Glory A Review Essay Research Paper Glory

Glory: A Review Essay, Research Paper

Glory: A Review

Stephanie Beck

April 9, 1997

Prof. Deutch

Glory captures the heroism of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the first black

regiment in the Civil War, the Massachusetts “Fighting” Fifty-fourth. An

extremely talented cast and crew earned three Academy Awards (cinematography,

sound and supporting actor) and five nominations for their work in Glory. The

outstanding cinematography, sound, score and acting recreate the events leading

up to the Union attack on Fort Wagner on July 18th 1863.

Matthew Broderick portrays the young Bostonian abolitionist Col. Robert G.

Shaw who takes command of the Fifty-fourth, following the Emancipation

Proclamation. Shaw along with Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes) leads a band of ex

slaves, servants and other black volunteers including a rebellious runaway slave

Trip (Denzel Washington), Shaw’s educated childhood friend Thomas Searles (Andre

Braugher), and a former grave digger Rawlins (Morgan Freeman). Together these

men face the adversity of a racist Union Army, struggling to prove themselves

worthy of their government issued blue uniforms.

After months of training and exploitation for physical labor, the Fifty-

fourth gains the opportunity to fight in an attack on Fort Wagner on the beaches

of South Carolina. Poised to dispel the belief that blacks would not be

disciplined under fire, the Fifty-fourth leads the almost suicidal attack on Ft.

Wagner. There Col. Shaw valiantly falls and the Fifty-fourth, suffering great

losses, displayed the courage that persuaded the Union to enlist many more black


Matthew Broderick delivers a noteworthy performance in the role of Col.

Shaw, which Leonard Maltin calls his most ambitious part. In an interview for

the New York Times, Broderick spoke of his method acting,

“The first step [in preparing for the role of Robert Gould Shaw in Glory]

was to try to learn as much as I could about the real person. That was mostly

from letters, photographs, descriptions and a poem by Emerson. The thing I had

to do was bring myself into that situation. I didn’t want to be an imitation of

what I thought Shaw must have been like.”

Broderick’s acting talent has been noted on Broadway as well as in films.

Broderick won a Tony Award for his performance in “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in

1983, a year after his film debut in Max Dugan Returns. (Maltin, 102) But it was

his role as a computer hacker in War Games and his role as a handsome young teen

touring Chicago in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off that alerted moviegoers to his


Denzel Washington has received critical acclaim for his role as Trip (as

well as an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor). Denzel commented on the role of

Trip in an interview with the New York Times.

“Trip’s an instigator – wild, rebellious, angry. He’s a product of racism

who’s become a racist. He hates all white people, Confederates most of all. But

in the end, when he sees the white officers make the maximum sacrifice, he’s the

most patriotic one in the bunch.”

Director of Glory, Edward Zwick described Washington by stating, “Whatever that

mysterious chemical process is that makes the camera love someone, he has more

of it than any one person should.”(Maltin, 921) It is that presence that earned

him an Oscar for Glory and nominations for his roles in Cry Freedom and Malcolm


Equally as important as acting to the impact of the movie Glory is the

Musical score composed by James Horner. In the final battle scene in Glory,

Horner chose the Boys Choir of Harlem which creates a moving effect during the

death of Col. Robert Shaw.(Magill, 158) Horner won a Grammy Award for the score

for Glory. He was nominated the same year for an Academy Award for the score

for Field of Dreams. Horner’s previous Grammy Awards include song of the year

and best song written for a motion picture or television, all for “Somewhere Out

There” from An American Tale in 1987. (CTFT, 228) Leonard Maltin calls Horner

one of today’s most prolific film composer’s. Horner composed thirty one motion

picture scores from 1979 to 1989. (Maltin, 411)

There are many elements that contribute to the success of a film. Glory

combines the best cinematography, sound, score, and acting to create a moving

representation of this portion of U. S. history. Roger Ebert called it a

“strong and valuable film.” In his review written for the Chicago Sun-Times,

Ebert notes the amount of effort devoted to accurate period detail.

One of Ebert’s criticisms of Glory is that the perspective of the movie is

constantly seen from one view, that of the white officer. Ebert points out that

a white man is cast as the lead role when the movie is essentially about a black

experience. Glory could have been told from the eyes of a black soldier in the

Fifty-fourth. Ebert makes a valid assumption when he suggest that a totally

different film could be made from the same material.

Indeed Glory is a story of how the freed blacks were able to prove

themselves in battle. The Fifty- fourth regiment could also be considered one

of the first times we see blacks look for equal opportunity. Ebert notes the

scene when the black soldiers of the Fifty-fourth learn they will not be paid

the regular (white) wage. “Blacks march as far, bleed as much and die as soon,

they argue.”(Ebert) It would be 100 years later that they gained equal

opportunity when in Vietnam both black and white soldiers were interspersed in

the military. While Roger Ebert discusses the idea of a different point of view

he notes that Glory is an important film no matter who’s eyes it is seen from.

