When Home of the Brave was released in 1949, World War II was still fresh in the minds of all Americans. Based on the Arthur Laurents play of the same name, the film opens on an island in the Pacific. An effort is underway to help the recovery of Private Peter Moss (James Edwards) who was injured on a mission with fellow soldiers Private Finch (Lloyd Bridges), Corporal T.J. Everett (Steve Brodie), and Sergeant Mingo (Frank Lovejoy) and organized by Major Robinson (Douglas Dick). Seen in retrospect, the small group is enjoined to provide intelligence on an island held by the Japanese. Prior to starting a clearly dangerous assignment, the Major and T.J. have reservations about Private Moss’ ability to perform the necessary surveillance because he is black, a reminder of the racial prejudices that were rampant in the military of that era.
The Doctor (Jeff Corey) is using “narcosynthesis” to treat Moss, but he needs the assistance of the other soldiers to help the private to regain his memory. Under the “influence”of the doctor’s drugs, Moss starts to remember the forgotten details of his life, going back to his college days with Finch. As the Doctor presses Moss about the mission, he recalls the events that preceded his injury.
The five men land on a deserted beach as their rescue vessel departs. Venturing into the dense jungle, Finch and Moss reconnect on sentry duty. As the soldiers begin the surveillance with Moss in the lead, T.J. continues to issue racial slurs and provokes Finch into a fist fight. Later, Moss recounts his growing up in a racially divided America. A Japanese sniper attacks the squadron, wounding Mingo but is shot dead by Moss. When Finch is wounded as he searched for his lost map case, Moss leaves him behind, setting the stage for his mental breakdown and psychosomatic illness.
A study in the kind of tension that is unique to war and the fears tha accompany action in the field, this film is summed in the last stanza of poem by Mingo’s wife, “coward, take this coward’s hand.” As the innermost feelings of each character are revealed, Home of the Brave is a very deft effort in helping viewers to understand how war brings out both the best and worst in those engaged in deadly combat.
Racism is always a difficult topic for films, particularly one set in this particular era. Home of the Brave is blessed with superb acting, Carl Foreman’s great screenplay, and the taut direction of Mark Robson.
Converting a stage play with its “fourth wall” intimacy provides a continual challenge to the cinematographer. In this case, Robert De Grasse’s camera crew is well up to this challenge and with great close ups. Contrasts are excellent with detail recovery that is truly remarkable for a film of this age. Some grain and streakiness persist but this restoration has kept these issues to a minimum.
While there is noise, hiss, and a general boxy quality to the DTS-HD Master Audio mono soundtrack, the dialogue is clear and Dmitri Tiomkin’s score gets a decent treatment.
No extras are provided.
The Definitive Word
Home of the Brave is one of the very first post-war films to tackle the ugliness of racism with a vengeance. A tense drama with liberal use of the “N” word, we get up close and personal performances from the leads that makes us pay attention from the beginning to end. A highly recommended watch with life lessons that much of America has yet to learn 65 years later.
Additional Screen Captures