Saturday, June 25, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Scarlet Coat (1955)

It's been an extremely busy few days without much time for either movies or blogging, but I finally had time to sit down and relax with a movie tonight, THE SCARLET COAT (1955).

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 is shown periodically on Turner Classic Movies, where it often turns up in the Independence Day lineup.

The trailer is here.

Update: This film is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive.


Blogger James Corry said...

"Coat" is a practically totally unknown CinemaScope film, and I certainly agree with you Laura; it's pretty slow-tough going. I expected more from someone like Sturges. I'm sure it'll eventually get released by the WB Archive.


3:20 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Brad,

Thanks for sharing your impressions! In a way it's kind of reassuring to know it's not just me who thought it was dull. Given Sturges' reputation for delivering on action films, in particular, this one was not very well constructed; I think part of the problem he was given a sub-par script to deal with, but as I mentioned, I also found the way he shot the film problematic.

Glad I saw it so I can check it off the lists of actors I particularly enjoy, like Sanders and Francis, and for the time period, but it's not anything I would rush to see again, that's for sure. :)

Best wishes,

3:29 PM  
Blogger Regina said...

Unfortunately I only caught the last 20 minutes of the film on TMC today, July 4th. Since I live only minutes from where Andre was hung I have always had a special interest in the Andre story, and I must say that the true story of the events would make a compelling film which would have been superior to this altered and complicated version. Andre was a very sympathetic figure to the folks in Tappan. The memories of little Maria Haring who witnessed Andre's execution are on my website, on the page for Ambrose Secor, arrived at from the page for Judge John Haring.
Regina Haring in Rockland County, NY

12:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you so much for sharing that very interesting background, Regina. I visited your site, where you've collected some wonderful historical material. I find it so curious that in that era it was seen as appropriate for such a young child to view the execution. Maria's memories were sad yet compelling reading.

Best wishes,

12:44 PM  
Blogger panavia999 said...

I watched it on July 4 on TCM. Cornel Wilde is not very good in it. A better actor would have brought more excitement to the ruthless character of Bolton. Wilding is very good indeed. Everything is fair game in war and John Andre is a most sympathatic character.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Agreed, it needed not only a better actor in the role, but also a better script. :)

Best wishes,

5:46 PM  
Blogger Sophie50 said...

I happened on your musings on the Scarlet Coat while looking around to find a source for it. Still isn't one, though as you said it's available on a UK release. Fortunately I have a multistandard DVD player. Anyhow, what caught my attention on the trailer was the narrator! Same voice as did the intro for each episode of Lost in Space back in the 60's. I never knew the person who did those voiceovers might have done other stuff!

12:49 AM  

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