1918 (1985)  

 

 

 

Director:     Ken Harrison.

Starring:     William Converse-Roberts (Horace Robedaux), Hallie Foote (Elizabeth Robedaux), Rochelle Oliver (Mrs. Mary Vaughn), Michael Higgins (Mr. Vaughn), Matthew Broderick (Brother), Jeanne McCarthy (Bessie Stillman), Bill McGhee (Sam the Cemetery Worker), L.T. Felty (Mr. Thatcher), Horton Foote Jr. (Jessie), Tom Murrel (Stanley), Phillip Smith (Bill), Norma Allen (Mrs. Gregory), Margaret Spaulding (Mrs. Cunningham), Carol Goodheart (Ruth Amos), Buffy Carol (Gladys Maud).

in a small Texas town, Horace Robedaux feels the pressure to enlist for WWI but has a wife and child to take care of, but his father-in-law intervenes followed by an influenza epidemic

 

Spoiler Warning:

Fall, 1918.  Harrison, Texas.  Horace Robedaux closes up his cleaning and pressing business for the lunch hour.  Across the street he watches some trainees being taught how to march.  It looks like they are grabbing people from the bottom of the barrel. 

Horace greets Ira, shaking his hand.  Ira says the flu is finally behind him.  Horace goes into the Red Cross center where his wife Elizabeth usually volunteers.  But this time she is not there.  She had to do some work at home.  They also speak of the flu and the people sick with it.  A woman named Ruth comes in.  She says she heard that Carol is being made a lieutenant.  There is also talk of WWI and the boys still waiting to be send over to France.  Horace excuses himself and leaves.

Ruth says that Milburn Hall was badly gassed in France. 

A young man named "Brother" comes into the Red Cross Center.  He tells his mother that papa was not in his office.  So he wants to get 2 bits from mama to go to the picture show this afternoon.  A war picture is playing.  Brother gets his money and goes to the picture show. 

Horace makes a trip to the cemetery.  He sees the black man, Sam the cemetery worker, and asks him which grave is his father's grave?  He died in 1902.  Sam can't help him because he wasn't here in 1902. 

Sam asks Horace isn't this flu terrible?  Yes, it is.  Last week he buried three victims of the flu. 

 Brother's picture show ends.  He tries to walk two girls home, but one says they are going over to her father's office.  So Brother walks home.  In the house with him are "Sister" and the little girl Jenny. Mouse-like Bessie Stillman comes to the door and Brother calls out for his sister to come talk to Bessie.  Elizabeth invites Bessie into the house.  The neighbor woman is playing the piano and singing.  Brother asks Sister to play "Over There!" for him.  She plays and he sings the song.  A little later he asks Sister if mother told her that he got kicked out of Texas A.&M.  Sister says she hopes Brother won't get discouraged.  Brother says he wants to go into the army.

Sister's name is really Elizabeth. Horace comes home and gives her a kiss.  Horace is still talking about finding out where his father is really buried.  Maybe one of his relatives will know.  Horace also wants to buy a tombstone for himself.  Brother speaks up saying he's heard that Horace wants to buy the tombstone from Mr. Dietrich, but he says he shouldn't do it because Dietrich is just a damn German spy.  Horace says he told Dietrich that he doesn't believe in dual citizenship.  If you live in America, you gotta be an American.  Bessie leaves the house.

Elizabeth tells her husband that she heard about four more flu cases today,  Some of Horace's relatives are sick and Brother also knows about two more cases of the flu.  One fellow with the flu suffered through a stage of delirium. 

Brother complains about the town's couple of draft-dodgers.  He says he just can't stand slackers.  Two people, Mr. Vaughn and Mrs. Vaughn, come over to talk about the flu and whose got it.  Mr. Vaughn is Brother's father.  He gets mad at Brother for his bad academic performances.  He says he wants his children to have good educations.  Mr. Vaughn gets so worked up that he forgets what he came over for.  His wife reminds him of this.  So Mr. Vaughn says he heard that Horace remarked that he really would help the war effort out, if he didn't have Elizabeth and Jenny to take care of.  He would have enlisted in the army at the very start of the war.  Therefore, Mr. Vaughn offers to take care of Elizabeth and Jenny so Horace cam go off to fight in France.  And then Brother could go off to war along with Horace. 

