The Horse Soldiers
|The Horse Soldiers|
1959 movie poster
|Directed by||John Ford|
|Produced by||John Lee Mahin
|Written by||John Lee Mahin (screenplay)
Martin Rackin (screenplay)
Harold Sinclair (novel)
|Music by||David Buttolph|
|Cinematography||William H. Clothier|
|Edited by||Jack Murray|
|Distributed by||United Artists|
|Box office||$4 million (est. US/ Canada rentals)|
- Horse Soldiers (2009) is a book written by Doug Stanton about US forces in Afghanistan
The Horse Soldiers (1959) is a drama film set in Mississippi during the American Civil War. Loosely based on Harold Sinclair's 1965 novel by the same name, it was directed by John Ford and starred John Wayne, William Holden and Constance Towers. Althea Gibson, US tennis champion, had a minor role and insisted that her dialogue be rewritten, as she found its dialect demeaning. John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin produced the movie and wrote its screenplay.
The film was loosely based on Harold Sinclair's 1956 novel of the same name. It was based on the historic 17-day Grierson's Raid and the climactic Battle of Newton's Station in Mississippi, part of the Union campaign to take control of the Mississippi River.
In April 1863, Colonel Benjamin Grierson led 1700 Illinois and Iowa soldiers from LaGrange, Tennessee to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, through several hundred miles of enemy territory, to destroy railroad and supply lines between Newton's Station and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Grierson's raid was part of the Union Vicksburg campaign, culminating in the Battle of Vicksburg to gain control over boat traffic on the Mississippi river. The disruption of the Confederate-controlled railroad upset the plans and troop deployments of Confederate General John C. Pemberton. General William Tecumseh Sherman reportedly described Grierson's daring mission as "the most brilliant of the war".
A Union cavalry brigade, led by Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne), is sent on a raid behind Confederate lines to destroy a railroad and supply depot at Newton Station. Before the war, Marlowe had been a railroad building engineer. With the troop is a new regimental surgeon, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden), who seems to be constantly at odds with his commander. Kendall is torn between duty and the horror of war.
While the unit rests at Greenbriar Plantation, Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers), the plantation's mistress, and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on a staff meeting wherein Marlowe discusses his plans. To protect the mission, Marlowe takes the two women with him. Initially hostile to her Yankee captor, Miss Hunter gradually warms to him. In addition to Kendall and Miss Hunter, Marlowe also must contend with Col. Phil Secord (Willis Bouchey), who second-guesses Marlowe's orders and command decisions.
Several battles later, Lukey has died in a fire-fight. The Union forces have a skirmish with Boy Cadets from a local military school (as occurred in the Battle of New Market). With Confederate forces in pursuit, Marlowe and his command reach a bridge which must be stormed in order to reach Union lines. Dr. Kendall is forced to choose between remaining behind with some badly wounded men (and being captured with them), or leaving the men without medical care until the Confederates arrive. Although wounded, Marlowe leads his troops over the bridge after they have set charges under it. He lights the fuse to set off the explosion and halt the pursuing Confederates. The Union forces continue to their destination, having successfully completed their mission.
- John Wayne as Colonel John Marlowe
- William Holden as Major Henry 'Hank' Kendall
- Constance Towers as Miss Hannah Hunter of Greenbriar
- Althea Gibson as Lukey, Miss Hunter's fiercely loyal black maid
- Judson Pratt as Sergeant Major Kirby
- Ken Curtis as Cpl. Wilkie
- Willis Bouchey as Col. Phil Secord
- Bing Russell as Dunker, Yankee Soldier Amputee
- O.Z. Whitehead as Otis 'Hoppy' Hopkins (medical assistant)
- Hank Worden as Deacon Clump
- Chuck Hayward as Union captain
- Denver Pyle as Jackie Jo (rebel deserter)
- Strother Martin as Virgil (rebel deserter)
- Basil Ruysdael as The Reverend (Jefferson Military Academy)
- Carleton Young as Col. Jonathan Miles, CSA
- William Leslie as Maj. Richard Gray
- William Henry as Confederate lieutenant
- Walter Reed as Union officer
- Anna Lee as Mrs. Buford
- William Forrest as Gen. Steve Hurlburt
- Ron Hagerthy as Bugler
- Russell Simpson as Acting Sheriff Henry Goodbody
- Hoot Gibson as Sgt. Brown
Exterior scenes were filmed in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana, along the banks of Cane River Lake, and in and around Natchez, Mississippi, including at Washington. The film company built a bridge over the Cane River for the pivotal battle scene, and many locals were hired as extras.
The project was plagued from the start by cost overruns, discord, and tragedy. Holden and Ford argued incessantly. Wayne was preoccupied with pre-production logistics for The Alamo. Lukey's dialog was originally written in a stereotypic "Negro" dialect that Althea Gibson, the former Wimbledon and U.S. National tennis champion who was cast in the role, found offensive. She informed Ford that she would not deliver her lines as written. Though Ford was notorious for his intolerance of actors' demands, he agreed to modify the script.
During filming of the climactic battle scene, veteran stuntman Fred Kennedy suffered a broken neck while performing a horse fall and died. "Ford was completely devastated," wrote biographer Joseph Malham. "[He] felt a deep responsibility for the lives of the men who served under him." The film was scripted to end with the triumphant arrival of Marlowe's forces in Baton Rouge, but Ford "simply lost interest" after Kennedy's death. He ended the film with Marlowe's farewell to Hannah Hunter before crossing and blowing up the bridge.
The film was a commercial failure; analysts said this was due largely to Wayne's and Holden's high salaries, and the complex participation of multiple production companies. The response of audiences and critics was "lackluster".
Though based loosely on Grierson's Raid, The Horse Soldiers is a fictional account that departs considerably from the events. Benjamin Grierson had been a music teacher before the war. In the film, he was portrayed as railroad engineer John Marlowe in the film. Hannah Hunter, Marlowe's love interest, had no documented historical counterpart. Numerous other details were altered as well, "to streamline and popularize the story for the non-history buffs who would make up a large part of the audience."
- "1959: Probable Domestic Take", Variety, 6 January 1960 p 34
- Jones, Terry L. (2011). Historical Dictionary of the Civil War. Scarecrow Press. p. 621. ISBN 978-0-8108-7811-2.
- Malham, J. John Ford: Poet in the Desert. Lake Street Press (2013), pp. 261-2. ISBN 978-1-936181-08-7.
- York, Neil Longley (January 2001). Fiction as Fact: The Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory. Kent State University Press. p. 82. ISBN 978-0-87338-688-3.
- Malham (2013), pp. 262-3.
- Gallagher, T. John Ford: The Man and His Films. University of California Press (1988), p. 93. ISBN 0520063341.
- Gray, FC; Lamb, YR. Born to Win: The Authorized Biography of Althea Gibson John Wiley & Sons (2004), pp. 120-1. ISBN 978-0471471653.
- Malham (2013), pp. 263-4.
- Malham (2013), p. 264.
- Malham (2013), p. 264.
- York, N.L. Fiction as Fact: Horse Soldiers and Popular Memory. Kent State University Press (2001). ISBN 087338685X
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to The Horse Soldiers.|
- The Horse Soldiers at the Internet Movie Database
- The Horse Soldiers at AllMovie
- The Horse Soldiers at the TCM Movie Database