Shenandoah (1965)

Universal

Set in a Virginia farm country during the Civil War, “Shenandoah,” one of Jimmy Stewart's most popular films of the 1960s, tells of an autocratic widowed owner named Charlie (Stewart), who believes that the conflict between the regions does not concern him or his large household.

A man of conviction and fortitude, Charlie has never had a slave, and he takes pride in the fact that he and his family have always worked long and hard for everything they possess. In other words, he's an American who refuses to take sides.

Nonetheless, reality interferes, and the Civil War gets closer to home when the youngest of Charlie's six sons, Boy (Phillip Alford), wears a confederate cap he had found and is captured by the Yankee troops. Later, Boy is only spared from death by a former playmate, who's now a freed slave.

Charlie, joined by four of his sons and one daughter, goes searching for Boy, which means that the family's isolation is over as they are drawn deeper and deeper into the violent conflict. In the process, the family endures all kinds of problems and obstacles, such as fear, separation, and even deaththey reluctantly become full participants in the War.

Nearly giving up, the family returns home without Boy. For solace, they go to the village's church. But in the end the family is reunited, when Boy, hobbling on crutches, comes back.

Stewart uses his vast experience and established screen image as the all-American hero to an advantage in a role, which was made to order as he reached the later phases of his glorious career. Beginning with his protag's name, Charlie is a classic American hero, played by Cooper, Stewart, and even Bogart, a man initially cherishing isolation and lack of involvement only to be forced into a divisive conflict through circumstances, both personal and political.

The cast features Patrick Wayne, John Wayne's son, as one of Stewart's sons, who's married in the film to Katharine Ross, making her feature debut; in two years, Ross will be catapulted to movie stardom as a result of the success of “The Graduate.”

The film assumed great political resonance, when the Vietnam War escalated in the late 1960s, raising all kinds of moral issues about US wars.

The tale of “Shenandoah” proved powerful enough to be made into a long-lasting Broadway musical, which is also done regularly regionally.

Oscar Alert

Nomination: Sound Waldon O. Watson. The winner was “The Sound of Music,” which swept most of the Oscars that year.

Credits

Release date: August 14, 1965
Running time: 120 minutes

Produced by Robert Arthur.
Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen
Screenplay: James Lee Barrett
Camera: William H. Clothier
Music: Frank Skinner
Costume design: Rosemary Odell