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A Story of Bravery, Truth and Devotion
by Jon Schuller

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Movies have been doing many things for more than 100 years. They make us laugh, cry, think, reason and learn. Films talk about subjects that need to be put into the public's mind and discussed openly. Pictures can help solve problems and, in many instances, actually have done so. Because of time constraints, movies must and do present their stories, arguments and solutions quickly, in ways easy to understand. There are many films I could list here but I want to focus today's column on one in particular that premiered on December 14, 1989. Glory was directed by Edward Zwick with music by James Horner. It starred Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, Denzel Washington as Private Silas Trip, Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes, Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins, Andre Braugher as Corporal Thomas Searles, Jihmi Kennedy as Private Jupiter Sharts, Cliff De Young as Colonel James Montgomery and John Finn as Sergeant Major Mulcahy. It tells the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army's second African-American regiment, made up mostly of freemen and former slaves. It won three Academy Awards, including Best Supporting Actor for Denzel Washington.

In 1863, Captain Robert Gould Shaw from Boston was wounded at the battle of
Antietam and sent home to Boston. He was from a prominent family of abolitionists and had a long history of devotion to the anti-slavery cause. His parents were close to the governor of Massachusetts, John A. Andrew, who was a vocal proponent of raising an army of black soldiers to fight and defeat the Confederacy. To many in the Union, the idea that these men could have the power to fight their former slave-holder masters was uniquely ironic.

Shaw is offered the chance to lead a regiment of former slaves as a colonel and he quickly accepts his new commission. He will train and discipline these men, despite the obvious prejudices, falsehoods and outright hate they've endured for centuries. Shaw's own ideals and strengths will be tested on a daily basis as he takes men who've never known the chance to be truly free. Even the freemen of Massachusetts who volunteer must endure and face the same hate as the others.

The training is rigorous and painful. Several of the men, especially one named Silas Trip (Washington), continually test the regulations imposed of them as army discipline. Trip keeps telling everyone that they've changed from one form of slavery to another. Shaw orders his second-in-command, - his friend - Major Cabot Forbes (Elwes) to have Trip whipped
for running away from camp. Later, Shaw is told that the men need shoes and Trip was only looking shoes for his terribly wounded feet. Shaw orders that John Rawlins (Freeman), he, too, a former slave, be promoted to Sergeant Major because the men look up to him with respect.

Unfortunately, there are no chances for the 54th Massachusetts regiment to see battle as the Army's upper echelons don't want them to do anything but clean up after the white Union troops fight and die on southern battlefields. Shaw finds weaknesses and prejudices among the officers, having his influential father pull strings in Washington. They are finally ordered into battle at James Island, South Carolina and the 54th defeats a tough Confederate unit. They have now shown their bravery and fighting skills in a real battle with hardened rebel troops. Union soldiers who had previously mocked them now see them with respect and courage.

Shaw is informed the there is a major battle about to begin to secure Charleston Harbor, to take Morris Island and capture the strategic Fort Wagner. Shaw volunteers his men of whom he says they have proven themselves battle-tested and tough. General Strong tells Shaw his men should prepare themselves.

There must be a direct assault on Fort Wagner along a
narrow spit of land connecting the fort to the beach. Shaw leads the charge as the men run headlong into the Confederate guns. Many are killed, including Shaw, but they continue charging directly into the fort. They think they've captured the fort but the Confederates gun them all down from inside. The movie ends showing all of the 54th soldiers being buried in mass graves. Shaw and Trip symbolically are buried together.

Despite a few historical inaccuracies and a few critics' bad reviews, Glory tells the story of how one Union regiments, plus others, turned the tide of the Civil War and led to the Union victory in 1865. Slavery, the true cause of the war, was eradicated at the cost of 600,000 lives. Life in the South went back to isolation and segregation, as black men and women lost many of the freedoms so painfully gained after the war. Glory tells its story with compassion and directness. The history lessons the movie dramatizes are told with realism and marvelous characterizations. James Horner's original musical score is wonderful to listen to. I recommend this movie to everyone. Seeing history come alive not only takes us back to another time, but allows us to understand and, hopefully, appreciate the progress America has made as painful as that has been and continues to be.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Jon Schuller by clicking here.

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