150 years ago today, the American Civil War began with the Confederate Army’s bombardment of Fort Sumter. Turner Classic Movies has already begun celebrating the anniversary with films set during the war aired on Monday and Wednesdays all month (the controversial “Birth of a Nation” was on last night). And there are likely other cinematic tributes elsewhere. The Civil War has been the focus or the backdrop of a whole lot of movies, enough that it would be quite difficult to attempt a list of favorites. So instead I’m looking to readers to name one or a few of their own.
Myself, I’d have difficulty picking a type of film, to begin with. But as a huge Buster Keaton fan, I’d probably have to go with “The General,” one of the greatest action comedies ever made. But I’m also a documentary guy. As much as I respect Ken Burns’ miniseries “The Civil War,” though, I’d rather choose the somewhat qualified “Sherman’s March,” Ross McElwee’s first-person doc that’s as much about Civil War history as it is a modern pursuit for love.
Western aficionados may prefer “The Good, The Bad and the Ugly,” which doesn’t centrally concern the battle of North and South but has enough involvement with the war to count. There’s also “The Outlaw Josey Wales,” “Shenanoah,” “Friendly Persuasion” and “How the West Was Won,” which all have more or less Civil War action.
For the Shirley Temple fans, there’s “The Littlest Rebel.” Elvis fans, you’ve got “Love Me Tender.” Scorsese lovers can include “Gangs of New York.” Kids may go with the Looney Tunes cartoon “The Rebel Without Claws.” Comic book geeks, name “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” if you wish (and dare). Or worse, how about “Jonah Hex”?
Anyone want to name guilty pleasure in Corman’s “Five Guns West” or the zombie flick “The Supernaturals”? Actually few horror films set or involving the Civil War are critically acclaimed, but fans of that genre tend to have their obscure favorites. Anyone into “Dead Birds,” “The Offspring” or George Hickenlooper’s “Grey Knight”?
There are enough films specifically about Abraham Lincoln, and enough primarily about the history of slavery in the U.S. to make any number of those difficult to exclude. History buffs in general surely have their personal devotion to more accurate or specialized perspectives. Another bunch that’s hard to isolate one over the other: “Little Women” adaptations.
Then there are the romantics, who’ll probably choose “Gone with the Wind,” a cliche but not a bad one. Or, there’s “Cold Mountain,” “Dark Command,” “The Beguiled,” “The Outriders” and many more.
So what’ll it be? And does your choice depend on what side the hero is on? Because my selection of “The General” has no bearing on its protagonists being Confederates.