Hollywood Before the “Hate Confederate” Movement

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 UndefeatedThe 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.

About Clyde Wilson

Clyde Wilson is a distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at the University of South Carolina where he was the editor of the multivolume The Papers of John C. Calhoun. He is the M.E. Bradford Distinguished Chair at the Abbeville Institute. He is the author or editor of over thirty books and published over 600 articles, essays and reviews and is co-publisher of www.shotwellpublishing.com, a source  for unreconstructed Southern books. More from Clyde Wilson

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