Cast & Crew
During World War II, black soldier Peter Moss is admitted to a military hospital suffering from partial amnesia and paralysis. After the doctor finds no physical injury to account for his condition, the doctor asks Moss's superior, Maj. Robinson, to recount for him their recent reconnaissance mission: Robinson recalls that he had chosen his best men for a four-day mission to survey a Pacific island occupied by Japanese forces. Summoned to Robinson's office are Corp. T. J. Everett, a cartographer named Finch and another soldier named Mingo. When Moss arrives, Finch, his old school chum, is thrilled to see him, while Robinson expresses dismay. Robinson phones Col. Baker immediately to complain about Moss's race, but is told that he was the only surveyor to volunteer. Back at the hospital, the doctor begins a treatment called "narco-synthesis," in which drugs are used to trigger repressed memories. When the shot is administered, Moss recalls that after landing on the beach, the team buried their rubber dinghy in the sand. During their breaks from collecting data, Moss and Finch plan the restaurant and bar that they will open when they return home. After Moss and Finch become lost, however, Finch blames Moss and almost calls him "nigger." Just as a disappointed Moss is forced to acknowledge Finch's racist feelings, Finch is shot. Realizing that he is badly injured, Finch tells Moss to leave with the maps. Back in the hospital, Moss wakes up from his trance feeling that he was responsible for Finch's death. During a subsequent session, however, Moss recalls that he had asked Robinson for permission to return for Finch, but had been refused. From their position near the beach, the team listens to Finch's plaintive cries as he is tortured by Japanese soldiers. Robinson instructs T. J. to cross the beach and uncover the dinghy, instructing each of them to fire four quick shots if they encounter trouble. Moss volunteers to wait at the camp while the others go the beach to inflate the dinghy. Suddenly, he sees Finch crawl into a nearby clearing and die. Now finding that he is unable to walk, Moss fires four shots to summon the team, who must carry him to the dinghy. Back in the hospital, Moss awakens from his trance, and the doctor postulates that after seeing Finch shot, he experienced a momentary flash of relief that the bullet had wounded Finch, instead of him. This feeling of relief then led to guilt, the doctor explains, and the result was paralysis. To persuade Moss to try and walk, the doctor shouts, "Get up, you dirty nigger," which so angers Moss that he struggles to his feet and stumbles forward. By the time he has crossed the room, however, Moss's anger has subsided, and he gratefully embraces the doctor. The next day, shortly after he is discharged, Moss meets Mingo, who has lost an arm in battle. Moss repeats the doctor's explanation of his paralysis, and Mingo admits to feeling momentarily relieved after seeing a buddy shot. This admission consoles Moss, and he and Mingo decide to become partners in the restaurant and bar business.
Edward G. Boyle
Robert De Grasse
J. R. Rabin
Home of the Brave on Blu-ray
Back in the 1940s it was an act of courage for a movie to criticize the American status quo, or to tell the truth about deplorable social inequities. The Mervyn LeRoy-Albert Maltz-Frank Sinatra short subject The House I Live In (1945) was a simple plea for religious tolerance, yet it caused a minor conservative uproar. Elia Kazan's Gentleman's Agreement seems rather self-important now, but in 1947 a movie targeting anti-Semitism was a very big deal. Of course, most of these films were as commercially oriented as any Hollywood product. Producers claimed to be telling the whole truth even as their films made significant compromises in search of a wide audience. The murder victim in the breakthrough thriller Crossfire (1947) was originally written as a homosexual, but the existence of gays was too much for the Production Code so the victim became a Jew.
A producer who frequently characterized himself as a brave pioneer tackling the tough subjects was Stanley Kramer. Kramer tried a number of genres, coming up with worthy non-hits (Member of the Wedding (1952), The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953)) but also a few popular winners (High Noon (1952), The Wild One (1953)). To Kramer, really powerful drama always meant controversy. His earlier shows included an unusual story about handicapped war veteran, and a pre- Psycho thriller about a deranged serial killer. Almost every one of Kramer's later films would address a 'big issue': medical ethics, race prejudice, nuclear war, the Scopes 'monkey trial', and so forth. Unkind reviewers remarked that his pictures oversimplified complex problems for public consumption.
