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Home of the Brave (1949)

Posted on the 19 August 2016 by Christopher Saunders

Home of the Brave (1949)

"Divided we fall, united we stand, coward take my coward's hand."

Mark Robson's Home of the Brave (1949) was an early production by Stanley Kramer, Hollywood's premiere purveyor of cinematic civics lessons. It's less stilted than Kramer's usual handiwork, selling an antiracism message in a wartime setting.
Private Peter Moss (James Edwards) returns from a mission paralyzed and suffering from amnesia. An Army psychiatrist (Jeff Corey) tries unraveling Moss's problems. He joined a mission headed by Major Robinson (Douglas Dick) to scout a Japanese-occupied island; an African-American, Moss experienced tension with his squad mates, especially T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie). Under fire, Moss and his colleagues put aside their differences to work together.
Home of the Brave came at an interesting time. War pictures had moved from flag-waving to sober realism, while racial dramas like Pinky were gaining popularity. Arthur Laurent's original play addressed anti-Semitism, a vein of prejudice Hollywood already mined with Crossfire and Gentleman's Agreement. With the armed forces desegregated the previous year, Brave's exploration of military racism was especially topical.
Kramer and writer Carl Foreman concoct characters somewhat less contrived than usual. Moss isn't a Sidney Poitier saint nor especially heroic; indeed, a failure of nerve triggers his trauma. Tough-talking Finch (Lloyd Bridges) is the coarsest squad member, yet he's Moss's teenaged friend. Racist T.J. annoys Moss with jibes about fried chicken yet saves him under fire. In a rare twist, T.J. doesn't learn the error of his ways, heckling Moss and poetry-spouting Sergeant Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) before and after combat.
Home of the Brave (1949)
Which doesn't mean Brave lacks contrivance. Besides lectures on racism, Foreman stuffs the drama with implausibility. The GIs chat, smoke and recite poems on patrol, practically begging the Japanese to kill them. The framing story resembles silly psychodramas like Spellbound, where merely identifying a trauma can cure it. And the movie's reluctant to acknowledge institutional bigotry, preferring to blame bad apples. Still, Moss finding common ground with Mingo, who's injured in combat, seems more credible than the usual posturing.
Brave benefits from Robson's economical direction. While the talky structure stresses its stage roots, Robson and cinematographer Robert de Grasse provide sweaty, claustrophobic atmosphere that make the jungle scenes credible. The movie's action is sparse but effective enough; the framing structure and flashbacks to Moss and Lynch's youth are clunkier, as is Dimitri Tiomkin's overbearing score.
James Edwards makes Moss commendably complex, a soldier struggling to restrain a lifetime of resentment and prove himself in combat. Sadly, Edwards was restricted to bit parts for most of his career. Lloyd Bridges scores an early role as the chummiest squad member, with Frank Lovejoy and Steven Brodie giving strong support. Jeff Corey makes the most of an expositional role, launching his career as a top flight character star.
Enough of Home of the Brave's human elements click to overcome its rough spots. It provides a black protagonist who's recognizably human, and doesn't posit an easily solution to prejudice. For a 1940s message picture, that's no small achievement.

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