It’s a rousing cavalry film with fantastic performances from John Wayne and William Holden, but it’s also a tragic portrait of America at its worst moment, and, as far as I can tell, one of only two theatrically-released Civil War movies in which, get this, the north are the good guys and the south are the bad guys! (The other being Glory. Are there any more?)
There were lots of moments in the movie that I loved, but, as a screenwriter, my favorite was a dialogue exchange between Wayne and Constance Towers. After having seized a Mississippi town in a fierce battle, the Union patrol has requisitioned a local saloon to treat the wounded. As Holden, the field doctor, tries to save lives, Wayne acts disgusted and goes to the bar to get drunk. Towers doesn’t understand this and confronts him:
- Towers: He’s fighting to save men’s lives!
- Wayne (bitterly sarcastic): Men’s lives are the reputation of his profession.
- Towers: Can’t you be serious for a moment?
- Wayne: Okay, have it your way...
- Towers: Medicine is the most noble and unselfish--
- Wayne: --Sure! Noble profession! Noble oath! Lanterns held up high! So high…they won’t admit…they’re groping for… (Can’t figure out a way out of that metaphor, so he just trails off.)
- Towers: (Waits in vain for him to finish his metaphor, then realizes that he never will, so she resumes the debate with) You’re unfair…
Finally, a movie that acknowledges the way that real people use metaphors: ineptly! (Especially when they’re drunk and prone to high-horse putdowns.) If you’re searching for ways to make your dialogue more realistic, this is how you do it: have them talk as if nobody has written down what they’ll say before they say it.