This American Civil War tale starts off in a very Disney-like heartwarmingly sickening way, but ends up with quite a bit of genuine emotion and feeling, mostly courtesy of Jimmy Stewart in one of his very strongest screen roles. He's worth the price of admission alone.
He plays widower Charlie Anderson, a Virginian farmer, who is single-handedly raising his six sons and one daughter. HIs pastoral valley is caught up in the bloody American Civil War. But Anderson is philosophically opposed to slavery, so he refuses to fight for the Confederacy, and refuses to send his sons to the slaughter. And he is opposed to the notion of Americans killing fellow Americans, so he also refuses to fight for the Union.
He's willing to leave both sides alone. Trouble is, they won't leave him alone. Big trouble comes when his youngest son, known simply as 'Boy', gets swept up in a battle and is taken prisoner by the Union army. Charlie rounds up most of his other sons and embarks on a quest to find and set free his youngest.
Although a non-combatant, Charlie and his family suffer their share of what is described nowadays as 'collateral damage' - a nice neutral term for senseless slaughter. But when life seems its bleakest, there is unexpected redemption and hope.
The cast is drawn from all over the place, with its mixture of young television actors such as Doug McLure (The Virginians) and then-newcomers from Broadway (Katharine Ross) alongside the great veteran Jimmy Stewart. Most of them work well in this ensemble cast; the only weakness is Philip Alford, who plays the youngest son, 'Boy'. He also played Gregory Peck's son in To Kill a Mocking-Bird -- he's just too wimpish for this ruggest Virginian family.
Shenandoah is a bit Disneyland at the start, and you would be forgiven for expecting the very worst American 'apple-pie and prayers' excesses. But hold on for a bit... it ends up generating some very real emotion, and you'll need at least two or three Kleenexes nearby at its close.
This is a very decent transfer of this vintage widescreen drama. There are some signs of print wear - the occasional scratch and other age-related artefacts - but if these in any way affect your enjoyment of the movie, then I'm afraid you're getting far far too precious. It's probably the best this movie has been seen in Australia since its original release. Colours and shadow detail are first class for the period.
The footage of a Civil War battle near the start of the movie is slightly inferior to the rest, but not markedly so. This footage was drawn from movie made eight years earlier, Raintree County, and all things considered, the match-up is not too bad at all.
The two-channel mono sound is clear, with no evident deterioration, and no disturbing wow or hiss.
The only extra is a full-screen original theatrical trailer, in very washed-out condition.