SHENANDOAH—fondly recalled Civil War drama was a big hit in 1965, #9 with earnings of $17,269,000. At 56, in his 68th film, James Stewart had one of his better late-career roles, as the strong-minded head of a Virginia farming family that somehow has avoided choosing sides all the way until late in 1864. When an inquiring officer tells him “Virginia needs all her sons, Mr.Anderson“, the obstinate, cigar-clenching patriarch answers: “They don’t belong to the state they belong to ME! When they were babies I never saw the state comin’ around here with a spare tit!” The youngest boy is mistaken for a Rebel and taken prisoner by Union troops, as is the son-in-law, a Confederate soldier. Stewart and clan set out among the warring sides to find their kin. The War they have avoided finds the family after all.
“There’s not much I can tell you about this war. It’s like all wars, I guess. The undertakers are winning. And the politicians who talk about the glory of it. And the old men who talk about the need of it. And the soldiers, well, they just wanna go home.”
As written by James Lee Barrett, and especially as directed by Andrew V. McLaglen, it has a Fordian feel (respectfully trodding on The Old Man’s hallowed ground) and features some Ford regulars in supporting roles. Regarded as McLaglen’s best film (most were lazy) *, it benefits from Stewart’s solid work, some neat vignettes, a pretty good battle scene and a bright color backdrop of locations around Eugene, Oregon and in California, making decent doubles for Virginia. Frank Skinner’s music score is subdued, and oddly doesn’t make much use of the famous song. The sound crew was Oscar nominated.
Enjoyable, sentimental, occasionally moving, well acted all around. Stewart holds it together, but he’s ably supported. The family: Rosemary Forsyth (a noteworthy debut), Doug McClure, Glenn Corbett, Philip Alford, Patrick Wayne, Katherine Ross (feature debut, 25), Charles Robinson, Tim McIntire, James McMullan. Other neighbors & ruffians, Yanks & Rebs: Paul Fix, Denver Pyle, James Best, George Kennedy (a graceful bit), Tom Simcox, Kevin Hagen, Eugene Jackson Jr., Dabbs Greer, Strother Martin, Harry Carey Jr., Kelly Thordsen, Edward Faulkner, Gregg Palmer, Chuck Roberson and Bob Steele. 105 minutes.
*McLaglen had previously helmed a small Civil War picture, the bucolic The Little Shepherd Of Kingdom Come. Apart from vigorous handling of McLintock!, The Devils Brigade and Chisum, most of the genial giants (6’7″) work was flat and undistinguished. Sharp eyes will spot a few lifts of battle action from Raintree County at the start of the film, audiences likely not noticing that the same clips from that 1957 Civil War saga (the best parts of it, for that matter) had also been snipped into Ford’s sequence of How The West Was Won in 1963. Infernal Yankee Carpetbaggers!