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COWARD, THE (director: Thomas Ince/Reginald Barker; screenwriter: from the story by Thomas Ince/Thomas Ince; cinematographers: Joseph H. August/Robert S. Newhard; cast: Charles Ray (Frank Winslow), Gertrude Claire (Betty Winslow), Frank Keenan (Colonel Jefferson Winslow), Margaret Gibson (Amy), Charles K. French(French commander), Nick Cogley(Negro house servant); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Thomas Ince; TCM; 1915-silent)
Interesting only as an historical film from a different era.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Civil War silent melodrama that offers a benevolent-paternalist view of master-slave relations and glories in war as a bond that makes father’s closer with theirsons. It came out the same year as Griffith’s epic Birth of a Nation and had some success, but just not as great acclaim or box office as that influential classic. Producer, writer and co-director Thomas Ince discovered the 24-year-old Charles Ray and groomed him over the years to play The Coward. This film made him a star. In later years Ray bankrolled a film that bombed and lost all his money. He never recovered and became a forgotten actor, who in later years was reduced to taking bit parts.

In 1861, the Civil War starts. Virginia plantation owner Colonel Jefferson Winslow (Frank Keenan, grandfather of Keenan Wynn) fought in the Mexican War and would like to volunteer for this war but is rejected because of his age. His son Frank (Charles Ray) is forced to enlist by dad and after he runs away is again forced to enlist. His nurturing mom (Gertrude Claire) coddles him.

While camped nearby, Frank deserts while on guard duty and hides out in the family mansion. Dad is so ashamed, that he volunteers to take his son’s place as a private and thereby not tarnish the family name. One day a Union patrol confiscates the Winslow mansion and while Frank hides in the attic, he eavesdrops on the officers sitting at the kitchen table and announcing battle plans for the next day (Buster Keaton borrowed freely from this scene in his 1927 The General). The lad is tinged with patriotism and steals the plans, suddenly finding his courage. While wearing a Union uniform Frank’s chased over Confederate lines and winged by his father, on guard duty. But Frank’s strong enough to get to the Reb commander and give him the plans. It results in a Reb victory during battle, and father and son reuniting.

Didn’t think much of its pro war sentiments, and its exaggerated dramatics and stagebound execution leaves it outdated. Interesting only as an historical film from a different era.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”