Band of Angels 1957 is a quite enjoyable Civil War yarn with Clark Gable, Yvonne De Carlo, Sidney Poitier.
Band of Angels (1957)
I’m continuing on the Patric Knowles lines that I first picked-up in Episode 2 –Chisum (1970). I was a little surprised when I dived into the credits and found our old friend Bob Steele first noted in the Burgess Meredith line from Of Mice and Men 1939.
I usually don’t spend a lot of time on directors but icons like Raoul Walsh deserve a little extra. Walsh was born in New York and started on the stage there. He quickly moved into film work. In 1914, he was an assistant to D.W. Griffith while they made The Life of General Villa. The film was shot in Mexico and starred the real revolutionary Poncho Villa in the lead. The film which is lost contained actual battle scenes. A 2003 movie title And Starring Poncho Villa as Himself recreates the filming process and is worth a watch. Walsh played John Wilkes Booth in D. W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915). Walsh jumped between acting and directing and some of his films include The Thief of Bagdad (1924).
Walsh was hired to direct and star In Old Arizona as the Cisco Kid. However, a jackrabbit jumped through his windshield and blinded him in one eye. He wore an eyepatch for the rest of his life. He never acted again.
During The Big Trail (1930), a wagon train western Walsh met a prop boy Marion Morrison and renamed him John Wayne after Revolutionary War general Mad Anthony Wayne, since Walsh was reading a book about at the time.
For the next 3 decades Walsh directed films such as The Roaring Twenties (1939) featuring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart; Dark Command (1940) with John Wayne and Roy Rogers; They Drive By Night (1940) with George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, and Bogart; High Sierra (1941) with Lupino and Bogart again; They Died with Their Boots On (1941) with Errol Flynn as Custer; and White Heat (1949) with Cagney. He retired in 1964
The male lead in this film was played by Clark Gable as Hamish Bond. While best known as Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind (1939) Gable performed in many great roles. The movie that made his a big star was Red Dust (1932) where he made love to a bra-less Jean Harlow. For refusing a film assignment he was loaned to Columbia Pictures where he made It Happened One Night (1934). This film was directed by Frank Capra and Gable won an Oscar. He played Fletcher Christian in Mutiny on the Bounty (1935). After his wife Carole Lombard died in a plane crash, Gable joined the Army Air Corp and actually flew combat missions over Europe. Warren G. Harris (2002) said Hitler offered a huge reward for anyone that brings Gable to him. In 1948, he played the role of an Army Air Corp general in Command Decision (1948) and did a fine job. He played a Navy sub commander in Run Silent Run Deep (1958) where he was paired with Burt Lancaster
Late in life, he made The Misfits (1961) which was his and Marilyn Monroe’s last film. It a great but sad tale.
Yvonne De Carlo played the role of Amantha Starr. Yvonne De Carlo was a Canadian actress that is best known for an unusual television role of Lily Munster in the 1964 runaway tv show The Munsters. In this role, she played a mother vampire married to a bumbling Frankenstein with a human niece and a werewolf son. Naturally, they had a live-in vampire grandpa for laughs.
Now I know that this is a movie podcast but there are a few connections that I have to make to close some loops. The werewolf son, Eddie, shows some signs of being part vampire such as sleeping in a drawer, having a widow’s peak, and hanging upside down. He was often seen with his werewolf doll named Woof-Woof, which looks an awful lot like Lon Chaney Jr.’s character Larry Talbot from The Wolf Man (1941).
Until 1940, Yvonne appeared in three unbilled parts in short films. Finally, she got a part in a feature. Her big break came with Salome Where She Danced (1945). She had a pretty good run of films through the 50’s when she got the role of Sephora, Moses’ wife in the Ten Commandments (1956).
Sidney Poitier played the role of Rau-Ru. He was an educated slave with complete freedom to run Hamish Bond’s plantation but no the freedom for which he longed. Poitier became a stage actor after moving from Cat Island in the Bahamas and serving time in the Army. By 1949 he was so respected that he was offered a role in No Way Out (1950) directed by Darryl F. Zanuck. In this film, Poitier is playing a black doctor that must treat two white racists, one of which is played by Richard Widmark.
This was the first of the roles he played that showed the conflict between the races. In The Defiant Ones (1958) he played an escaped convict shackled to a white prisoner. In Lilies of the Field (1963), he helped white nuns build a chapel and became the first African-American to win an Oscar for a lead role. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (1967), he is engaged to a white girl and has to deal with generational bigotry from both sides. In To Sir, with Love (1967) he played the teacher of inner-city London kids with racial and cultural differences.
Patric Knowles played the role of Charles de Marigny the plantation neighbor of Hamish Bond. Knowles has 127 credits from 1932 to 1973. Knowles was cast as Frank Andrews in The Wolf Man (1941) and help track and kill the Wolf Man. Knowles played the role of Will Scarlett in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) and the unrequited love in Auntie Mame (1958). Rosalind Russell is fabulous in this movie and takes you on an emotional roller coaster while making you laugh at the same time. ReJoke – But whatever you do, don’t watch the 1974 Mame starring Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur. Remember that once time is lost, you can never get it back.
