A black soldier faces the bullets of the Japanese and the arrows of racial prejudice in this powerful WWII drama staring Frank Lovejoy and Lloyd Bridges.
Told mostly in flashback and from the perspective of one soldier during a psychoanalysis session, 'Home of the Brave' tells the story of five soldiers and their experience from a secret reconnaissance mission in the South Pacific. Still healing from the relatively fresh wounds of a global conflict, the film serves as a fascinating reminder to 1949 audiences that the horror of war and the injuries endured are not always physical or apparent. It's no coincidence that at the start we're repeatedly told the recon patrol is voluntary because it's a deliberate nudge at the fact that soldiers willingly sacrifice a great deal of themselves. Although not the first to confront the issue of veteran's suffering from posttraumatic stress, the film captivates with a blend of psychological war drama with another sociopolitical concern.
The mental health of servicemen is a big part of the story here, but only after tackling the less-talked-about matter of dealing with the cultural and racial differences of fellow soldiers. It's an equally troubling concern that's met with exceptional respect, sensitivity and awareness, and it's really to the enormous credit of James Edwards as Private Peter Moss, a young African-American welcomed to the mission with bigotry and little confidence in his abilities. Interestingly, the Engineer topography specialist confronts the sentiments with cold, silent indifference, yet Edwards's stoic-like face plainly pretends to hide the anger and his bruised ego. Edwards himself is a Hollywood pioneer who was among the first to break from stereotypical roles of black men and transcend the cultural divide.
There is a sense of Edwards bringing some personal experience to the role of a young man who only wants to be valued for playing his part in the war and respected as a soldier. It's a harrowing and revering performance which centers a plot that tries to encompass difficult but topical issues at a time when such discussions were only starting to steadily grow. Adapted by Carl Foreman ('High Noon,' 'The Guns of Navarone') from the 1946 play by Arthur Laurents ('West Side Story,' 'Rope,' 'The Way We Were'), the story originally featured a Jewish protagonist. But whatever the reasons for the change, soldier forced to battle two wars — one, a tangible known enemy while the other, the shadowy elusive weapons born of prejudice — remains at the heart of the narrative and is just as powerful.
Before revealing Edwards's Moss, the film opens with two soldiers talking about the private and an Army psychiatrist (Jeff Corey) looking for answers to his injuries. In flashback, we learn the two men are somewhat-inexperienced Major Robinson (Douglas Dick) and the bitter Corporal T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie), both of whom have alarming problems with Moss's involvement in the mission. The rest of the team includes the staunch but open-minded Sergeant Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) and Moss's childhood friend Private Finch (Lloyd Bridges). During these first few minutes, no one mentions the fact that Moss is a person of color, which appears to be a deliberate tact on the part of the filmmakers. This is mostly likely done for building up suspense as well as an intentional ploy so that moviegoers accept Moss as a wounded veteran before laying judgment. Once he enters the barrack, and the screen, racial tension rears its ugly head.
As one would suspect, going into battle brings the men together and compels them to work as unit, though not without first confronting a loss obliging them overcome their differences. Director Mark Robson started his career making RKO horror pictures like 'The Ghost Ship' and 'Isle of the Dead' and is probably best known for 'Valley of the Dolls' and 'Earthquake,' but his approach to 'Home of the Brave' reveals a talent for the dramatic. Composing each shot effectively as if an air of insecurity and anxiety were continuously governing the actions of characters, Robson provides the film with a sense of urgency and tragedy to a soldier's plight of battling the inner demons as well as the country's enemies. Closing with the words of Eve Merriam's "The Coward" is a fitting touch of irony to the film's title, comforting the soldiers but also speaking to audiences.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Originally released and produced by Paramount Pictures, 'Home of the Brave' comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Olive Films. The Region A locked, BD25 disc is housed inside the standard blue case and at startup, goes straight to a static screen with music and only two menu options.
The 1949 war classic lands unto the shores of Blu-ray with a strong yet pretty average high-def presentation. It's apparent the AVC-encoded transfer was not struck from a new remaster, but the source used appears to be in fairly good condition. Dirt and white specks litter nearly every scene, though thankfully, it's not to the point of being a distraction. The occasional scratch and vertical line also rear their ugly heads from time to time, but for the most part, the video is consistent with generally pleasing contrast levels. However, whites do come off a tad strong in a few sequences and blacks are mostly accurate with good gradational details. Definition and clarity are passable with good resolution, yet much of the 1.33:1 image is on the softer, bit blurrier side of things.
The DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack is on the same boat as the video, revealing that the movie really could use a new remaster and restoration of the original elements. The biggest gripe would have to be the consistent hissing and light noise heard in the background, made all the more apparent during quieter conversations and a few sequences with a good deal of yelling. The mid-range feels largely restricted and narrow, sadly limiting much of the imaging and presence. Action scenes and Dimitri Tiomkin's musical score suffer the most from this, exhibiting a tad of distortion and brightness in the higher frequencies. Low bass is practically non-existent, making this a mostly average and uniform lossless mix.
This is a bare-bones release.
Told mostly in flashback and from the perspective of one soldier during a psychoanalysis session, 'Home of the Brave' tells the story of five soldiers and their experience from a secret reconnaissance mission in the South Pacific. The plot digs a bit deeper as a psychological war drama with sociopolitical themes of African-American soldiers, a controversial but topical subject matter explored while the wounds of war remained fresh. The Blu-ray arrives with an average yet fairly strong audio and video presentation, but the overall package is sadly a bare-bones release. Genre fans will surely want to give this 1949 war classic a spin.