Red Badge of Courage, The (1951)

Red Badge of Courage, The (1951)

“He wished that he, too had a wound — a red badge of courage.”

A young man (Audie Murphy) fighting for the Union during the Civil War panics during his initial battle, but vows to redeem himself in future skirmishes.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Audie Murphy Films
  • Civil War
  • Cowardice
  • John Huston Films
  • Soldiers

John Huston’s adaptation of Stephen Crane’s classic novel was notoriously butchered down from two+ hours to just 69 minutes by studio executives (with the original cut lost), yet it remains a potent viewing experience even in its truncated form. By honing in closely on the experiences of a trepidatious young private battling fear, shame, and anger, we see war as both traumatizing and ennobling. Casting decorated WWII veteran Audie Murphy in the lead role was a brilliant choice:

… and he’s surrounded by fine supporting actors as well — including Royal Dano as “The Tattered Man” in a performance that was severely truncated upon editing, but remains powerful even in the few glimpses we do see:

Film fanatics will likely appreciate seeing how Huston’s directorial genius emerges in nearly every scene of this finely shot, emotionally laden movie.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine ensemble performances
  • Impressive battle scenes

  • Stark imagery
  • Harold Rosson’s cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a powerfully told tale by a master director. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Good Show
  • Important Director


One thought on “Red Badge of Courage, The (1951)

  1. Must-see, as a solid war classic.

    Even cut down from 2 hours, it’s still a compelling film that feels complete. I’ve been tempted to read the Lillian Ross book (‘Picture’) which details the making of the film – but with so many things to read…..

    It’s likely we will never have a complete print – one which Huston said was among his best films. Still, artists are not always the best judges of their own work; they are sometimes fond of films which others cannot fully see the value of. And they sometimes dislike what others praise.

    And perhaps one reason why the first version of the film tested so poorly with audiences is that – based on what we see here – there is not a whole lot in terms of standard narrative plot. Essentially, little ‘happens’ outside of a young man’s shifting feelings about / observations of war. That may not have been enough for regular audiences. Maybe they were anticipating more in terms of complex incidents (as in, for example, Kubrick’s ‘Paths of Glory’). ‘TRBOC’ may have been a bit too poetic for mainstream taste. (That wasn’t the only time that happened with a Huston film.)

    At any rate, this is something ffs should certainly see.

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