The Coward was one of a number of films made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the American Civil War’s nominal ending. It tells a much smaller story than Mr Griffiths’ well-known epic from earlier in the year and focuses in on the more human reaction to war: the question of will I be able to fight?
Too often physical bravery is taken for granted and instinctive fear is treated as momentary doubt to be blown away by a sudden onrush of heroism or as a weakness to be pitied or laughed at. In The Coward the “hero” suffers deep shame and is only able to enlist under threat of being shot by his father… all armies need men like him: happy to slaughter those who run the wrong way.
|Fearsome Frank Keenan|
Written and produced by Thomas H. Ince and directed by Reginald Barker, The Coward starts off in the sunny South just as war breaks out. Frank’s father, retired Colonel Jefferson Beverly Winslow (Frank Keenan) sits reading a letter from Southern military command rejecting his offer to –re-enlist on account of age. Meanwhile Frank is out admiring peaceful nature with his sweetheart Amy (Margaret Gibson) but when they return to town, the declaration has been made and young men are falling over themselves to join up.
|Margaret Gibson and Charles Ray|
|Frank flees from the recruitment office|
|Frank joins up|
So off goes Frank to serve the South but his involvement is short-lived as he runs back home after his first night watch: scared by the trees, the breeze and his own shadow. Father is disgusted and decides to take his son’s place in the war – off he goes, rifle in hand; back in the business.
|Frank's disgrace is almost complete|
|Excellent battle scenes|
If you look carefully you might even spot John Gilbert as “a young Virginian” although I missed him: these Yankees, they all look the same…
|One of these men could be John Gilbert...|
|War is hell|