From the very beginning, Stanley Kramer promoted the idea that he and his creative collaborators were demonstrating great moral courage by daring to tell an important truth. For his third production, Kramer asked his close writing associate Carl Foreman to adapt a 1946 stage play by Arthur Laurents. Home of the Brave (1949). Laurents' 'problem minority' character was Jewish, but the film adaptation makes him an African-American. Arthur Laurents said that when he asked about the change, Kramer replied, "Jews have been done." Kramer wanted to 'blow the lid off the race issue', not revisit Gentleman's Agreement. Although the shift of the central character from Jewish to black fares more smoothly in some respects than it does in others, the film is now considered the archetype of a socially conscious issue film.
In the South Pacific of 1944, an army doctor (Jeff Corey) has only a couple of days to shake Private Peter Moss (James Edwards) out of a psychosomatic inability to walk. Moss just returned from a near-suicide mission to survey a Japanese-held island. The mission leader was young Major Robinson (Douglas Dick), and in flashbacks we meet Moss's fellow volunteers Finch (Lloyd Bridges), Sergeant Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) and T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie), all of whom are white. Mingo isn't bothered by Moss's skin color, and Finch and Moss were best pals in high school. But T.J. Everett is a bigot. He initially thinks that serving alongside a black will be impossible, and when they get to the island his caustic remarks about Moss's color put the mission on edge. After Finch lets slip a prejudicial comment as well, Moss's hopes for group acceptance vanish. Japanese snipers complicate the team's withdrawal. Unable to save the one comrade he still trusts, Moss gets the notion that he is a coward, and loses the ability to use his legs.
The smartly conceived Home of the Brave combines themes of combat, race prejudice and psychology. Director Mark Robson and screenwriter Carl Foreman were fresh from Kramer's previous hit Champion (1949). Except for some stock footage and a scene shot on a Malibu beach, the entire picture was filmed on modest interior sets. Dimitri Tiomkin's busy orchestral score evokes a feeling of a much bigger production.
Robson's direction and the well-chosen cast make Laurents' play feel concentrated instead of claustrophobic. Douglas Dick's Major Robinson thinks at first that a mistake has been made with Moss, but his commanding officer straightens him out: "What color is he? I don't care if he's purple. We need him for this mission." Lloyd Bridges is hale 'n' hearty as Finch. As we see in another flashback, Finch tried to be a good pal to Peter Moss back in school, extending an invitation to a post-graduation party that Moss couldn't/wouldn't attend. Good actor Steve Brodie is most noted for playing unreliable or treacherous characters in films noir like Out of the Past (1947). Brodie's T.J. is an unusually credible racist in that he's ignorantly unaware that his 'harmless' jokes and comments give offense. Frank Lovejoy's levelheaded Sergeant Mingo is alone among the group in simply accepting Moss for what he is, another soldier doing his job. The film's stage origins do show through on occasion. Stuck in a high-pressure situation on an enemy island, Mingo takes time out to recite poetry.
The talented James Edwards was a true Hollywood barrier breaker several years before the arrival of Sidney Poitier. Unlike most every other black film actor of the late '40s, Edwards seldom played servants or African natives. He instead had standout roles in pictures as diverse as Member of the Wedding, The Phenix City Story (1955), The Killing (1956), The Manchurian Candidate (1962) and The Sandpiper (1965). Edwards' Private Peter Moss is a solid underdog, and an optimist willing to earn his position in the special unit. The screenplay doesn't position him as a hero, military or moral. In the high school flashback he already seems to be questioning why his buddy Finch is being so friendly. Under the stress of the mission, he is quick to resent T.J. and Finch's racial slurs.
The racial tension makes itself felt as soon as Private Moss appears, and the stressful mission brings it out into the open. The word 'nigger' hadn't been allowed in American movies since the Production Code came in, and its return in a widely distributed film was surely a surprise to audiences. Had the show simply charted a case of white-on-black prejudice it might have had only a sensational, perhaps exploitative impact. But Home of the Brave gives Moss a much more complicated reaction. Although it may now seem like something from a '50s live TV drama, Moss's psychological trauma, converting his feelings of low self-esteem into a physical impairment, is the best part of the movie. James Edwards fully expresses Moss's anguish, and his interplay with Jeff Corey's highly motivated medic is exemplary. The 'new' psychology was a popular theme in '40s pictures, and Home of the Brave uses it to make an important statement: racial prejudice is a society-wide mental illness stemming from ignorance and insecurity.
The changing of Moss from a Jew to a black puts a strain on the show's credibility, mainly because the issues with the two minorities are not really interchangeable. The film's high school flashback seems forced, and false. Moss is uncomfortable around Finch for subtle reasons, when everyone on campus including Finch would surely be aware that a white student associating with a black student would at best be considered socially 'uncomfortable'. Even if Moss were a star athlete, it might not have made much of a difference.
