The Red Badge of Courage (1951)

“How do you know you won’t run when the time comes?” After John Huston adapted Stephen Crane’s classic 1895 Civil War novel, the legendary director initially believed the film would be his masterpiece. However, the flick was edited drastically from 95 minutes to 69 minutes by the evil bosses at MGM (Louis B. Mayer himself reportedly hated the script) and narration provided by James Whitmore was also added after some reportedly negative audience test screenings. All of this was reportedly done while Huston was off filming The African Queen (1951) with Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn. World War II hero Audie Murphy portrays the young, untested Union soldier “Henry Fleming” (AKA “The Youth”) who questions his courage after fleeing an unnamed battle scene (Chancellorsville?). The stellar cast includes Bill Mauldin (the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist who created Willie and Joe) as “The Loud Soldier,” John Dierkes as “The Tall Soldier” (AKA “Jim Conklin” or JC, a Christ-like figure?), Andy Devine (Stagecoach) as “The Cheery Soldier,” Douglas Dick as “The Lieutenant” and Royal Dano (“Elijah” from Huston’s 1956 film adaptation of Moby Dick) as “The Tattered Man,” whose death scene was edited entirely out of the film. Even though The Red Badge of Courage is often referred to as a “mutilated masterpiece,” the film features solid acting across the board and some very well done battle scenes. MGM reportedly bought the rights to Crane’s novel for $10,000. Lillian Ross’ 1952 book, Picture: A Story of Hollywood, details the troubled production of The Red Badge of Courage.

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