May 052016
 
Heroes of the Alamo

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆
Heroes of the Alamo presents the growing tension between the American immigrants in Mexico and the Mexican government that eventually led to the Texan Revolution. Unlike most films on the Alamo, it focuses on the Dickinson family, rather than Davy Crockett or Jim Bowie. Made in 1937, the acting is stilted, as if the actors have not adapted to sound. Even for the time, this is horrible, almost incompetent. Read More…

Mar 032016
 
The First Texan

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Hoping to start over in Texas, Sam Houston is drawn into the movement to secede from Mexico. The general chronology of the Texan Revolution is correct, at least the dates are correct, but everything else is inaccurate. The movie is so lacking in energy, I wonder why they bothered. Read More…

Mar 212013
 
Major Dundee

Rating: ★★★½☆
Near the end of the American Civil War, the commander of a Union prison recruits a mix of civilians, Confederate prisoners and Union troops to hunt down a band of Apache, pursuing them into Mexico, which was occupied by a French army struggling to place an Austrian prince on the throne. As the search extends into weeks and then months, the men gradually shed all traces of civilization.
Described as Moby Dick on horseback, the film became famous for director Sam Peckinpah’s mix of self-destructive behavior and brilliance. Clashing with the executives who ran the studio, the film was taken away from Peckinpah in the editing stage and a drastically shorter version was released, which was ridiculed by critics and ignored by movie-goers. Although no one knew it at the time, it was a dress rehearsal for The Wild Bunch, but it is still an impressive accomplishment on its own. Major Dundee is one of those movies where a film of the behind-the-scenes action would probably be as interesting as the final result. A restored version, based on a cut made by producer Jerry Bresler, was made in 2005, which provides a more coherent story, while revealing the movie’s flaws. Despite the flaws, it bursts with passion and brilliance. Read More…

Feb 212013
 
Lincoln

Rating: ★★★★☆
Balancing the conflicting needs of the radical and conservative factions of the Republican Party, President Abraham Lincoln struggles to convince enough Democrats to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment, which will abolish slavery. The war is almost over, so Lincoln must deal with Confederate negotiators, who hope to win peace and keep slavery, aware that the North is weary of war. Determined to see that the Thirteenth Amendment passes, Lincoln insists that all means short of the exchange of money be employed to persuade Democrats to vote for the amendment. The film is a stunning recreation of the real Lincoln’s world. While this is not the definitive movie about the long road to freedom for blacks in the United States, it is the definitive movie about Abraham Lincoln.
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Jan 032013
 
The Outlaw

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
The Outlaw (1943) presents the rivalry between Billy the Kid and Doc Holliday, which was a figment of the screenwriter’s imagination. The lack of historical accuracy did not trouble producer/director Howard Hughes, since he was far more interested in co-star Jane Russell’s remarkable bosom. Hughes wanted a movie with sex and he made one. The first movie to defy the Production Code, it took two years of cuts and revisions to satisfy the censors. Even so, the film attracted so much attention that the censors banned it after a week in 1943, and it only returned to theatres three years later, where it was a huge success. For those interested in cinema history, the movie is worth watching. Read More…

Nov 012012
 
Juarez

Rating: ★★★½☆
A solid introduction to the French Intervention in Mexico, a relatively unknown episode in history when France tried to turn Mexico into a puppet state, Juarez presents the basic chronology, but is limited by the decision to have Paul Muni’s Juarez single-handedly evict the invaders. Read More…

Oct 182012
 
Abraham Lincoln

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Adopting an episodic approach to the life of Abraham Lincoln, the movie turns a shrewd, intelligent man into a saint-like figure, who leads the government to win a war and free the slaves, without actually showing any black people, presumably to avoid offending white audiences in the south. Made in a different era, when actors and directors had not fully adjusted to the switch from silent movies to sound, the film is honestly hard to watch. Infamous for the racist Birth of a Nation (1915), where the Klu Klux Klan save the South from an alliance of blacks and northern whites, director D.W. Griffith hoped that Abraham Lincoln would salvage his reputation and his career. It did neither. Read More…

