His middling career included some interesting misfires in just about every genre, such as the noirish One Way Street (1950), the once racy but quite a good, saucy adaptation of Boccaccio's Decameron Nights (1953) (condemned by the Legion of Decency, which was probably good for box office), Seven Thunders (1957), a compelling story of escaped British servicemen trapped in wartime Marseilles, and the last in the series of films begun by Fritz Lang in 1922, The Secret of Dr. Mabuse (1964), which owed more to James Bond than to the cinematic master, Herr Lang. Perhaps because of Fregonese's cosmopolitan background, The Raid is available on a Region 2 DVD in some countries, though it is not yet available in the United States. If an enterprising vendor could be found to promote this DVD, it might also be interesting to American Civil War buffs and those of us who enjoy obscure oddities of an historical nature.
I'm really not certain that The Raid (1954) should be categorized as action, adventure or a western, (or maybe more accurately, a "no'reastern"?), but recently I've been reminded that I've been meaning to write a bit about this odd duck of a movie for some time. The film begins with a group of Confederate prisoners of war breaking out of a Yankee prison in Plattsburg, NY. While there were almost two dozen Union prison camps in New York State during the Civil War, as far as I know there was not one in Plattsburgh. In the brief sequence set in this film's POW camp, the poor conditions depicted make me believe that for whatever reason, the filmmakers may have based this reality on the conditions at the Elmira Prison Camp. Living in the city of Elmira for several years of my childhood, I can attest to the existence of traces of that sad period when the town, which was the last regular stop on the Underground Railroad, teemed with thousands of Southern soldiers kept in horrendous conditions. (In the 1970s, chains and shackles were still embedded in basement walls of older homes where Confederate officers were "fortunate" enough to be kept in the cellar during the frigid winters of upstate NY).
In any case, the Confederates, who include commanding officer Major Neal Benton (Van Heflin) and Captain Frank Dwyer (Peter Graves), both of whom have reason to be bitter toward the North, are motivated to escape out of a sense of duty as well as revenge for the wanton destruction of their family's homes by Northern troops and, in the case of Graves, the death of his wife during an attack. These men, hanging on to their self-discipline and sense of duty, convey a sense that their ragged but steely military restraint is laced with an underlying desire to inflict some of the pain that the Union Army and common citizens of the North have imposed on their fellow Southerners. Others in their number, particularly Lt. Keating, vividly played by Lee Marvin, have been brutalized by their experiences, and are no longer able to restrain their blood lust. The attitudes of these Confederates, while fictionalized, did reflect the reality of an increasingly desperate and embittered faction of the Southern forces by 1864. Battlefield losses, mounting casualties and growing food shortages were eating into Southern morale by that time, further radicalizing a segment of the South, who turned to a darker, more violent form of attack on those who would soon be "victors."
Hopeless but dead serious Confederate saboteurs conspired to engage in several activities that are still little known today. One of the real world events dramatized in The Raid (1954) was based on the robberies of three banks in St. Albans, Vt., which netted the Confederates $175,000 in gold, cash and securities. In their wake the set several fires in and around the area. These tactics did little to prolong the war or materially affect its outcome, though the attacks on civilian property and populations represented a new, dark and altogether different kind of guerrilla warfare.
The real life attack on the peaceful little Vermont burg of
Other actors familiar from the period who fill out the cast are
|Above: Civil War widow Anne Bancroft (who did not look comfy in her hoop skirts), enjoying the company of a "loco parentis," Van Heflin, whose fatherly attention is craved by her emotionally needy son, played by Tommy Rettig.|
Believe it or not, leading a charge of 20 men, Confederate agent George Sanders (no, not that one), and Lieutenant Bennett Young, the rebels got $200k from three banks in the town, (most of which they dropped during their escape). Though they unsuccessfully tried to burn down the town on the way out, they made it to Montreal, where they were charged, tried but, ooops, never extradited back to Washington, D.C. by those stubborn Canadians. Lieutenant Young, who eventually rose to the rank of General, revisited Montreal in 1911, when, in a conciliatory mood, a group of St. Albans dignitaries paid him a courtesy call at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
Above: Van Heflin and Peter Graves embark on their mission in St. Albans, dressed as Confederate gray.
In the movie, the characters names have been changed, though Heflin
Eventually growing out of the cute kid parts, Rettig reportedly said
One of the problems that I had dramatically with this film was that Bancroft's character is written as though the role was intended to be played by a calm, ladylike actress with a passive manner--think Phyllis Thaxter in Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo--and you'll know what I mean. Bancroft is too young, too urban and too fiercely and naturally forceful a woman to ever fit that tight a stereotype. Watching The Raid, you can almost feel her straining in the corseted stays of this part.
Some commentators on this movie have noted that it was not until the 1950s and films such as John Huston's adaptation of
Wills, Brian Steel, Gone with the Glory: the Civil War in Cinema, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007.