Glory (1989)
April 27, 2018 7:40 PM - Subscribe

Robert Gould Shaw leads the U.S. Civil War's first all-black volunteer company, fighting prejudices from both his own Union Army, and the Confederates.

Empire: A stirring, politically correct, glossy old epic about the Massachusetts 54th Regiment, the entirely black regiment who lead the fateful charge on Fort Wagner in the Charleston Bay, and provide a helpful short-hand for the contribution of 37,000 African-Americans in the turmoil of the Civil War. Edward Zwick, a director of often stifling earnestness, fills this layered history with a indignant self-righteousness, some terrifically stern acting (Denzel Washington picked up his first Oscar as the jaded former slave Trip), and sensibly had Brit cinematographer Freddie Francis behind the camera. The film manages the trick of feeling authentic while looking grand and operatic.

But the film’s liberal-mindedness is often overbearing. Kevin Jarre’s script shapes its characters as defined archetypes — the angry black man (Washington), the noble black man (Morgan Freeman), the empathetic captain (Matthew Broderick) — rather than as real men with conflicting motivations. Its message is like a trumpet blast, but we shouldn’t ignore that it is an important one. Glory presents America’s birth pangs with determined clarity; that racism is an ill contained in its very make-up.

Roger Ebert: Watching "Glory," I had one reccuring problem. I didn't understand why it had to be told so often from the point of view of the 54th's white commanding officer. Why did we see the black troops through his eyes - instead of seeing him through theirs? To put it another way, why does the top billing in this movie go to a white actor? I ask, not to be perverse, but because I consider this primarily a story about a black experience and do not know why it has to be seen largely through white eyes. Perhaps one answer is that the significance of the 54th was the way in which it changed white perceptions of black soldiers (changed them slowly enough, to be sure, that the Vietnam War was the first in American history in which troops were not largely segregated). "Glory" is a strong and valuable film no matter whose eyes it is seen through. But there is still, I suspect, another and quite different film to be made from this same material.

LATimes: However, without its fresh focus on the role of the black soldiers in the Civil War, "Glory" would seem old-fashioned in its unabashedly sentimental conflict between good and evil. What makes it as rousing as it is is our awareness that the Civil War was far from a decisive victory for blacks; it was more like the first round in a struggle for freedom and equality that continues more than a century later.

"Glory," which is a touch self-congratulatory, eschews the ironic for the heroic, even though much of what it depicts is inherently, even cruelly ironic, especially in the spectacle of men who, among their first acts as free men, volunteered to pay for their freedom with their lives.

Written with fervor by Kevin Jarre from various sources and directed passionately by "thirtysomething" co-creator Edward Zwick, "Glory" proceeds confidently in straight-ahead fashion with some astute observations along the way.

NYTimes: It took four years for the film to get major studio financing; ''Glory'' was finally taken on by Tri-Star Pictures, which is now a subsidiary of Columbia Pictures. Hollywood decision makers rejected the project for years ''because their computer printouts said it was about all of the things that don't fit the conventional formulas for box-office success,'' said Freddie Fields, the film's producer. A one-time mega-agent and former head of production at MGM/UA Entertainment Company, Mr. Fields was first smitten with ''Glory'' in 1985 while filming ''Crimes of the Heart,'' which won three Oscar nominations.


How the Men of 'Glory' Stood Up to the U.S. Government

What the film Glory got right about the Civil War and what it did not
posted by MoonOrb (2 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I read an interesting theory about this detail from that final article:

"Shaw’s attack on a row of watermelons during training symbolizes the hard work of preparing for war. Its overall message about prejudice and Shaw’s dedication captures the truth. However, the unit trained in Massachusetts from February to May; watermelons would have been in short supply."

Glory is covered in a book I have in which different historians review different history movies. The historian who reviewed Glory also noted this - but speculates that the movie including this detail may have been a subtle sort of "fuck you" to the watermelon stereotype.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:33 AM on April 30, 2018

I watched this in maybe fourth or fifth grade (maybe both, I think I did watch it at least twice). There was an appropriate for school cut financed by Pepsi, I think? The main thing I remember is how frank it was about how badly the Union army treated the 54th regiment, but also my memories of that are so heavy-handed that it might have been better pitched to the nine year-old audience.
posted by dinty_moore at 2:16 PM on April 30, 2018

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