The "hard hitting" movie also soft-pedals the facts about racial segregation in WW2. Carl Foreman's script implies that Major Robinson is assigned a black surveyor due to a lack of manpower. This would seem an extraordinary circumstance. There were obviously qualified black engineers and surveyors in the 1940s, but the entire wartime Army was completely segregated. Most black combat units were 'held in reserve', and instead assigned to duties like driving trucks. President Truman didn't integrate the armed services until 1948. In his autobiography, Arthur Laurents noted that not a single critic pointed out what any veteran would recognize as a glaring misrepresentation. The film pretends that official racism in the armed forces had never existed, sweeping the issue under the rug. Does this put producer Kramer's liberal commitment in question, or is it just another example of an unavoidable Hollywood compromise?
In general, the racial animus expressed in Home of the Brave would seem to be grossly understated. A quick read of Studs Terkel's book The Good War gives the impression that race hatred in the U.S. Army was so intense that many white soldiers considered blacks as much the enemy as the Germans or Japanese. It's much more likely that even the fair-minded Sergeant Mingo would reject Moss, as an unnecessary complication to a job that was tough enough already. A black audience of 1949 might reject the Peter Moss character as well, for the reason that he has supposedly lived in America for twenty years yet seems unrealistically unaware of the scope and depth of race hatred. In general, African-American audiences had little use for most of Hollywood's 'social issue' films about black America.
The story made much better sense as Arthur Laurents wrote it. Anti-Semitic hatred isn't any less vicious, but bigots first have to identify their target for abuse through something less obvious than skin color. American Jews surely endured their share of discrimination in the armed forces, but they were allowed to serve throughout the services and were considered equals in the military hierarchy. It is far more credible that a Jewish soldier with an optimistic attitude might undergo a gradual disillusionment and crisis of self-doubt such as is seen in Home of the Brave. Arthur Laurents named his Jewish private Peter Coen, nicknamed 'Coney'. We can imagine Pete Coen trying not to hurt Finch's feelings as he makes excuses for not attending a party where he wouldn't be made welcome. And we can better imagine Pete Coen eager to be part of an important stealth mission, only to endure psychological strain when he realizes that he's not going to be accepted there either. All it takes to ruin mission solidarity is one mouthy bigot like T.J..
Through clever promotion and marketing Stanley Kramer made the impressive Home of the Brave into a mini-cause cèlébre. Arthur Laurents' play had closed in New York after just a couple of weeks, but the movie has long been touted as a milestone for race-related filmmaking. Its creative contributors certainly felt the political backlash of the right wing -- Jeff Corey and Carl Foreman were blacklisted and Lloyd Bridges had his own close scrape with the committees. Frank Lovejoy seems to have come out of this period unscathed, but his filmography takes an abrupt turn to the right just a few films later. After Cy Endfield's socially critical Try and Get Me!, Lovejoy starred in the hysterical anti-Red thriller I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), and was suddenly typed as a specialist in salute-the-flag soldiers and cops.
Producer Stanley Kramer eventually took an aggressive and outspoken attitude toward the Hollywood blacklist. When asked why he hired a 'tainted' writer for his The Defiant Ones, Kramer retorted that America was a free country and he'd not let anyone tell him who he could and could not hire. This left his ideological adversary Ronald Reagan to back-pedal, claiming that blacklisted writers were targeted not for their scripts, but for their agitation in labor guilds. Mr. Kramer wore the label "nervy liberal" with pride.
Olive Films' disc of Home of the Brave is another Blu-ray of a Stanley Kramer production originally released through United Artists. It once showed on TV fairly frequently but disappeared in the 1970s. The film elements appear to be in excellent condition. Cinematographer Robert De Grasse's classy B&W images often make us forget that we're mostly looking at a studio-concocted island jungle set. The bold music score by Dimitri Tiomkin expands the film's canvas, pulling in plenty of quotes from other bits of music. Home of the Brave remains one of the most adventurous race-equality issue films of the late 1940s.
By Glenn Erickson
Home of the Brave on Blu-ray
Home of the Brave
Reprinted by permission of Donald Bogle from his film reference
work, Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated
Encyclopedia (Simon & Schuster)
Through a series of flashbacks, Home of the Brave described the emotional breakdown of a young Negro private, Peter Moss. As he undergoes examination by a sympathetic medical captain, Moss unravels his tale, revealing a number of racial incidents he endured while on a special five-man mission to a Japanese-held island (during the Second World War). Repeatedly excluded and harassed by his fellow soldiers, Moss had cracked up under the pressure. The viewer learns, however, it was not the island experience alone that led to the black soldier's breakdown. It was the American way of life - and racism - that always forced the Mosses of the world "outside the human race."
