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  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer ( )
  • French: Dolby Digital Stereo
  • Dutch: Dolby Digital Stereo
    English, French, Spanish
  • Additional footage
  • 2 Audio commentary
  • Cast/crew biographies
  • DVD-ROM features


Warner Bros./Warner Home Video . R4 . COLOR . 170 mins . M15+ . PAL


I knew absolutely nothing about this DVD until the menu came up on screen. Then I groaned because it was another American Civil War film. 15 minutes later, I was well ensconced because it isn’t necessarily a Civil War movie. It actually tells of the fortunes of a battalion of northern (Yankee) soldiers cut off from their field support and captured by the South (Rebels). What follows is their humanity being slowly stripped away as they are thrown into Andersonville, a cruel field prison containing around 10,000 men.

The considerable length of this picture (a whopping two hours and 50 minutes) lends credence to the many years it covers, as the battalion is slowly whittled away to only a few remaining survivors. Through internal war, starvation and sickness we witness the horrors of this actual prison camp and the dehumanisation of its inmates. A broad cast of male actors portray good and bad characters from both sides of the track, putting through the ideal that bad folks exist wherever you come from and good folks will always triumph over adversity (or die of scurvy).

Acted admirably by a sort of ‘who’s who’ of movie supports and B-graders, this made for TV film has been meticulously planned down to the finer details and is surprisingly watchable, showing the human side of war in a way many will not have seen before. Andersonville was an actual place and the worst prison camp of the American Civil War, containing over 45,000 prisoners while in use, and burying nearly 13,000 of them. The man who ran the prison, Colonel Wirz, was the only man convicted and hanged for war crimes from the entire war (well, so goes the post-film info in the credits anyway.)

A very interesting and altogether horrifying piece, it portrays the humour, the brutality and the cheapness of life at the time and reflects upon us further along the timeline, but seemingly no less inhumane...


This film was obviously made for television, but makes the journey across to DVD surprisingly well. Whilst still having the odd problem, the picture is generally fairly clear with limited if any film artefacts. Shadows and blacks come across okay, although they do occasionally go a little blueish, particularly in night shots and firelit scenes. Some of the pans appear a little clunky in the transfer, but generally they move slowly, so we bear full witness to the size of the set and the extras cast, which is just enormous. The layer change is also admirable, coming in during a black screen pause between shots. Skin tones and colours have all been shot in the most washed out overcast light possible - in most instances - to generate a feeling of helplessness and discomfort. This works magnificently, giving the feeling of being there in the mud with the prisoners, seeing every stagnant puddle and skin lesion in person. Very well shot and transferred in 16:9 format from an aspect ratio of 1.85:1.


The sound is pretty good here as well. Rainy days don’t drown out the dialogue, nor do explosions and gunfire. On that subject though, the gunfire and explosion sounds are quite loud, considerably moreso than other sound effects in the film. Whether this was deliberate or not, I couldn’t say, but it doesn’t work too badly anyway. Some scuffles in the mud are a little cluttered, with all sorts of noises piled atop each other. This adds to the confusion, which certainly creates the setting, but there are so many players in this film that any confusion from any source and for any reason is unnecessary and not helpful. Other than that, the dialogue is all well spoken and clear for the most part, though some sick characters aren’t recorded so well, leaving us wondering what they just said, even upon repeated 'rewinds'. Naturally, being designed for the teev, the sound isn’t of movie calibre, but it’s mostly satisfactory for the film.


A pissy Cast and Crew Page that tells nothing about anyone other than their role is the first of the dubious extras package. Second is an Additional Scene which features its own Audio Commentary. This runs for 3:30 and is basically Frederic Forest singing a song to some of the only female actors we see in the whole film. And they cut it out, hmm. The only other extras are the Audio Commentaries of which there are two individual ones. The first features director John Frankenheimer and the second sees seven department heads taking the mic. Both are interesting as additions to the movie, but the latter is the more entertaining with so many more opinions and facts than the former.


Civil War buffs (I know you’re out there) will find this film fascinating, as will fans of prison movies. The attention to detail is excellent as is the makeup and quality of acting. Some themes generally not dealt with in Civil War films crop up, but only with subtlety so fine they may be easily missed. The organisation of thousands of extras and a massive outdoor set must also be taken into account when viewing this piece, and has been pulled off seemingly without hitch.

This is a harrowing film of man’s unkindness to his fellow man (I deliberately didn’t say ‘humankind’) that will stay with you for quite a while after viewing. As with all telemovies, it isn’t quite up to a cinema release in quality, but far outshines a larger percentage of the cinema released films we are subjected to each year. Well acted, fairly well scripted and well shot it remains a film worth seeing for its historical value and its unusual story.

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      And I quote...
    "Well acted, fairly well scripted and well shot, it remains a film worth seeing for its historical value and its unusual story."
    - Jules Faber
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