The screenplay for this film was written by a native Virginian who believed in the “unnecessary” view of the Civil War. It portrays the future Confederate leadership as completely heroic and perhaps gave the 20th century its worst popular notion of John Brown. There is not only a lack of faithfulness to historical detail in this film, but its interpretation is patently anti-Brown, indifferent to the real issues that Brown understood, and completely ignorant (as are most people who think they know) of the real John Brown in history. Perhaps people may find this film entertaining, but you have to be someone who enjoys old films and screen stars; apart from that, there is nothing of enduring value and it is long overdue for a serious cinematic endeavor to engage the Harper’s Ferry raid and Raider and put the Southern officers (who shortly betrayed the Union and did far more damage than John Brown ever would have done) who arrested him in a fairer light. Movies, after all, aren’t going to give you solid history. If you want to know who John Brown was, read my biography, or that of Evan Carton or David Reynolds. But surely we are ready for a more fair and realistic portrayal of the last days of the antebellum era and the man who represents freedom to blacks and (curiously) insanity and “terrorism” to whites. I wonder why?
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