Often strong and moving, Home of the Brave ended on a conciliatory note that heightened its impact in 1949 but lessens it today. Having recovered, Moss is about to leave the military hospital when he is approached by an easy-going white soldier (Frank Lovejoy), who, with the war now over, plans to open a bar. He wants Moss as his partner. Genuinely touched, the black accepts, equipped now with a new philsophy for the future. "I am different," he says. "Everybody's different. But so what! Because underneath we're all guys."
Home of the Brave's concluding optimism now strikes many as rigged and fake. The white soldier's "noble" gesture is believable only in the movies, and even so there is a tinge of patronage because it is the white man offering his hand to the black man. Yet there is still something decent about the film's sincerity and its optimism.
Today this remains a film of historical importance and interest - and it's a movie that still has a certain wallop, affecting audiences, black and white, in an emotional way. In his essay "The Shadow and the Act," Ralph Ellison wrote that Home of the Brave and the other three problem pictures (Pinky, Lost Boundaries, and Intruder in the Dust) all touched on a "deep center of American emotion." These movies got at something American films of the past had never approached (or perhaps feared): a look at the ties between the races and also the deep-seated nests of American racism itself. Despite their flaws or compromises, today they still work because they take a dare and set up a confrontation. One is forced to deal with racial issues.
Finally, much of the power of Home of the Brave can be attributed to the startling performance of James Edwards as Moss. His tension, restlessness, sensitivity, and admirable attempt to connect to or at least understand a white world that has continually rejected him make this a fascinating movie character.
The film's release caught the movie industry and the critics offguard. It was a commercial and critical success, proving that audiences then were ready for a new type of black film and black character.
Added note: shooting the film in secrecy, Stanley Kramer called it High Noon, a title he used later for one of his other films.
Producer: Stanley Kramer, Robert Stillman
Director: Mark Robson
Screenplay: Carl Foreman, Arthur Laurents (play)
Cinematography: Robert De Grasse
Film Editing: Harry W. Gerstad
Art Direction: Rudolph Sternad
Music: Dimitri Tiomkin
Cast: Douglas Dirk (Major Robinson), Steve Brodie (Corporal T.J.), Jeff Corey (Doctor), Lloyd Bridges (Finch), Frank Lovejoy (Mingo).
Home of the Brave Reprinted by permission of Donald Bogle from his film reference work, Blacks in American Films & Television: An Illustrated Encyclopedia (Simon & Schuster)
Yeah, I'll never forget the first letter I got from my wife. It started, "My darling, darling, darling, I'll never again use the word `love' without thinking only of you." And I remember the last one I got from her. It started, "Dear T.J., this is the hardest letter I've ever had to write."- T.J.
Divided we fall, united we stand, coward take my coward's hand.- T.J.
The working title of this film was High Noon. In Arthur Laurents' play, the character played by James Edwards is Jewish, and the conflict revolves around antisemitism. The Variety review commented that the thematic switch was made because antisemitism had already been depicted in previous Hollywood films and was therefore in danger of being "overplayed." A March 20, 1949 New York Times news item noted that associate producer Robert Stillman "paid the entire cost of the picture with the help of his father without recourse to the banks, a startling departure from Hollywood custom." A March 23, 1949 Daily Variety news item reported that producer Stanley Kramer shot for two weeks on the picture before securing the legal rights to Laurents' play. According to a February 28, 1949 Hollywood Reporter news item, some scenes in the film were shot in Malibu and Baldwin Hills, CA and government footage of fighting in the Pacific was to be included. On March 21, 1949, Hollywood Reporter reported that background choral work would be performed by the Jester Hairston Choir, but their participation in the released film has not been confirmed. Hollywood Reporter also noted on March 30, 1949 that Screen Plays had received a request for a print of the film from President Truman.
Motion Picture Herald called the film "the first picture dealing with anti-Negro prejudice." Although initially banned in Southern Rhodesia by the South African government, the film was eventually approved for public screenings, excluding "children and natives." Despite early fears, the picture was not censored or protested in the South, although African Americans in Houston were allowed to attend only midnight screenings. Parents Magazine gave the picture a "special merit award," and Kramer was honored by the G. W. Carver Memorial Committee for his work on the film. Modern sources note that Kramer created a black press campaign and arranged for an opening of the film in Harlem, NY.