Elizabeth is upset when she learns about what Horace said about going to France.  Horace says he doesn't really want to go to France.  He wants to be with Elizabeth and Jenny and would only go if he had to.  Now Elizabeth gets mad at her father for interfering in her and Horace's lives. 

Mother Vaughn returns to her daughter's house and says she just learned that C. Turner died from the flu.  Horace says he will go right over to console the family.  He leaves.

Elizabeth tells her mother that she and her husband do not want Horace going to go into the army.  Mrs. Vaughn says that daddy thought he was just doing the patriotic thing and thought that his daughter and son-in-law would be so pleased.   She then tells her daughter to be careful about telling daddy the news, because he is likely to get his feelings hurt.  Elizabeth is obviously not wanting to listen to her mother.  It's hard to hear Mrs. Vaughn because Elizabeth is really playing the piano extremely loud. 

Horace goes inside the house of the dead man.  He kisses his Aunt Vergie.  He then hugs Aunt Inez and says he is so sorry about what happened. 

Brother rushes into Elizabeth's house to tell his mother that his father wants her back home.  Clay Boone died.  "They say you can hear Mrs. Boone screaming all over that side of town."  Mother Vaughn leaves.  Alone with his sister, Brother says that he's in trouble.  He got into a gambling game and lost $75 dollars to little Bobbie Pate.  And that's not all.  He got a letter from a girl he knows up at College Station, Texas A.&M.  She is going to have a baby, but she wants Brother to send her $100 dollars to have the baby aborted. About himself, Brother says:  "I'm no damn good."

He asks Elizabeth if Horace can lend him the money.  She says he doesn't have the money.  So she writes out a check for $200 dollars and hands it to Brother.  She tells him that she never wants him to bring his troubles to her again.  She is sick and tired of hearing about his troubles.  Brother thanks Lizzy.  Mrs. Clay curses God for taking her son from her. 

Reading the paper, Brother reads out aloud that the Spanish influenza has killed 8,000 people in Philadelphia alone this last month.  Horace says that John Howard died 20 minutes after Boone.  Brother leaves the house.  Horace mentions to his wife that he doesn't feel that well himself, and he aches all over.  Lizzy feels his forehead and says he has a fever. 

Lizzy tels her husband she has already called for Dr. Wyatt.  The doctor arrives soon after their conversation.  He tells Lizzy that her father has the flu.  Horace is becoming delirious and is talking non-stop about all different kinds of subjects.  The poor man suddenly goes unconscious and the doctor says he is very sick.  He warns Lizzie to keep her husband away from her baby.  Horace tells Elizabeth:  "Don't let me die."   Now Horace starts becoming delirious again.  His nose starts bleeding and he goes unconscious once more.

The military training unit is now down to two people left from a total of eight.  Sam is working overtime digging graves.  He has another man to help him. 

Many days later.  In the morning Horace awakens.  He says he is not sleepy anymore.  Maybe Horace is going to be one of the lucky one of those who caught the flu.  While he was out of it, Elizabeth got the flu and their baby got the flu.  Horace got up too soon and had a relapse, but now he is okay.  Mother Vaughn and Brother come over to see Horace.  And now Mr. Vaughn arrives.  Brother tells Horace that fifteen people died while Horace was out of it. 

Elizabeth is alone with Horace and uses the opportunity to tell him that their daughter Jenny died a week ago.  She says she told him about this before, but apparently he was too sick to remember. 

The bells of the churches start chiming.  An Armistice has been declared.  WWI is over.  Germany has surrendered.  Horace decides to rush to the town for the celebration of the Armistice. 

