In celebration of Black History Month, we’re making daily movie recommendations, presented in chronological order of the films’ stories.
Stay tuned to Noovie every day as we highlight an original, landmark film worth revisiting or discovering for the first time.
February 2 – Glory (1863 - 1865)
At the end of the 1980s, “Thirtysomething” tv series creator Edward Zwick switched gears in a huge way, bringing to the screen the tale of the exploits of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, unique in the American Civil War as one of the first African-American units in the Union Army. Starring Matthew Broderick as the regiment’s white commanding officer, Col. Robert Gould Shaw, and Morgan Freeman, Cary Elwes and Denzel Washington as his fellow soldiers, the movie’s a stirring testament to those African-Americans who bravely fought to win the war and their freedom. Watch the Trailer
The film opens with Captain Shaw (Broderick) experiencing firsthand the incredible violence and devastation of the Battle of Antietam. He’s quickly injured in combat, and is sent back at some point to the comfort of his home in Boston. It’s not long, though, before he’s presented the opportunity to lead a new kind of regiment – one comprised of all African-American soldiers, including John Rawlins (Freeman), a gravedigger he’d met previously, and an escaped slave named Silas Trip (Washington).
The movie follows the training of the 54th, and the inequalities they face compared to the rest of the Union army. Given shoddy equipment, lesser pay, and a seeming inability to reach the frontlines to prove their mettle, the soldiers and their leadership are forced to work together to find ways to overcome the racism that exists even within their peers from the north. After finally being given their chance to fight, the 54th volunteers to be the first unit to storm the beachfront at Fort Wagner, a stronghold for the Confederate Army.
The film’s final battle scenes, as black and white Union soldiers fight a seemingly impossible fight, are some of the most impressive in any war film.
The performances, the cinematography, the editing, the magnificent score by James Horner and the haunting last shots are unforgettable cinema…and reinforce a message that resonates to this day. It’s a career highlight for everyone involved in “Glory’s” production.
It’s a travesty that “Glory” was not nominated for Best Picture of 1989. This is truly historic filmmaking, and Denzel Washington’s performance as Trip is unforgettable. Thankfully, he did win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, and the film also won for Best Cinematography.
At the time it was released, Freeman and Washington were just getting started as timeless movie stars, having been known previously mostly for their work on television. While Broderick’s role as the young, inexperienced Shaw was seen then as a miscasting by some critics, it works given the real Shaw’s actual youth and the tentative nature of his letters home. “Glory” remains a powerful and respected movie experience.
Where to Watch
Drama / 1989 / R
Following the Battle of Antietam, Col. Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick) is offered command of the United States' first all-African-American regiment, the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. With junior officer Cabot Forbes (Cary Elwes), Shaw puts together a strong and proud unit, including the escaped slave Trip (Denzel Washington) and the wise gravedigger John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman). At first limited to menial manual tasks, the regiment fights to be placed in the heat of battle.