another james stewart western, but this one is a lot different than those of the anthony mann era. stewart plays the sole parent of nine children in virginia during the civil war. his character is begrudgingly religious (it was his wife’s last wish that they always attend church) and aloof in regards to the war. both make for an interesting philosophical discussion, as well as providing some good laughs. his rationale is that the war doesn’t concern him and so he won’t participate. regarding religion stewart summarizes his beliefs in his nightly prayer over the dinner table which goes something like this: lord, we sit here before you with this fantastic food which we planted, grew and reaped ourselves. the land was nothing before we came, but through our hard work we cleared the land and were able to make the land produce this bountiful meal which we will now enjoy. thanks.
whereas the first half of the film finds the family avoiding the war and subsisting on their own terms, the second half sees them dragged into the war with the kidnapping of the youngest son (same kid who played jem in to kill a mockingbird). union troops mistake him for a rebel and he becomes a prisoner of war. stewart and his family leave their homestead in search of the youngest son and what unfolds is a somewhat sappy, somewhat didactic tale on the importance of morality and participation. we also see the relative nature of truth and the power of perspective in war situations. this aspect of the film comes off as less didactic and is thus more successful. i don’t think it was a symbol for the vietnam situation, though this is a possible interpretation.
overall it was a nice enough picture with a good performance from stewart, but it lacked some of the heart it strived for and that was unfortunate. none of the characters really resonated with me and, other than stewart, we didn’t get to know anyone all that well.