Turn Back The Clock
The Blue and the Gray Recut
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
When The Blue and the Gray first made its appearance as a mini-series on national television, I was still a kid in school. I remember all of the fuss about this movie. It was an epic mini-series for its time with an ensemble cast that was absolutely amazing – Stacey Keach, Colleen Dewhurst, Paul Winfield, Lloyd Bridges, Warren Oates, Rip Torn, and Gregory Peck as Abraham Lincoln, just to name a few. The mini-series was based on a novel by Bruce Catton, a Civil War historian.
I remember teachers pushing this series, giving us articles to read about it, and recommending several times that we try to watch as much of it as we could. The most attractive feature for them was not the all-star cast, but the fact that Bruce Catton had mixed in little-known fact with fiction. Several scenes in the movie were supposedly based on actual occurrences during the Civil War, such as a barn party where both sides of the war were invited to attend and the meeting of two family members on different sides of the war on a battlefield while under a seize fire. They felt that the movie was a great teaching tool.
My parents seemed to like both aspects and allowed me to watch the complete six hour mini-series. Being a history buff – the Civil War being the most interesting period of history to me – I was ecstatic. I looked forward to watching The Blue and the Gray with eager anticipation and I was not disappointed.
The Blue and the Gray is about a man named John Geyser, who is a talented artist. John lives on a farm in Virginia where slavery and owning slaves is a way of life. John has never been much of a farmer and longs for a life where he can put his artistic talents to good use. He sets out on his own and is soon hired by his uncle as a correspondent for the local newspaper. His first assignment – sketch pictures of the controversial abolitionist John Brown before, during and after his trial.
Times become turbulent as the southern half of the nation begins to threaten to cede from the United States. John is forced to make a difficult decision. Realizing that he feels uncomfortable fighting for the South and an antiquated slavery system that he never believed in, John decides to become a war correspondent, remaining neutral and yet keeping the nation informed of the events occurring on the various battlefields.
Along the way, we are introduced to John’s cousins from the North, the Hales, and a scout named Jonas who possesses some sort of psychic ability. The tale is more about how John and his family and friends endure the war than the war itself, although there are many juicy historical tidbits in there. Abraham Lincoln is masterfully played by Gregory Peck. In fact, I am hard pressed to think of any actor who played the role as well, and I’ve seen quite a few civil war movies in my time. There are some terrific examples of acting by Lloyd Bridges and Stacey Keach.
Recently, I received The Blue and the Gray Recut DVD. This version of the movie is slightly shorter than the original six hour miniseries at 296 minutes. I hadn’t watched the movie in some time and so I rushed to the DVD player with my two-DVD set, ready to reminisce. It’s amazing to watch this series again now, so many years after its initial release. You begin to realize just how melodramatic television mini-series tended to be in those days. The melodrama and some poor acting by John Hammond and a couple of other cast members took something away from the movie this time around. However, it was not enough to make me change my mind about the series completely. I still love it.
I do have some complaints about the “Recut” version. Firstly, there are no special features other than subtitles and scene selection. How about some documentaries that explain the scenes specifically included that represent real occurrences in the war? Or a deleted scene section? To this day, I still remember a scene in the movie that I haven’t seen since the mini-series first aired – a scene that would have explained Jonas’ abilities and his loner style much better. I never understood why it was deleted in subsequent versions of the film.
That leads me to my second complaint – why recut the movie to make it shorter. Most cuts are “director’s cuts” that make the movie longer. It was a miniseries for crying out loud. I’ve heard some people say that the deleted scenes don’t detract from the movie, but as someone who has seen the film in its original form, I must disagree. There are several scenes that have been cut as unimportant, yet I remember that they made the movie more interesting and assisted in defining the characters better.
All in all, any history buff with a leaning toward the Civil War will enjoy this film. The ensemble cast, the historical setting, the love stories, family drama, struggles and strife combine to make The Blue and the Gray a very entertaining mini-series.