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Western films, from silent to today

Seven Angry Men (1955)

Seven Angry Men (1955) posterRaymond Massey plays John Brown, who has summoned his six grown sons to Kansas where he’s established a colony determined to make sure the territory enters the Union as a free state.

His adversary is Martin White (Leo Gordon), leader of pro-slavery Border Ruffians. They wind up raiding Lawrence, Kansas, setting the town aflame, killing five people and leaving scores of others injured.

In retaliation, Brown hunts down and kills three unarmed members of a family known to have taken part in the raid. That’s the first time his sons have gotten a glimpse of how fanatical their father can be in the fight to end slavery, and it causes a split between them.

But Owen Brown (Jeffrey Hunter) insists on standing by his father, even if he thinks he’s gone too far, even if the love of his life (Debra Paget as Elizabeth Clark) prefers more peaceful means of winning freedom for slaves in the South.

Once Kansas votes to enter the Union as a free state, Owen and Elizabeth begin planning a life for themselves, a life without the violence John Brown Sr. represents.

They soon find out Owen’s dad has no intention of stopping with Kansas. He heads north to raise money for his new strike. This time, he plans to take over a town in Virginia in hopes of sparking a slave rebellion and bringing freedom to another part of the south.

Review:

The film was made at a time when civil rights tensions were high in the U.S. And it doesn’t shy away from an important debate — is violence a responsible way to fight for right — but the ending certainly casts John Brown in a favorable light as a martyr.

The biggest problem with the film is the relationship between the characters played by Elizabeth Clark and Jeffrey Hunter. She can’t condone violence, even though her father was killed by the Border Ruffians. She admits hoping John Brown Sr. dies so his hold over Owen ends. Yet Owen stands by her, just as he stands by his father.

Massey also played John Brown in the 1940 film “Sante Fe Trail,” starring Ronald Regan and Errol Flynn. One of the more interesting secondary roles here goes to Dennis Weaver. He plays John Brown Jr., who also shys away from violence and eventually goes mad because of it.

Which brings us to the title of the film, an apparent reference to the Brown family. Problem is, they aren’t all angry. At least not to the point where they’ll go along with their father’s violent solutions to the slavery problem.

Jeffrey Hunter as Owen Brown and Debra Paget as Elizabeth Cark in Seven Angry Men (1955)Directed by:
Charles Marquis Warren

Cast:
Raymond Massey … John Brown
Jeffrey Hunter … Owen Brown
Debra Paget … Elizabeth Clark
Larry Pennell … Oliver Brown
Leo Gordon … Martin White
James Best … Jason Brown
Dennis Weaver … John Brown Jr.
John Smith … Frederick Brown
Guy Williams … Salmon Brown
Tom Irish … Watson Brown
James Anderson … Henry Thompson
James Edwards .. Ned Green
John Pickard … George Wilson
Smoki Whitfield … Newby
Jack Lomas … Doyle
John Lupton … Lt. Stuart
Robert Osterloh … Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee

Runtime: 90 min.

aka: “God’s Angry Men”

Memorable lines:

Martin White: “You’re doing the work of the devil, John Brown. And you will pay for your sins.”
John Brown: “I’m sure of that — when I sin. But not to you, Maritn White.”

Oliver Brown, after John Brown has had three men killed in retaliation for an attack on Lawrence, Kansas: “Owen, I would have never come (to Kansas) if I knew he’d make us do the things we did today.”
Owen Brown: “Maybe, maybe I wouldn’t have come either. But I did. We all did. Everybody in Kansas knows we’re here. Three of John Brown’s sons have left him and, if the rest of us go, the whole Free State movement might fall apart.”

Owen Brown, to his father: “You’re so caught up in your dream of trying to make all men free that you think it doesn’t matter how you accomplished it. But it does. You can’t assume the power of life and death over people. Nobody can.”

Elizabeth Clark Brown: “You’ll never leave him until you die. Or until he dies. I’ve never before prayed for a man’s death, but I do now.”

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