Elizabeth starts crying about her baby Jenny and her mother tries to console her.  She tells Horace they buried Elizabeth in the plots owned by his father.  Bessie comes to see Elizabeth, but she has to send her away for fear she might get influenza.  Elizabeth also has to tell Bessie that baby Jenny has died of influenza.  Bessie leaves. 

Winter, 1918.  They have a parade in the town to welcome the dough boys back home.  And tonight there will be another parade because another bunch of veterans are coming back on the night train.  Elizabeth tells Horace that the overseas boys will be coming home later. 

Elizabeth is pregnant again.  She puts away all of Jenny's toys and clothes in a cedar chest.  Horace goes back to work at his cleaners place.

Spring, 1919.  Now Elizabeth is very obviously pregnant.  She tells her husband the baby could come any day now.  The next day Brother runs over to Elizabeth to tell her he is leaving now.  Papa has gotten him a job and he is leaving town to go to it.  They each give the other a peck on the cheek. 

Bessie Stillman comes to see Elizabeth asking about her baby.  She admits only to Bessie that losing Jenny has now made her afraid of losing her second child.  She says if the child is just going to die a few years after it's born, she doesn't want to have the baby.  And now Elizabeth says she is about to have her baby.  Luckily, her husband returns home at this time.  Bessie starts getting scared.  She says a returning soldier started suddenly screaming at a noise he heard and his behavior scared her.  The young man is shell-shocked.  She says she doesn't like war if that's what war does to you.  And then she saw a colored man in uniform with one leg missing.  Bessie goes on, but finally Elizabeth tells her to please don't go on.  She herself doesn't want to be frightened again. 

Then Elizabeth drops another heavy secret on poor Bessie.  She says the truth is that she wants her Jenny back and she doesn't want to have this new baby at all.  And she is afraid that God will punish her for these bad thoughts.  She also asks Bessie a too deep question:  do you believe it was God's will that Jenny died?  Mrs. Vaughn arrives at the house followed by Horace and the doctor.  Bessie tells Mrs. Vaughn that she is scared to walk home.  So Mrs. Vaughn has Horace walk her home.  The doctor likes the idea and tells Horace to take a good, long walk before he comes back to the house. 

After dropping Bessie at home, Horace goes to see his daughter's grave.  Sam comes to speak with Horace and then Mrs. Boone talks to Horace.  She tells him that they put the tombstones on the wrong graves for Horace's relatives.  Mrs. Boone says she went to all the funerals and she remembers where each one was buried. 

By the time Horace gets back, the doctor is leaving and Elizabeth has a brand new baby, Horace Jr.  He tells his wife about the mix-up in the tombstones and laughs.  Elizabeth's parents come to visit the baby and mother.  "She says she got a call from one of their relatives saying that Brother got off the train and came to their house.  So she got on the phone with Brother and told him to keep going on to Galveston and take that cotton boat to New York City and back.  And he better not show his face around home until he has come back from New York City." 

 

The movie tells about life in 1918 and 1919 in a small town in Texas.  It was interesting seeing the lives of several small town families.  There are good things and bad thinks about small towns and it was interesting to see the mixture of both here.  Families and friends were very close to each other, but then everyone knows everything about everybody in town.  The little town faced two big problems in the year 1918.  They suffered a great many deaths from the great influenza epidemic of 1918.  They lost more town residents to the flu compared to the loss of lives in the other big problem faced by the town:  WWI.  Of course, a lot of bad things were not shown about a typical southern small town.  And the biggest problem not shown was that of the problem of racism against the blacks.  That was not pretty.  I grew up in the south and now live in the north.  I would never go back to live is a southern state that was still predominantly racist with all its ugliness tarnishing almost every aspect of life there.  I want to live where people are citizens of the world and not citizens of the ante-bellum South (that's before the Civil War).  I don't want to live in a place where most of the people don't believe that all men are created equal. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 

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