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The Red Badge of Courage Reviews

John Huston always insisted that this Civil War battle picture examining the fine line between cowardice and bravery, "could have been" his greatest film, and certainly it is among the director's best, despite the tampering of studio executives. Audie Murphy, the most decorated hero of WWII, is Henry Fleming, a youth who joins the Union army and grows restless waiting for the orders that will take him into battle. When news finally comes that his unit is to join others for an impending battle, he turns braggart. But faced with the enemy, Murphy runs in terror, only to confront his fear later and return to his unit for another battle. Huston's direction is vivid in every scene; the film's battle sequences, however, are its most impressive element. In more pensive moments, THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE is a moving study of Americans fighting Americans, and the reluctance many of them bring to this awful task. Much of the credit for the overall visual effect of the film goes to cameraman Harold Rosson, who lends it a gritty, hardscrabble feel, marvelously capturing the period. Huston left the production immediately after its completion to fly across the world to make THE AFRICAN QUEEN, leaving his film in the hands of studio chiefs who cut it as they saw fit. They removed much of the director's questioning of the necessity for warfare (unacceptable during the Cold War), adding narration by James Whitmore and reducing the running time to a scant 69 minutes. Because the film didn't play well with premiere audiences, MGM sent it out without fanfare, offering it as a second feature on double bills-- hardly a way to recoup production costs. Audiences failed to identify with the film's grim realism and its mostly unknown cast, and the classic Crane story wasn't enough of a draw to insure box-office success. Huston maintained that the movie as he filmed it was one of his favorites, and in the 1970s an attempt was made to revive the uncut version. To Huston's knowledge, however, a print of his original cut no longer existed, so the idea was dropped.