The simple and, by now, oft-told tale of a son who fears that he cannot live up to the high standards of his father may have been fresher in 1915 than it seems today. However, viewers of early silent films should put themselves into the perspective of the times and relish a Civil War story that was filmed while many in the audience could still remember the actual war. The Civil War took place only 50 years before "The Coward" was made, which is approximately the same time span between World War II and "Saving Private Ryan." A fresh-looking Charles Ray portrays Frank Winslow, the son of a proud and unyielding Southern gentleman, and his performance is the most naturalistic of the small cast. A handsome young man with an appropriately innocent demeanor, Ray manages to convey his ambivalence about resisting enlistment in the Confederate Army, a move that will alienate him from his stern father, who insists that his son uphold the family honor. Bowing to his father's orders and threats, the young man joins the army, where he makes a fateful decision. Although subsequent events play out as anyone could predict, viewer interest never lags because the film is tight and decently paced. Unfortunately, much of the cast, especially Frank Keenan as the father, are either stiff or overly emotive in their roles, which makes Ray that much more appealing in contrast. Characteristic of the times, white actors in black face play the two household slaves. While the condition of the print makes evaluation of the cinematography difficult, the interior scenes for the most part betray the flimsy sets that were used. However, the exterior shots, especially the brief battle scenes, are convincing and effective. "The Coward" is an amiable film with a well-worn plot and is likely typical of silent films that were produced prior to the 1920's. While neither a work of art nor even the best of its era, the film offers an interesting glimpse of what entertained moviegoers during the years before World War I.
Drama / History / War
Drama / History / War
Confederate soldier Frank Winslow is terrified of the war and eventually runs away from battle. But when he finds himself behind enemy lines with vital information, he must decide between ...
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September 4, 2019