by Brad Nelson
Combine Jimmy Stewart with the old west (or Old South, in this case) and you just can’t go wrong. It’s tough to screw it up. But it shore looked that’s what they were doin’, pa, after watching about the first 15 minutes of this. It more resembled an episode of Bonanza (with b-list actors filling in among the stars) than a Jimmy Stewart classic. In fact, as noted by a reviewer at IMDB.com, Bonanza was the top-rated show at the time and the resemblance is intentional.
But eventually the movie gets its legs and Stewart anchors this film even though he’s surrounded by his several sons who can’t act a lick ‘cept fer the youngin. And that youngin did do a quite splendid job.
Shenandoah picks up speed and more than its share of grit as Stewart and his sons (and a daughter, played splendidly in this case) get caught up in the Civil War which is erupting all around them. The homespun common sense frontier wisdom that Stewart elicits is worth the price of admission. Good dialogue used to be the art of a movie before special effects and visuals drowned out the human element. A few can deliver a line as realistically as Stewart.
The issue of slavery, and the Civil War itself, are played in an interesting way. Stewart’s character owns no slaves and doesn’t agree with slavery. He sees no reason at all why he should fight in this war. But eventually he unavoidably gets wrapped up in it and the viewer is taken on a tour of a couple battlefields and other Civil War situations. It’s a bit different than I expected. I expected this to become a Civil War movie with two sides shooting at each other and lots of rows of men being mowed down line for line as usual. But it’s really a movie that dances in and around the war. Very nicely done.
You’ll notice that one of Jimmy Stewart’s sons is Zephram Cochrane. And if you don’t know who that is, you can just go ahead and Google it. But he really can’t act a lick either. I kept waiting for the Companion to come sparkling in. You’ll also run into Troy McClure (that’s *Doug,* Brad). Oh, sorry. You’ll run into Doug McClure too as one of Jimmy Stewart’s sons and this time he’s not running away from any dinosaurs. But he actually does a very nice job in this. You’ll also find Katharine Ross in this one and she plays the quite angelic daughter-in-law.
Overall, this is a pretty good movie and the star, of course, is James Stewart and he can carry this picture all by himself with two hands tied behind his back. And does. But they did write some really good dialogue for him. I give Shenandoah 3.9 (forget half-stars…I use tenths) out of 5. It’s just one tenth away from that truly stratospheric 4.0 rating. But this is a classic and a quite enjoyable film. If you like Jimmy Stewart, you have to watch it. That’s an order. • (1471 views)