Civil War II

The Coward
R: Reginald Barker, Thomas H. Ince. B: C. Gardner Sullivan, Thomas H. Ince (screenplay). K: Joseph H. August, Robert S. Newhard. D: Frank Keenan, Charles Ray, Gertrude Claire, Margaret Gibson, Nick Cogley, Charles K. French, John Gilbert, Bob Kortman. P: Thomas H. Ince / Kay-Bee Pictures, New York Motion Picture. USA 1915

“The Coward was one of a number of films made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the American Civil War’s nominal ending. It tells a much smaller story than Mr Griffiths’ well-known epic from earlier in the year and focuses in on the more human reaction to war: the question of will I be able to fight? Too often physical bravery is taken for granted and instinctive fear is treated as momentary doubt to be blown away by a sudden onrush of heroism or as a weakness to be pitied or laughed at. In The Coward the ‘hero’ suffers deep shame and is only able to enlist under threat of being shot by his father… all armies need men like him: happy to slaughter those who run the wrong way. It’s not necessarily that this film won’t witness the ultimate triumph of heroism but the sympathetic way it deals with its counter-point that marks it out. The performance of the titular non-hero, Frank Winslow from baby-faced Charles Ray is naturalistic and convincing as the young man runs as terrified by his own perceived inadequacy as impending oblivion after all his letting not only his family and girl down, he’s letting himself down.”

“Ray, a child-faced actor faced with child roles time and again, enlivened his shallow twerps and rubes with a degree of emotional nuance I consider unparalleled among male leads of his era. The big guys — Chaney, Barthelmess, Barrymore (and Barrymore) — excelled at grand emotion. They loved big; raged big; they even suffered big. Ray, though, avoided the broad strokes. He projected, better than the rest, those moments of hesitation, then awkwardness, then willfulness that fill in the blanks between the mighty moments in our lives. It is one thing, for example, to project Terror; it is another, harder thing, to project worry about one’s own fearfulness, especially when one has, literally, nothing to say. This is the chief concern for Frank Winslow, Ray’s character in The Coward: a pampered son of a Southern landowner, faced with the prospect of enlisting in the Confederate Army at the outbreak of hostilities. As explained in one of The Coward’s few intertitles, it’s not war that Frank fears, but the idea that he is a coward. He thinks himself flawed by design, and incompatible with his world, and much worse than that, incompatible with his family name.”
Chris Edwards
Silent Volume

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