There are two uncredited parts that I want to touch on. The first is a Union Private played by our old friend Bob Steele. The second, a flower vendor, with the great name of Madame Sul-Te-Wan. She was quite an interesting person. Madame was the daughter of a freed slave. She began working bit parts during the silent era and was in Birth of a Nation (1915) with Raoul Walsh. Her career lasted over 5 decades and she is a member of The Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Sul-Te-Wan was the first African-American to sign a film contract and be a featured performer. Lillian Gish stated “We never did discover the origin of her name. No one was bold enough to ask.”
“We never did discover the origin of her name. No one was bold enough to ask.” – Lillian Gish Bogle (2006).
This movie begins with some slaves being chased by hounds. When they are brought back to the plantation the owner refuses to whip them. He simply states that they are new and wouldn’t have run if they knew how things were around here. It is also mentioned that he does not sell slaves off the plantation. This is a trick to make you think he is a good guy like in the Godfather (1972) where the Don bribes cops and politicians, murders people, robs people and sells illegal whiskey but he is a good guy because he refuses to sell heroin.
As the run-a-ways are brought in young Amantha Starr is wondering why her mother’s grave is not with the other members of the family. Her dad says he wanted her to be close to the house.
Shaddy, one of the old slaves begins to tell the girl the story and he is quickly hushed by being sold “down the river.” Amantha is upset and the father tells her he is sending her up north for an education.
The film jumps forward to grown Amantha Starr (Yvonne De Carlo) living the perfect life based on the exploitation of slaves at here family plantation in Kentucky prior to the Civil War. She has a bunch of noble Yankee suitors. The noblest of these is Rev. and later Capt. Seth Parton (Rex Reason). He is a hellfire and brimstone abolitionist preacher and he is active in the Lincoln election campaign.
Amantha’s dad gets sick and she rushes south. I think this might have been the time for a don’t come south letter. When her father dies suddenly Amantha finds out that she is the daughter of a slave and by law is also a slave. The slaves are all out singing and this is just one of the many showboat moments in this movie. They throw in that her father is deeply in debt and that he has been living on borrowed money. I don’t really know why this mattered because at the time if she was slave she was not eligible to inherit the money anyway.
Amantha is sold off and has a rough trip down the river with her new owner Mr. Calloway (Ray Teal). She ends up in the slave market in New Orleans. When a cheap jack who should be looking for Gallentin Street tries to undress her. An off-camera voice makes an outrageously high bid. This is this first time Hamish Bond (Clark Gable) shows up in the film. It’s a pretty powerful bit. And it almost 27 minutes into the movie.
Hamish takes her back to the house and she meets the house mistress and Hamish’s former lover) Michele (Carolle Drake). Michele is French so it is assumed that she is a creole slave. She also meets the highly educated slave Rau-Ru (Sidney Poitier). Rau-Ru runs the plantations and speaks for Hamish when he is not present. Later we find out that Rau-Ru hates Hamish for his kindness and feels it is the worst kind of bondage.
One stormy night an old friend, sea Capt. Canavan shows up and they talk about the old days at sea. Hamish tells the cook to make a turkey and stuff it was a rabbit and the capt. says throw in a few stakes as well. I think they invented the turducken In this movie.
Rau-Ru has to sing a sea shanty as he was at sea also. They all leave and Hamish goes up to shut the windows in Amantha’s room. Hamish tells Amantha that he has a past and then they get all kissy face for the first time. Did the storm show the coming war or did shutting the windows mean only Hamish could protect Amantha?
Michelle gives Amantha a ticket north but Rau-Ru stops her from boarding. Hamish gets passage for the two on a riverboat to his plantation but tells Amantha her ticket goes all the way north. She gets off at the plantation and decides to stay on. The slaves meeting them at the boat and its another showboat moment with the song leader high-stepping all the way to the house.
Hamish’s sleazy plantation neighbor Charles de Marigny (Patric Knowles) come to ask for help with his slaves because they are acting up as a result of the coming war. Hamish tells him the problem is that he has been to free with the whip and will not speak for him because he doesn’t trust Charles to follow through on his word. In reference to his neighbor, Hamish said he always believe it was Better to be a man who a gentleman.
So naturally, Charles wants to date Amantha so he can hurt Hamish. Wanting to prove that she is really free Hamish goes away for a time. They dating between Charles and Amantha goes ok for a while.
After some time Charles gets all rapey with Amanda and Rau-Ru steps in to help. Rau-Ru whips Charles and knocks him out. This makes Rau-Ru a criminal for striking a white so he has to run away. He knows the swamp well and gets away from the dogs.
At this point, the late unpleasantness has begun. That the Civil War to most of you.