Oct 042012
 
Young Mr. Lincoln

Rating: ★★★½☆
The movie presents Abraham Lincoln’s first major case as a young lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, where he defends two young strangers accused of murdering a popular deputy. Director John Ford’s first collaboration with Henry Fonda, they would work together again on Drums Along the Mohawk and Grapes of Wrath. A touching movie with excellent court-room scenes, Fonda’s Lincoln employs a simple manner and sharp wit to win the sympathy of the jury, and proves to be a formidable cross-examiner. Despite a slow start, Fonda captures the real Lincoln’s mix of self-depreciating humor and belief in people’s better nature. Read More…

Sep 272012
 
Abe Lincoln in Illinois

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Unbelievably boring, the movie follows the correct sequence of events but drastically changes Abraham Lincoln’s character to fit the needs of the script, while its plodding pacing makes watching it an unpleasant experience that should never be repeated.
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Sep 202012
 
The Tall Target

Rating: ★★★★☆
Combining a great mystery with superb historical accuracy, The Tall Target (1951) uses the Baltimore Plot, a suspected conspiracy to assassinate President-elect Abraham Lincoln during a stop in Baltimore, to illustrate the tension in the United States as the nation found itself on the verge of civil war. Read More…

Mar 142012
 
Kansas Raiders

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Silly, inaccurate and boring, weighed down by plodding direction and lame dialogue, Kansas Raiders (1950), a movie about Jesse James riding with William Quantrill during the American Civil War, is just bad, one of those movies that you simply want to end. Read More…

Jan 262011
 
The Undefeated

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Using the French Intervention in Mexico as a backdrop, The Undefeated (1969) shows the reconciliation between former Union and Confederate soldiers, but does not extend that reconciliation to the former slaves. Read More…

Sep 012010
 
Santa Fe Trail

Rating: ★½☆☆☆
Santa Fe Trail (1940) covers Bleeding Kansas and John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, which helped start the American Civil War, but not even Errol Flynn’s limitless charm can redeem a movie that shows black people preferring the peace and security of slavery to freedom. Read More…

Jun 082010
 
I Shot Jesse James

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
I Shot Jesse James (1949) is a noirish take on the fate of Bob Ford after he kills his best friend to win a pardon and marry his girlfriend. Focused more on showing that it was impossible for Ford to live with the guilt, historical accuracy fades in and out of the film. Read More…

May 142010
 
The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid

Rating: ★★½☆☆
More of a caper film than a traditional Western, The Great Northfield Minnesota Raid (1972) is an interesting and enjoyable, if not entirely accurate, look at the James-Younger Gang’s final raid. Read More…

Apr 072010
 
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2010) is a painfully long film and not for the faint-hearted. While it is visually amazing, its historical accuracy is only superficial. Read More…

Nov 122009
 
The Long Riders

Rating: ★★★★☆
There are many movies on Jesse James. This is probably the best. Definitely the most accurate, since it captures the clannish environment and deep resentment against the North in Missouri after the American Civil War. Read More…

Jun 062009
 
Dark Command

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
While Dark Command is entertaining and surprisingly dark for 1940, it completely airbrushes the savagery that made the fighting in the Missouri-Kansas region a particularly brutal part of the Civil War. Along with Santa Fe Trail, which was made the same year and also deals with Bleeding Kansas, the film attempts to paper over the deep divisions that had caused the Civil War in an effort to unite northerners and southerners as the United States seemed increasingly likely to enter WWII. Read More…

Nov 232007
 
The Alamo (1960)

Rating: ★★☆☆☆
The Alamo (1960), John Wayne’s directorial debut, is entertaining, but stretches the facts horribly, transforming the Texan Revolution from a rebellion by American immigrants who wanted to continue their practice of slavery into a defence of liberty against tyranny. Read More…