civil war era movies

Sommersby

Year: 1993
Directed By: Jon Amiel
Written By: Nicholas Meyer, Anthony Shaffer, and Sarah Kernochan

RYAN’S REVIEW

This is an odd one to have a place on the shelf I know, and the reason for it is never what you would guess. Once upon a time this was a movie I actually watched at a Drive-In movie theater back when they were still around. I was nine years old and didn’t really understand the movie at the time but I never forgot it. Certain scenes have stayed with me for over twenty years, though with little context due to my adolescent age.

I hadn’t seen this movie since that night over twenty years ago in the Drive-In movie theater. I bought it not long ago for no other reason than it reminded me of that great viewing experience that has faded into history. I always liked the Drive-In and in the early 90s there was one still in operation close enough to where we were living. I saw several films there during a real dramatic time in life, and while my memory of life in those days is hazy I have never forgotten any of the movies I sat in the car and watched on that giant screen.

This film is about a Civil War veteran who returns home after being away for six years. The interesting part is that he is not who he says he is, but he looks enough like the man he is pretending to be that everyone goes with it. Even his wife goes along with it as he is welcomed home with open arms. He makes a life for himself under this assumed name and everything is going great till the law shows up and serves him with a charge of murder. The man did not commit the murder, but the man he is pretending to be did. He has to choose between being outed as a fraud or suffer the penalty of a crime he didn’t commit. The story is actually loosely adapted from real circumstances that took place long ago in France.

Like I said, I was nine years old when I watched this movie and I was not in the target audience. I still found it interesting despite plenty of the themes and concepts flying right over my head. I have always wondered whether or not he was who he said he was or if he wasn’t. My understanding at the time said he wasn’t but why suffer the consequences if that was really the case? It left quite an impression on me as a nine year old to watch this movie where a man was hanged for something he didn’t really do.

The questions that have lingered in the back of my mind for over twenty were finally answered yesterday when I sat down to watch this movie again. I was not expecting much from a Richard Gere movie that I vaguely remembered from my childhood but I was pleasantly surprised. This isn’t the greatest movie I have ever seen and it’s far too much of a sappy love story at times but I found it thoroughly interesting.

I didn’t feel quite the level of nostalgia I was expecting when I watched it but I had forgotten enough to find myself invested and interested in the story. For example, I had forgotten all about the jealous rival played by Bill Pullman. I had also forgotten the presence of the Ku Klux Klan, and the plot always thickens when those hooded heathens show up.

I have never paid much attention to Richard Gere, his movies are not for me. In movies like this he’s a puny version of Fabio on the covers of all those lady novels from the same time period. He’s the romantic the woman falls in love with and blah blah blabbity blah. I’m not a fan but I’m going to admit it. I liked this sappy romance movie. Don’t expect me to sit down to Pretty Woman or First Knight any time soon but I’m willing to admit this is an interesting movie.

If you cut out some of the courtroom shenanigans at the end of the movie and that oh so typical “because I love you more” line from Jodie Foster on the stand then this is a damn good movie. It’s not going to keep you on the edge of your seat but it’ll keep your attention.

The only other thing I think is worth mentioning is the awesome nugget at the end that was Judge James Earl Jones and his glorious moment. The movie really tries to paint a picture of race during the time period but I would be really interested to know if an actual African American judge was brought south for a trial so soon after the Civil War. Judge James Earl Jones certainly sells it and does a fantastic job with all his mega voice glory, but I would love to know when such a thing actually happened for the first time.

I like this movie more than I thought I would and that counts for a lot. I don’t foresee myself ever suggesting this movie to anyone despite that, it is a Richard Gere movie, but I think it is worth your time nevertheless. I don’t own this movie for any reason pertaining to its value as a film but for what it ultimately reminds me of. I miss the days when we had Drive-In movie theaters and wish they were still around. I think my kids would get a kick out of it and enjoy it as I did when I was their age.

NEXT MOVIE: Southland Tales (2006)