Massey also played Brown in SANTA FE TRAIL (1940) 15 years before; I saw that Flynn-de Havilland film in the '70s but can't say I remember it.
Massey's Brown starts out in SEVEN ANGRY MEN as someone who seems like a reasonable man who is passionate about freedom for all, with the pro-slavers (led by Leo Gordon at his scariest) as the violent opposition. Over time, however, Brown loses respect for life and starts meting out murderous "justice," raiding and killing.
Various Brown sons are played by fine actors including Jeffrey Hunter, Dennis Weaver, James Best, and Guy "Zorro" Williams; one by one they turn away from their father and his murderous actions. Weaver is particularly moving as a man pushed mentally over the edge by killing.
Much of the story is told through the eyes of Owen (Hunter), who is in love with Elizabeth (Debra Paget). Elizabeth is anti-slavery but believes John Brown's tactics are wrong and ultimately evil; Owen's loyalty to his father is a source of conflict with Elizabeth, as she tries to convince Owen that his father has gone off the deep end and is not the right person to represent the anti-slavery cause.
I was interested in the film mostly because it stars the team of Hunter and Paget, two actors I quite enjoy who also costarred in FOURTEEN HOURS (1951), BELLES ON THEIR TOES (1952), WHITE FEATHER (1955), and a movie I especially liked, PRINCESS OF THE NILE (1954). They're an attractive and appealing young couple, and I was glad to have the chance to watch them together again in this.
I wasn't anticipating much from the movie beyond enjoying Paget and Hunter, but it was better than I expected, at least for the first two-thirds or so of the film. Massey initially avoids chewing too much scenery as Brown slowly and fairly subtly descends into madness. The supporting cast is interesting, and the script is pretty good, though it does start to become repetitive as the movie goes on and Brown's sons struggle with supporting or abandoning their father.
Inevitably, sorry history takes over and the film becomes quite grim in the last half hour, tracing the horrors of Harper's Ferry and John Brown's execution. At that point my interest in the film petered out and I was ready for it to end!
The supporting cast includes Larry Pennell, Dabbs Greer, John Smith, Tom Irish, James Anderson, and Ann Tyrrell.
The story and screenplay of this 90-minute film were by Daniel B. Ullman, who wrote some good '50s Westerns including WICHITA (1955) and THE OKLAHOMAN (1957).
The film was directed by Charles Marquis Warren, who specialized in writing, producing, and directing both feature film and TV Westerns; most notably he wrote literally hundreds of episodes of TV's GUNSMOKE.
The movie was filmed by Ellsworth Fredricks, with many shots having a rather noirish dark look.
This is a good-looking widescreen black and white Warner Archive DVD. There are no extras.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.