During an unnamed battle, 18-year-old private Henry Fleming survives what he considers to be a lost cause by escaping into a nearby wood, deserting his battalion. He finds a group of injured men in which one of the group, the "Tattered Soldier", asks Henry, who's often referred to as "The Youth", where he's wounded. Henry, embarrassed that he's whole, wanders thru the forest. He ultimately decides that running was the best thing, & that he's a small part of the army responsible for saving himself. When he learns that his battalion had won the battle, Henry feels guilty. As a result, he returns to his battalion & is injured when a cannon operator hits him in the head because he wouldn't let go of his arm. When he returns to camp, the other soldiers believe he was harmed by a bullet grazing him in battle. The next morning he goes into battle for a 3rd time. While looking for a stream from which to attain water, he discovers from the commanding officer that his regiment has a lackluster reputation. The officer speaks casually about sacrificing Henry's regiment because they're nothing more than "mule drivers" & "mud diggers". With no regiments to spare, the general orders his men forward. In the final battle, Henry becomes one of the best fighters in his battalion as well as the flag bearer, finally proving his courage as a man.
Most of us had to read this in book in high school and for that reason it doesn't always get a good rep, I mean how many of us actually enjoyed the books they made us read? I have been a bit of a Civil War history buff since I was about 10 years old so I didn't really mind reading this book in 11th grade English class, though I'll admit I didn't speak up and say that at the time. I always loved the journey that Henry takes from the soldier who ran away to facing his fears and becomes the soldier he's thought to be after he was injured not from the grazed bullet that everyone thought. The struggles he faces is put to word in a way that keeps the reader intrigued. If you read it in high school like most of us did, I highly recommend rereading it with adult eyes and heart.
A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp-fires set in the low brows of distant hills.--Chapter One
At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.--Chapter Nine
In despair, he declared that he was not like those others. He now conceded it to be impossible that he should ever become a hero. He was a craven loon. Those pictures of glory were piteous things. He groaned from his heart and went staggering off.--Chapter Eleven
After his desertion, however, Henry finds some comfort in the laws of nature, which seem to briefly affirm his previous cowardice:
This landscape gave him assurance. A fair field holding life. It was the religion of peace. It would die if its timid eyes were compelled to see blood.... He threw a pine cone at a jovial squirrel, and he ran with chattering fear. High in a treetop he stopped, and, poking his head cautiously from behind a branch, looked down with an air of trepidation. The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition. There was the law, he said. Nature had given him a sign. The squirrel, immediately upon recognizing danger, had taken to his legs without ado. He did not stand stolidly baring his furry belly to the missile, and die with an upward glance at the sympathetic heavens. On the contrary, he had fled as fast as his legs could carry him.
How the book closes:
It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky. Yet the youth smiled, for he saw that the world was a world for him, though many discovered it to be made of oaths and walking sticks. He had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past. He had been an animal blistered and sweating in the heat and pain of war. He turned now with a lover's thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks, an existence of soft and eternal peace.
Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds.
Release dates: March 16, 1951
Running time: 69 min
Audie Murphy as Henry Fleming (aka The Youth)
Bill Mauldin as Tom Wilson (aka The Loud Soldier)
Douglas Dick as The Lieutenant
Royal Dano as The Tattered Man
John Dierkes as Pat Conklin (aka The Tall Soldier)
Arthur Hunnicutt as Bill Porter
Tim Durant as The General
In my opinion the film is better than the book, which doesn't happen often. The acting, the writing, the directing it all comes together to make a film that keeps you interested from beginning to end. For me, I think knowing that the most highly decorated American soldier, Audie Murphy, is portraying the youth who finds himself facing battle for the first time in the Civil War, was something that appealed to me and was captivating.
Stephen Crane was an American novelist, poet and journalist, best known for the novel Red Badge of Courage. That work introduced the reading world to Crane's striking prose, a mix of impressionism, naturalism and symbolism. He died at age 28 in Badenweiler, Baden, Germany.