Hamish returns to the plantation having already heard about Rau-Ru. He goes immediately for the dueling pistols. Charles walks down the stairs and gloats about getting Rau-Ru in trouble. Hamish gives a pistol to Charles but then punk talks him until Charles slinks away like the low down dog he is.
Hamish and other plantation owners burn the fields and storage to keep the Yankees from getting. This makes them criminal and Hamish prepares to leave. In kind of sad irony, Michelle feels sorry for him because he had to burn all the crops even though it was planted by the slave labor.
Hamish pants are torn during the burning and Amantha sees a spear wound in his calf. So this was his big problem. He had been a slaver and that was terrible. Oddly owning slaves and profiting from their labor is okay. So he give the basic apologist line, he had an African partner, slavery would end on its own in a hundred years, and a man just lives in his time.
Amantha realized that is why he was so kind because he was trying to atone. I never really separated owning slaves from capturing slaves. Oh and I still don’t.
Hamish decides to leave Amantha heading off to hide because she could never forgive him for what he has done. They have a little more racist slave singing and Hamish sets the slaves free to keep them from the Yankees. He tells Michelle that the plantation belongs to Rau-Ru.
The damn Yankees take New Orleans and put up a flag with way too many stars. I don’t think there were 48 states at the time of the Civil War. Amantha goes back to New Orleans and is having a grand time living white.
In real life and in the movie Yankee General Butler issues Order 28:
New Orleans, May 15, 1862.
“As the officers and soldiers of the United States have been subject to repeated insults from the women (calling themselves ladies) of New Orleans in return for the most scrupulous non-interference and courtesy on our part, it is ordered that hereafter when any female shall by word, gesture, or movement insult or show contempt for any officer or soldier of the United States she shall be regarded and held liable to be treated as a woman of the town plying her avocation.”
Which in case you didn’t get it you can treat a woman who insults you as a prostitute. Amantha has a run-in with some soldier and is saved by dashing Lt. Ethan Sears (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.). Before long he wants to marry Amantha but she has to sign a charge against the soldier’s and Sears has already marked her as white. She signs and it makes its way to now Capt. Seth Parton the great abolitionist reverend. Parton shows up late to Amantha’s house and says he will keep quite for sex but they could not be together. She throws him out after an attempted rape.
Rau-Ru is busy bringing escaped from the swamps to join the Union army. Before long he is a Sgt. in that band of blue angels.
Hamish Has is given a little help from one of his former slaves who is now in Union uniform during his escape in the swamp.
After the attempted rape she flees to Hamish house in the city. But finds Rau-Ru instead. He hates her for denying her blackness. Rau-Ru adds a good line that says “all of the fires of retribution are not in the hereafter”
Rau-Ru men come tell him that Hamish is a Bell-Helen a plantation was mostly taken over by the gulf and river. One of the men says there’s “Nothing there but snakes and owls”
Rau-Ru beats all the others to the plantation because he knows the swamp better.
At the plantation, Hamish has made contact with Capt. Canavan and he will return to pick him up as soon as he unloads in New Orleans. Rau-Ru captures Hamish but Hamish begins talking his way out of it. He tells him about the slaving trips and how one night they were attacking an African village and the quote goes “Flames leaping to the top of the jungle and a million bats in the sky”. That night, an African women got speared and while trying to protect a 2-month-old baby. When one of the tribal slavers tried to spear the baby Hamish stepped and took the spear through the calf. He started fighting his partner’s men and the chief gave him the baby.
Now this is the crux of this movie. Hamish said he knew the women and had taken her on the ship for a time but she got home fever and he let her go. That means he’s Rau-Ru father right? Nobody else sees it this way. Shortly after that, he said he raised him like his own son.
Hamish also implies that Rau-Ru was getting into the flesh trading business with the bounty he would get for him. Rau-Ru decides to let him go and then a bunch of Yankee soldier’s burst in. Rau-Ru leaves the key in the lock and gives Hamish a clue to let him know.
The uncredited Union Lieutenant (William Schallert) tries to take the money and then the glory from Rau-Ru. Rau-Ru sees Hamish escape and tells the Lt. that he can have all the credit for this. It reminds me of that great scene from In the Heat of the Night (1967) where Sheriff Gillespie played by Rod Steiger accuses Virgil Tibbs played by Sidney Poitier of racism saying -you just like them. I think this is Rau-Ru awakening seeing that most people are bad.
Oddly William Schallert who played this Lt. was cast as the mayor from In the Heat of the Night (1967).
Amantha makes it to Bell-Helen and Rau-Ru helps her get to Hamish and the escape boat.
They all live happily ever after. I guess.
The movie was a complete, both commercially and critically. The movie was maliciously nicknamed “The Ghost of Gone with the Wind”. Gable was disgusted by the comparison that he told his agent “If it doesn’t suit an old geezer with false teeth, forget about it.” He also stopped working with director Walsh.
World-Famous Short Summary – Couple has a few issues to work out before they find true love or you can’t get by without the help of your friends.