From the beginnings to rather recent times, sympathetic portrayals of Confederates have been a mainstay of America cinema. An astounding number of major stars without any Southern background have had no objection to favourably portraying Confederates (and other Southerners). It might be noted that two of the major figures of early American film, D.W. Griffith and Will Rogers, were the SONS of Confederate soldiers.
Many of these films showed Confederate flags in favourable contexts and sometimes even in glorification.
This list is certainly not exhaustive. The items are mentioned just as they randomly occurred to the writer and in no particular order. Their dates range from the early 20th century to the early 21st century.
Stars with some Southern background are marked with *. All the other stars are Northern or British.
Good Confederates in Hollywood:
John Ford, the later famous director was one of the hooded rescuers in Birth of a Nation.
Buster Keaton, The General
Shirley Temple, The Littlest Rebel
Martin Sheen, Gettysburg
Martin Sheen, Guns of Honor. In a curious bit of PC censorship, when the DVD of this film was produced, an entirely different film was substituted under the same name, with the Confederate part entirely eliminated.
Henry Fonda, Jesse James (and sequels)
Tyrone Power, “ “ “ “
Meryl Streep, Secret Service (her opening monologue in front of a large Confederate flag)
Van Heflin, The Raid
Errol Flynn, The Santa Fe Trail, Rocky Mountain
Roy Rogers, Arizona Kid
*Gene Autry, Night Stage to Galveston and others
Richard Harris, Major Dundee
Richard Widmark, Alvarez Kelly
Joel McRea, Border River, The Outriders, and post-Confederate The Virginian
Ronald Reagan, Cavalry Charge (riding to the rescue of Yankees)
Noah Beery, Cavalry Charge
*Eleanor Parker, Escape from Fort Bravo
John Forsythe, Escape from Fort Bravo
Jason Isaacs, Field of Lost Shoes (Brit plays a good John C. Breckinridge)
Clark Gable, Gone with the Wind
Vivien Leigh, “
Olivia de Haviland, “
Leslie Howard, “
Hattie McDaniel, “
Thomas Mitchell, “
John Payne, The Eagle and the Hawk, The Vanquished
Jane Darwell, Ward Bond, Barbara O’Neill, GWTW
Van Johnson, Siege at Red River
Margaret Sullavan, So Red the Rose
James Stewart, Shenandoah (a somewhat reluctant Confederate)
Tom Berenger, Gettysburg
Richard Jordan, Gettysburg
*Robert Duvall, Gods and Generals
Stephen Lang, Gods and Generals
*Frankie Faison, Gods and Generals
James MacArthur, Mosby’s Marauders
Robert Stack, Great Day in the Morning
Richard Basehart, The Andersonville Trial
*Jeffrey Hunter, The Great Locomotive Chase and others
Kathryn Grant, Hope Emerson, Jeanette Nolan, The Guns of Fort Petticoat
Alan Ladd, Red Mountain
*Randolph Scott, Hangman’s Knot, So Red the Rose, Virginia City, and others
Armand Assante, The Hunley
Donald Sutherland, The Hunley
Constance Towers, The Horse Soldiers (though a rather silly movie and character)
Alex-Hyde White, Ironclads
*Miriam Hopkins, Virginia City
Arthur Kennedy, Red Mountain
James Coburn, Major Dundee
*Audie Murphy, Kansas Raiders and others
*Patricia Clarkson, Pharoah’s Army
*Kris Kristofferson, Pharoah’s Army
Warner Baxter, The Prisoner of Shark Island
Tobey Maguire, Ride with the Devil
Skeet Ulrich, Ride with the Devil
Jewel, Ride with the Devil
Jeffrey Wright, Ride with the Devil
Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Ride with the Devil (not too positive a character)
Madolyn Smith, The Rose and the Jackal
Montgomery Clift, Red River
Brian Donleavy, The Woman They Almost Lynched
Audrey Totter, “
John Lund, Five Guns West
Clint Eastwood, Ambush at Cimarron Pass (an early significant role), The Outlaw Josey Wales
Gene Tierney, Belle Starr
Doug McClure, Shenandoah
Bruce Cabot, Lawrence Tierney, Tom Tyler, The Best of the Badmen
Rock Hudson, The Undefeated, The Lawless Breed
Chris Mitchum, Rio Lobo
Jorge Rivero (Mexican star), Rio Lobo
Walter Brennan, born in Boston, plays good Confederates in quite a few films as well as good 20th century Southerners in many other films.
I have omitted movies where the Confederate character is definitely unlikable: Rod Steiger in Run of the Arrow and Mickey Rourke in The Last Outlaw, although in some of the films above some Confederates are required to show a mean side in contrast to righteous Yankees.
Another major category are films that concern post-war ex-Confederates, where their identity forms a major part of the character and plot complications. They are usually courageously struggling with problems, problems often caused by malicious and greedy carpetbaggers. This is true of four of John Wayne’s best Westerns: The Searchers, True Grit, Chisum, Rooster Cogburn. Also Hondo, although the point from the original story is not made in the movie.
The main characters of the classic Lonesome Dove series, *Robert Duvall, *Tommy Lee Jones, *Sissy Spacek, and *James Garner are obviously ex-Confederates making their way in Reconstruction, although the scalawag author Larry McMurtry has always played this down.
This category includes many other films portraying ex-Confederates sympathetically: Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, Nick Adams’s TV series The Rebel, and the quite recent TV series Hell on Wheels starring *Anson Mount. Other examples of sympathetic ex-Confederates:
Alan Ladd, The Proud Rebel
Victor Mature, Escort West
Gary Cooper, Dallas, Vera Cruz
Elizabth Montgomery, Belle Starr
Michael Douglas, The Ghost and the Darkness
Maureen O’Hara, Deadly Companions
Charlton Heston, Three Violent People, Arrowhead (where he wears his Confederate pants)
Christopher Reeve, The Bostonians
Ray Milland, Copper Canyon
Marlon Brando, Appaloosa
*Will Rogers, Judge Priest and others
The Long Riders: David, Keith, and Robert Carradine; *James and *Stacy Keach, *Dennis and *Randy Quaid
*Ben Johnson, Rio Grande, and others
And we should remember the Philadelphian Owen Wister’s novel The Virginian, set in Wyoming and its numerous movie versions, one starring Joel McRea.
Southerners traditionally fared well in films set in contemporary times. Today, it is compulsory that the most vicious killers always have a Southern accent (and often a Confederate flag). This is a slanderous distortion of the crime statistics which works because people in general know little of the realities of crime. However, it is noteworthy that in general Southerners are likable in contemporary films. Hollywood can’t obliterate this despite its hatred of all things Southern because it is something that has been observed in reality by most Americans.
A movie theme that surely sends today’s shallow conformists into frantic pearl-clutching is that of brave and generous Confederates saving Yankees. This happens in Rocky Mountain and Escort West. In Rocky Mountain, Errol Flynn and his Confederates charge with the flag flying, sacrificing themselves to save Yankee women from hostile redskins. The film ends with a shot of a Confederate monument erected by grateful Northerners.