Glory (1989)

Yeah, we sometimes watch movies that win actual awards and are seen as substantial pieces of art. You can bet your sweet bippy that Sam has nothing to do with the selection of those movies, as he often says things like, “You know, I’d like to watch Human Lanterns,” and Becca just rolls her eyes.

The spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down? This movie’s cinematographer is Freddie Francis. Yes, the very same person who directed Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, Torture Garden, Tales from the Crypt and Son of Dracula. Before he made any of those movies, Francis had already won an Oscar for 1960’s Sons and Lovers. He won major acclaim for being the cinematographer for The Elephant ManDuneCape Fear and this movie, which he won an Oscar for in 1989.

Based on the books Lay This Laurel by Lincoln Kirstein and One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard, as well as the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw (who is played in the movie by Matthew Broderick), this is the story of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the Union Army’s first African-American regiment in the American Civil War.

While Glory was the first major motion picture to tell the story of black U.S. soldiers fighting for their freedom from slavery during the Civil War and even has Shelby Foote — who was a major part of Ken Burns’ The Civil War — as a technical advisor, it still takes massive liberties with history. For example, a major scene has Private Trip (Denzel Washington) being flogged for running away, a punishment that was stopped two years before when this movie takes place. The reason behind his insubordination — the lack of shoes for the black soldiers — was also untrue, as on the day the recruits arrived at Readville (way after Christmas 1862, so that’s wrong) they were given new uniforms and boots. There are many more issues — the direction of the actual attack, the fact that most of the 54th were free men and not slaves, the fact that Fort Wagner really was taken over by Union forces in 1863 and that General Charles Garrison Harker never served around Charleston — but why let them get in the way of the story?

There’s a great quote from Roger Ebert about this movie: “Watching Glory, I had one recurring problem. I didn’t understand why it had to be told so often from the point of view of the 54th’s white commanding officer. Why did we see the black troops through his eyes — instead of seeing him through theirs? To put it another way, why does the top billing in this movie go to a white actor?”

I feel that if this movie had been made in 2020 and not 1989, it would be a completely different story.

That said, Morgan Freeman is great as Sergeant Major John Rawlins. It’s still an important movie, if you’re aware of the historical changes. What has not changed is that the Civil War was fought for many reasons, but the fact that we could be all equal has always been the lesson that I’ve taken. I rarely get political in my writing here — how can I when mostly I discuss Shaw Brothers, Turkish ripoffs and Mexican pro wrestling movies — but make no mistake, anyone that flies a rebel flag today is the most baseless moron there can be.

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