‘Shenandoah’ (1965) tells the story of family. The Anderson family lives on a farm, which they cleared, built, planted, and harvested with their own hands, and they are mighty proud of it. However, when the Civil War wages on all sides of their property in Shenandoah Valley, Virginia, Charlie Anderson (James Stewart) is feeling pressure to join the war, especially since none of his six sons are enlisted on either side. Charlie Anderson, however, feels this is not their war; it doesn’t concern them. When the youngest, named “Boy”, is taken prisoner by the North, however, the Andersons find themselves in the midst of war and death.
Charlie Anderson is a strong-minded, proud widower with six sons and a daughter. One son, James, is married, and his expectant wife Ann lives with them. And all of them go down to the church Sunday morning for one reason: it was Martha’s last wish.
“Lord, we cleared this land. We plowed it, sowed it, and harvested it. We cooked the harvest. It wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be eating it if we hadn’t done it all ourselves. We worked dog-bone hard for every crumb and morsel, but we thank you Lord just the same for the food we’re about to eat, amen.”
Mr. Anderson’s daughter Jennie is getting attention from a solider named Sam, who eventually asks her father for her hand. The two get married, but Sam is immediately called away for battle. Then shortly after Ann has her baby girl, “Boy” is mistaken as a southern soldier and taken prisoner by northern troops. Guns, cannons, officers, soldiers, even battles on the property didn’t get Charlie Anderson into the war – but this did.
All the boys excusing the married son, plus even Jennie, go off on horseback to find “Boy”, leaving James and Ann in charge of the house. The nearest camp of Northern soldiers knows nothing of him, but the man in charge sympathizes with Mr. Anderson. The man overseeing the loading of prisoners onto the train heading north does not, however, so the Andersons take things into their own hands, which ends up in the reunion of Sam and Jennie.
The search for “Boy” continues, but they’re out of food and their horses are spent. They resolve for home. On the way, tragedy happens, and what they find at home is nothing to rejoice over either. Sorrow leaves the family silenced at the supper table, as tragedy gives company to Martha’s empty chair.
This heart-wrenching film should leave you in tears. It’s about family. It’s about how family sticks together, works together, lives together. Stewart plays an incredible, amusing, inspiring, and moving Mr. Charlie Anderson. If you were having any doubts as to the value of the family, you will walk away breathless.
(see sidebar for what this means)