Blake Lukas on the other hand is far more critical of the film. In Lukas’

review for Magill’s Cinema Annual he picks at elements of the film, including

weak characterization and directing that leaves something to be desired. Lukas

seems at times to be lost in his own rhetoric when he writes about the dismal

war genre. He delves into the number of Vietnam films that are “a far more

popular subject in this period.”(Magill, 155)

After a brief synopsis of the film Lukas comments on the dynamics of the

protagonist character who we see mature through the film. The remaining

characters Lukas believes lack dimension. He calls the role of Cabot Forbes

“fleetingly interesting” and the role of Trip, (which Denzel Washington won

Best Supporting Actor for) “predictable.” He goes on further to say that the

role of Rawlins portrayed by Morgan Freeman is only enlightened by this

“brilliant actor’s own characteristic intelligence.” Therefore without the

phenomenal acting talent presented in Glory Lukas feels the movie would be flat.

In addition to finding flaw in the characterization Lukas compares

director Edward Zwick to the director John Ford. Ford directed earlier Civil

War films such as The Horse Soldiers(1959) or Sergeant Rutledge (1960)which

based on the an all black calvary regiment in the Civil War. Lukas suggest

that Ford was able to attain a “thematic richness” that alluded Zwick. Lukas

also remarks that Zwick used ineffective “emphasis on close ups and shallow

focus which do little to make the film’s historical moment seem …alive in

spite of admirable attention to detail in the art direction sets and costumes.”

Lukas is impressed however by Zwick’s direction of the final scene in which

he uses “vigorous tracking shots ” to create a “stunning effect.” Lukas also

comments on the James’s Horner’s inventive use of the Boy’s Choir of Harlem.

Lukas suggest that Zwick looked to appeal to contemporary audiences.

Interestingly enough Lukas is surprised that Glory met with such “critical and

commercial success.”

I was surprised to read the review written by Blake Lukas where he

constantly compares Zwick to a former director of Civil War films John Ford, and

when he persist in mentioning the dismal nature of most war films. Lukas states

that “Glory offers an idealism and sense of heroism that contrast powerfully to

the spectacle of bloodshed and war’s waste of life that it also visualizes.”

Lukas seems hung up on the waste of life that is portrayed in war film’s. In my

opinion Glory was not a movie about whether or not we as a nation should

participate in wars. It was about the progress of the black race and the fierce

battle they had to fight a long the way to attain each rung on the ladder of

freedom. Lukas criticism seems out of place when he writes about Vietnam and

the “American soldier’s potential for barbarism.”

Lukas also seems hung up on the past. he makes two comments which seem out

of place. First when comparing Zwick to Ford he states that Zwick does not

attempt the same “thematic richness” and that “(Zwick’s) sensibilities are more

attuned with the responses of the 1989 audiences.” I don’t think Zwick should

be faulted for creating a film that is appealing to contemporary audiences.” I

certainly would not go see a film directed by Lukas.

Desson Howe reviewing Glory for the Washington Post like Lukas notes that

the scriptwriter Jarre (who’s credits include Rambo: First Blood Part II)

provides only a superficial characterization “his script is made better by the

performers.” Howe believes that the is too much “liberal eyed giddiness (thanks

chiefly to the gushy, rhapsodizing score by James Horner).”

Both Ebert and Lukas acclaim Broderick’s performance of Shaw, yet Howe

criticizes it writing, “In this movie he is an amiable non-presence, creating

unintentionally the notion that he Fifty-fourth earned its stripes despite wimpy

leadership.” This comment lead me to wonder whether Howe and I saw the same

movie. Howe notes that the performance of Denzel Washington, and Morgan Freeman

uplift the film.

Perhaps the reviewers did not have the luxury of time to research the

history of Robert Gould Shaw or the Fifty-fourth. If so they would have found

that Shaw was indeed a youthful officer given charge of the Fifty-Fourth as

Colonel at the age of 26. Understanding Shaw philosophical views as an

abolitionist and the societal views of blacks being subservient to whites,

certainly a young man leading the first black regiment would experience a

certain degree of self doubt and contradiction. In the end Shaw develops the

courage to lead his men into battle to a symbolic triumph displaying the bravery

of these black soldiers. Broderick’s portrayal of Shaw is credible from my

point of view.

The credibility of Glory is heighten by the amount of effort devoted to

recreating the historical details. From the camps to the costumes Glory

captures the aura of battle. Most of the critics agree that the historical

detail was a redeeming element of the film.

Glory is a film that balances it shortcomings out with exceptional talent.

Perhaps a lack of dimension in the characters is balanced with outstanding

performances. Any faults in the directing are made up by the detail put in to

the film and the superior sound and score. Glory is a carefully constructed

film with a didactic theme. It is an accurate representation of the lives of

Civil War soldiers.

The climax of the movie is fairly accurately represented. The Fifty-fourth

regiment had slightly over five hundred members when they marched into battle on

July 18th, 1863. Over two hundred and fifty members of the regiment died in

that battle and several more were injured. That is what proved to the white

regiments looking on that the black soldiers were worthy of battle. Glory

captures that triumph.


Contemporary Theatre, Film and Television. Detroit: Gale Research, Volume 10

Ebert, Roger. The Chicago Sun-Times, January 12, 1990

Howe, Desson. The Washington Post, January 12, 1990

Lukas, Blake. Magill’s Cinema Annual 1990, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Salem Press,


Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia, The Penguin Publishing

Company, New York, NY 1994.


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