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Home of the Brave

Home of the Brave(1949)

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teaser Home of the Brave (1949)

Independently produced by 35-year-old fledgling moviemaker Stanley Kramer, Home of the Brave [1949] launched Hollywood's cycle of problem pictures in the late 1940s. The picture also went against all the then-acceptable theories of Hollywood moviemaking. It was shot on a shoestring budget without big name stars and with an offbeat subject matter. In the successful Broadway play by Arthur Laurents on which the film was based, the hero had been a young Jewish soldier, the victim of anti-Semitism within the military. In the film producer Kramer shrewdly substituted a Negro character for the Jewish protagonist.

Through a series of flashbacks, Home of the Brave described the emotional breakdown of a young Negro private, Peter Moss. As he undergoes examination by a sympathetic medical captain, Moss unravels his tale, revealing a number of racial incidents he endured while on a special five-man mission to a Japanese-held island (during the Second World War). Repeatedly excluded and harassed by his fellow soldiers, Moss had cracked up under the pressure. The viewer learns, however, it was not the island experience alone that led to the black soldier's breakdown. It was the American way of life - and racism - that always forced the Mosses of the world "outside the human race."

Often strong and moving, Home of the Brave ended on a conciliatory note that heightened its impact in 1949 but lessens it today. Having recovered, Moss is about to leave the military hospital when he is approached by an easy-going white soldier (Frank Lovejoy), who, with the war now over, plans to open a bar. He wants Moss as his partner. Genuinely touched, the black accepts, equipped now with a new philsophy for the future. "I am different," he says. "Everybody's different. But so what! Because underneath we're all guys."

Home of the Brave's concluding optimism now strikes many as rigged and fake. The white soldier's "noble" gesture is believable only in the movies, and even so there is a tinge of patronage because it is the white man offering his hand to the black man. Yet there is still something decent about the film's sincerity and its optimism.

Today this remains a film of historical importance and interest - and it's a movie that still has a certain wallop, affecting audiences, black and white, in an emotional way. In his essay "The Shadow and the Act," Ralph Ellison wrote that Home of the Brave and the other three problem pictures (Pinky, Lost Boundaries, and Intruder in the Dust) all touched on a "deep center of American emotion." These movies got at something American films of the past had never approached (or perhaps feared): a look at the ties between the races and also the deep-seated nests of American racism itself. Despite their flaws or compromises, today they still work because they take a dare and set up a confrontation. One is forced to deal with racial issues.

Finally, much of the power of Home of the Brave can be attributed to the startling performance of James Edwards as Moss. His tension, restlessness, sensitivity, and admirable attempt to connect to or at least understand a white world that has continually rejected him make this a fascinating movie character.

The film's release caught the movie industry and the critics offguard. It was a commercial and critical success, proving that audiences then were ready for a new type of black film and black character.

Added note: shooting the film in secrecy, Stanley Kramer called it High Noon, a title he used later for one of his other films.

Producer: Stanley Kramer, Robert Stillman
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Carl Foreman, Arthur Laurents (play)
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Film Editing: Harry W. Gerstad
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Douglas Dirk (Major Robinson), Steve Brodie (Corporal T.J.), Jeff Corey (Doctor), Lloyd Bridges (Finch), Frank Lovejoy (Mingo).

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