Tony Mastroianni Review Collection

"Shenandoah" Is Civil War Thriller

Cleveland Press July 15, 1965

"Shenandoah" is the story of a family living in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia during the Civil War.

Head of the family is Charlie Anderson (James Stewart), a widower with six sons, a daughter and a daughter-in-law.

The sounds of cannon fire echo across the verdant countryside and his neighbors' sons are off to fight for the Confederacy.

But Charlie keeps his six strapping, handsome sons at home. When any of his sons mentions the war he just chomps down a little harder on his cigar and asks him if any of the soldiers are on Anderson land.

If nobody is bothering him, he's not about to bother anyone else. He owns no slaves, feels he has no stake in the Confederacy. He likes his neighbors and is not about to fight them.

So he tries to maintain this island of neutrality, although neither side cares that he's neutral.

HIS YOUNGEST SON, known simply as Boy (Philip Alford), is wearing a Confederate cap while out fishing, is picked up by Union soldiers and hustled off to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Charlie, four of the remaining boys and his daughter (Rosemary Forsyth) attempt to track down Boy and his captors, leaving behind one son, his wife and their baby.

At 56 James Stewart is showing considerable sense in skipping the young romantic roles, and acting his age. He is superb as an iconoclast, offers quiet humor as he drawls advice to his future son-in-law, skillfully depicts restrained anger when facing down a man who has killed one of his sons. He is surrounded by a young but extremely capable cast.

"SHENANDOAH" often comes close to being soap opera, stays on its dramatic path because of the cast and the work of director Andy McLaglen and screen writer James Lee Barrett.

What distinguishes the film is good taste, a difficult quality to maintain when dealing with murder, pillage and rape. There is also the consistency of characterization.

Charlie hangs on to his simple philosophy right to the end although Stewart makes it obvious that despite all that has happened the character still doesn't quite comprehend, hasn't changed at all.

THE FILM IS GOOD but misses greatness. It resorts to an occasional cliche (the graveside speeches, the girl with the rifle who saves the menfolk) It offers an oversimplified philosophy and occasional slickness (a picturebook farmhouse and village) and a couple of outrageous coincidences.

"Shenandoah" comes out as a good, workmanlike job of movie-making; occasionally glossy, but a tasteful, entertaining and often exciting film that is worth taking the family to see.