Monday, May 28, 2018

The Horse Soldiers

Today is Memorial Day, a holiday which was originally about remembering the dead of the US Civil War. So rather than watching all those World War II movies on TCM, I decided to watch a Civil War movie off my DVR, one that's also available on DVD and Blu-ray: The Horse Soldiers.

The time is sometime early in 1863. The Union has wrested control of much of the Mississippi River from the Confederates, but there's one stronghold on the river still: Vicksburg, MS. The Union has been trying to besiege the city, but there's a problem in that there's still a rail line open to the city. That line leads to an important railway junction at Newton Station, so the plan is for a small Union expeditionary force to go to Newton Station and destroy as much of the rails and rolling stock as possible.

There is a big problem, of course, which is that Newton Station is a couple hundred miles inside Confederate territory, so when Col. Marlowe (John Wayne) is asked to lead the force, he knows it's not going to be easy. He also knows that the men are going to hate the mission since it's dangerous and there's a good possibility that they'll be captured and sent to the notorious POW camp at Andersonville. Marlowe gets an even bigger problem thrown in his lap, in the form of Maj. Kendall (William Holden) from the medical corps. Marlowe thinks having a doctor in his ranks is only goin to slow all of them down, and he doesn't like doctors anyway. Kendall doesn't like war and feels his first duty is to sick people period, not to sick Union soldiers.

With all the preparations taken care of, it's time for the forces to set off. They quickly wind up on a farm run by Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers); all the men are either dead or of fighting the war. The Union soldiers commandeer the place to spend the night, but they discover that Hannah and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson the tennis player in her only acting role) are eavesdropping, so the two women have to be taken along as prisoners since they'll certainly notify the authorities otherwise.

The soldiers continue south facing the possibility of detection by Confederate patrols, and also from time to time having to deal with medical issues. Eventually they make it to Newton Station, and achieve their objective after a short skirmish with tha Confederates stationed in the town. And they all lived happily ever after, or at least the Union folks did.

No, that's not it; they couldn't just stay in Newton Station of course. They have to get back to Union lines, and Marlowe comes up with the daring idea of continuing south to Baton Rouge on the Mississippi. After all, if they turn around and head back north, the Confederates are going to be waiting for them. Nobody expects them to keep going south.

The Horse Soldiers is one of those movies that I found to be solid entertainment, but nothing spectacular. It felt to me as if it was covering ground that had been done in other movies. There was also the problem that much of the soldiers' mission seemed to come a bit too easy for them. The conflict between Marlowe and Kendall isn't fleshed out as much as I thought it could have been. And poor Althea Gibson was given a stereotyped role, never mind her lack of acting ability.

Still, the flaws in The Horse Soldiers don't amount to enough for me not to recommend it. Fans of John Wayne will probably already have seen it, but if not, I can't see why they wouldn't like it. William Holden also does well. And the story is entertaining enough.

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