THE SCARLET COAT is a Revolutionary War saga with American spy John Boulton (Cornel Wilde) helping General Robert Howe (John McIntire) unravel the spy ring headed by Benedict Arnold (Robert Douglas).
The British spies include Major John Andre (Michael Wilding) and Dr. Jonathan Odell (George Sanders). Then there's Sally Cameron (Anne Francis), a woman of questionable loyalties who finds herself caught between Andre and Boulton.
Despite being an American History major with a particular love for Colonial and Revolutionary history, I found this film slow going. The "spy" plot requires very close attention, with constantly shifting false names and loyalties, and the film relies heavily on shots of large groups, rather than more intimate framing, which at times makes it a bit harder to track who's who under all the white wigs and identical uniforms. I'm a detail-oriented viewer with better than average knowledge of the era, but I found it a bit of a chore following the storyline in this one, especially as what should have been a compelling tale plodded along in ho-hum fashion for much of its 101 minutes.
Another issue for the film is that Wilde's character remains a colorless cipher who moves from one crisis to the next. Wilding, as his British counterpart, is more sympathetic, and consequently the ending of the film is a downer, even if military justice was served.
Francis provides some brief flashes of color, but her character's main function seems to be to illuminate the relationship of Boulton and Andre, and her screen time is relatively limited.
On the plus side, there are some lovely CinemaScope long shots filmed on location in New York by Paul Vogel. The costumes are by the great Walter Plunkett.
The narration is provided by Paul Frees. The supporting cast includes Bobby Driscoll (SONG OF THE SOUTH), Dabbs Greer, John Dehner, Rhys Williams, James Westerfield, and Paul Cavanagh.
The film was directed by John Sturges, whose best-known films are THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960) and THE GREAT ESCAPE (1963). Sturges films previously reviewed here: THE WALKING HILLS (1949), RIGHT CROSS (1950), MYSTERY STREET (1950), ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953), BACKLASH (1956), SADDLE THE WIND (1958), and ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968).
THE SCARLET COAT has not had a VHS or DVD release in the U.S. It's been released on a Region 2 DVD in Italy.
THE SCARLET COAT will be shown on Turner Classic Movies this July 4, 2011.
The trailer is here.