded that we, just like the characters on screen, can experience God in a powerful way with honesty and a heart that is sincere.

How much do I like this movie? I like it enough so that some years later, I decided to do a review on it, hoping it may inspire some to seek it out and watch it. If you have never seen Shenandoah before, see it now, if it has been some years since you saw it last, find it and watch it again. You will be touched, and reminded of how good some actors were, and how good movies can be. Some 45 years after its original release, Shenandoah has withstood the test of time. It is worth a review, and thus I have presented one for one of my top movies of all time.

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