During my formative years, well before I got heavily into film watching, I was quick to voice my dislike of period dramas and costume dramas. It was exactly the films like Band of Angels that I did not care for. It was nothing I could put my finger on, and there was no logical explanation other than I, for one reason or another, chose not to like them. My opinions were not limited to movies, but to music as well, for a long time I could not stand U2, never even having heard a single song. Well, time goes on and attitudes change. I am still not a big fan of this type of film, but I am more than willing to watch them and be won over if they happen to be good. This one falls somewhere in the middle.
Band of Angels is set during the time leading up to the Civil War in the South. It is a melodramatic tale of love and relations in a turbulent time of our nation’s history. Is this a believable tale? No, not really. Is it one that held my attention? Well, sort of. Is it a film worth seeing? Yes. It is worth seeing, I mean, after all, it is one of Clark Gable’s final screen appearances, it features a charismatic young Sidney Poitier, and it centers on the lovely Yvonne De Carlo (who I primarily knew solely through The Munsters).
De Carlo is Amantha Starr, a woman of culture and class, she returns home from a finishing school to attend her father’s funeral. It is in this setting that a bombshell drops and Amantha’s world is shattered. Rather than mourning her loss and becoming the beneficiary of his estate, it is revealed that her mother was a slave. Now, being she is of black blood, she is no longer a beneficiary of the Starr estate, she is a part of it, and is subject to the whims of a slave trader who has taken claim of the land and everything on it.
While being gawked at on the auction block, Amantha is bought by Hamish Bond, played by Clark Gable. He is a plantation owner, and former slave trader, who takes her home and treats her as a free woman. Home life is anything but stable, as Amantha struggles with her heritage and Hamish struggles with his scoundrel past, all the while, the nation creeps towards war. A third character makes his entrance, Rau Ru (Sidney Poitier). Rau Ru is a slave, owned by Hamish, who has been with him since he was a boy, when Hamish saved him from ruthless traders. Raised as a son, Rau Ru has received an education and owns a special place in Hamish’s heart. However, Rau Ru has a smoldering resentment and hatred for his owner/benefactor, seeing the education as a way to breed contentment in his slave status.
The film, as directed by Raul Walsh, is a slowly paced and filled with stilted dialogue that doesn’t really ring true. Still, this is an interesting film in how it deals with a woman of mixed race coming to terms with her heritage and the politics that it brings with it. The setting is beautiful, lush plantations and bright colors all around. Finally, the acting is decent, considering the melodrama. Gable strikes an aura of machismo as he works his way through the monologues, while Yvonne De Carlo is just absolutely lovely as she navigates these new waters.
If you are a fan of period pieces, and are not too sensitive to the racial stereotypes that would not fly in this day and age (and shouldn’t have then), this is an interesting film to watch, from the nice cinematography to the issues that it deals with. It hasn’t really won me over to the side of enjoying all of these films, but it does show that there is some value in the viewing of them.
Audio/Video. The film is presented in its original ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The transfer looks very good. It has been restored beautifully, with bright colors and deep blacks, Warner Brothers did a nice job with it. The audio track is a straight up mono track, with good levels, it does the job well.
Extras. The only supplemental feature is the original trailer.
Bottomline. An interesting film from another era. There is a mix of melodrama and real issues in a lush setting of the old South. I enjoyed it, to an extent. I found myself a little uncomfortable with the stereotypes of African-Americans. Still, this is worth a viewing, and is has been transferred beautifully.