The Coward (1915 film)

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The Coward
Coward poster.jpg
Film poster.
Directed byReginald Barker
Produced byThomas H. Ince
Screenplay byThomas H. Ince
C. Gardner Sullivan
Story byEdward Sloman
Thomas H. Ince
StarringCharles Ray
Frank Keenan
Gertrude Claire
Margaret Gibson
CinematographyJoseph H. August
Robert S. Newhard
Kay-Bee Pictures
New York Motion Picture
Distributed byTriangle Kay-Bee
Enterprise Distributing Corporation (re-release)
Release date
  • November 14, 1915 (1915-11-14)
Running time
77 minutes
CountryUnited States
English intertitles
Still of Charles Ray as Frank Winslow and Frank Keenan as Col. Jefferson Beverly Winslow.

The Coward is a 1915 American silent historical war drama film directed by Reginald Barker and produced by Thomas H. Ince. Ince also wrote the film's scenario with C. Gardner Sullivan, from a story Ince had bought from writer (and future director) Edward Sloman. The film stars Frank Keenan and Charles Ray.[2] John Gilbert also appears in an uncredited bit part.[3] A copy of The Coward is preserved at the Museum of Modern Art.[4]


Set during the American Civil War, Keenan stars as a Virginia colonel, with Charles Ray as his weak-willed son. The son is forced, at gunpoint, by his father to enlist in the Confederate States Army. He is terrified by the war and deserts during a battle. The film focuses on the son's struggle to overcome his cowardice.



The Coward was both a critical and financial success and helped to launch Charles Ray's career.[3]


Unusual for films of this period, the main character is not presented as a gallant Southerner who is eager to fight in the war.[5] However, consistent with practice when the film was made, black characters were played by non-black actors in blackface. Another 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation, used whites in blackface to represent all of its major black characters,[6] but reaction against that film's racism largely put an end to this practice in dramatic film roles, although blackface continued to be used in comedies.[7]

The acting in the film has also been noted to have been much more naturalistic than had been common in prior silent films, with cutting and camera angles aiding the actor's use of facial expressions and pauses to convey dramatic tension.[8]


  1. ^ Taves, Brian (2012). Thomas Ince: Hollywood's Independent Pioneer. University Press of Kentucky. p. 101. ISBN 0-813-13422-6.
  2. ^ Langman, Larry; Ebner, David, eds. (2001). Hollywood's Image Of the South: A Century Of Southern Films. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 23. ISBN 0-313-31886-7.
  3. ^ a b Golden, Eve (2013). John Gilbert: The Last of the Silent Film Stars. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 24–25. ISBN 0-813-14163-X.
  4. ^ The Coward at
  5. ^ Campbell, Jr., Edward D. C. (1981). The Celluloid South: Hollywood and the Southern Myth. University of Tennessee Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN 0-87049-327-2.
  6. ^ Strausbaugh, John (2006). Black Like You: Blackface, Whiteface, Insult and Imitation in American Popular Culture. Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin. pp. 211–12, 214. ISBN 1-58542-498-6.
  7. ^ Rogin, Michael (1998). Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot. University of California Press. p. 79. ISBN 0-520-21380-7.
  8. ^ Bowser, Eileen (1994). The Transformation of Cinema. University of California Press. p. 57. ISBN 0-520-08534-5.

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