Seven Angry Men (1955)

 

 

 

 

Director:  Charles Marquis Warren.

Starring:  Raymond Massey (John Brown), Debra Paget (Elizabeth Clark), Jeffrey Hunter (Owen Brown), Larry Pennell (Oliver Brown), John Smith (Frederick Brown), James Best (Jason Brown), Dennis Weaver (John Brown, Jr.), Dabbs Greer (Doctor), Ann Tyrrell (Mrs. Mary Brown).

Movie based on life of John Brown.

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"In 1856, five years before the beginning of the American Civil War, men fought and died in the Kansas Territory.  Brave, violent men came from both sides of the Mason-Dixon Land and made 'Bleeding Kansas' a battle ground.  The prize was admission to the Union --  as either a free state or a slave state."

With his six sons John Brown is living in Kansas Territory.  He tells his sons:  "Remember all men are born free and equal before God.  And He has sent us into Kansas to do his sacred work.  All Kansas shall be free. And every man, woman and child in it shall be free."   In the newspaper "Kansas City Journal" a headline says:  "Pro-slavers attacked".  Another headline reads:  "John Brown menace grows".

Two of Brown's sons are traveling on the train.  Oliver is mad that the newspaper refers to his father as a "menace".  Son Owen tells Oliver to keep his voice down. He maintains that the newspapers on both sides of the slavery issue are a bit hysterical.  Two tough guys on the train ask the Browns if they are Yankees?  They are a couple of border ruffians.  Oliver says he know all about the ruffians:  "Professional killers from Missouri."   Owen tells Oliver to go easy.  The ruffians stand up and one of them says:  "We ain't professionals.  Sometimes we kill free-staters for the fun of it."  Oliver stands up to the men and a fight starts to break out. 

A pretty passenger named Elizabeth Clark yells at the men to stop that because they are children aboard this car.  One of the ruffians tells her to stay out of it.  She replies:  "I won't stay out of it.  You and your friend are murderers by your own admission.  And if you are free-staters as you claim to be, you supposedly believe in the dignity of man."  Owen says the lady is right, but the second ruffian tells the woman to go back to her seat and mind her own business.  He approaches Elizabeth, so she slaps him hard across the face.  Now the fight really begins.  The Browns quickly subdue the men.  Owen orders them out of the car and they go. 

Owen talks to Elizabeth who is regretful that she was the one to strike the first blow.  The brothers asks her where she is headed and she says to Lawrence, Kansas.  The guys say they are getting off at Lawrence too.  She says she is Elizabeth Clark and she's from Illinois.  The men introduce themselves and the first thing she asks is if they are related to the John Brown?  When they say yes, she excuses herself and goes back to her original seat. 

The Browns and Clark ride the stage coach into Lawrence.  Owen asks if he can carry Elizabeth's baggage.  She doesn't say anything.  Oliver sees another of his brothers. Frederick, and goes over to help him carry a large wooden box.  Their father comes riding up with horse and wagon.  He greets Oliver and asks where's Owen?   He's after some girl. 

Owen tries to convince Elizabeth that his father is a good man.  She tells him that he is annoying her.  She adds:  "I believe he's a dangerous, fanatical man who's doing our cause more harm than good.  I want nothing to do with him or any of his raiders."  Owen says she's not being fair to him.  They just met.  He asks if they could start over?   Frederick comes over and Owen introduces him to Elizabeth.  Frederick tells Owen that father is just across the street.  Owen heads off immediately to greet his father, pulling Elizabeth along with him. 

Elizabeth is not thrilled to see the John Brown.  Owen says they were discussing father's work on the train.  Father says that it's not his work, but God's work.  He asks Elizabeth if she is staying in Lawrence?  Yes, because her father is a merchant here.  The boys hop on the wagon, they say goodbye to Elizabeth and head off for home.  Elizabeth's father now comes up to welcome her to Lawrence.  Her father noticed that Elizabeth had been speaking with John Brown and he tells her that he is a "great man". 

As they approach their destination, dad tells Owen that there stands Osawatomi.  "The Lord's justice has many followers."  Everyone seems busy in town constructing buildings and cooking.  The three sons and other men see the Browns returning and rush out to greet them.  John says he is very glad to be surrounded now by all his grown sons.  He reads a prayer for the occasion.  Following that, dad tells Owen and Oliver to get out of their store clothes so they can start working immediately.  After all, ". . . there's work to be done."

The fellows introduce Owen and Oliver to three of the best workers:  George Wilson, Henry Thompson and a black man named Ned Grange.  They start to go to work, but a bunch of riders are headed their way.  The leader of the band says his name is Martin White.  He says to John Brown:  "You're not wanted here in Kansas.  We're giving you 48 hours to leave the territory."  Brown tells him:  "I suggest that you and your rabble leave this place and stay away.  We have important work to do."

Owen and Elizabeth go our for a picnic.  Elizabeth says:  "I like you Owen, but I don't want to get any more serious than that."  Owen says:  "It's more serious than that already with me." She says she's sorry and starts to go to the wagon.  Owen replies maybe she would feel differently if his name wasn't Brown.  Maybe.  "You know I came to Kansas to join a crusade.  I didn't expect to fall in love."  She says:  "Neither did I."  They kiss. 

Martin White talks to his fellow slavers.  White and his men are going out to sack Lawrence, Kansas and its free-staters.  The terrorist group rides into Lawrence at night.  They start throwing their fire torches at the houses and other buildings of Lawrence.  They kill residents who try to put the fires out.  Elizabeth's father is shot down. 

The men of Osawatomi sit down for dinner.  John Brown asks John Brown Jr. why isn't he eating?  Jr. says he's just not hungry.  He's definitely bothered about something. 

A Mr. Cougar drives Elizabeth over to Osawatomi.  When she sees Owen she starts crying.  Owen wants to know what's happened and she says her father is dead.  Mr. Cougar says Martin White and his men sacked Lawrence.  John Brown says the war has begun.  He tells the residents that they must prepare to expect people coming to them from Lawrence.  Meanwhile, he, his sons and two others males go to talk to the sheriff.   The sheriff has a list of some of the men involved in the sacking. 

The Browns break into a house by force and grab the father along with two of his older sons.  The father is stabbed to death. A son attacks one of the group and he is shot down.  The other son runs away, but is shot in the back by Brown's men.  John Brown says that five people perished in Lawrence and five of the guilty will also perish today.  He reads the next two names on list:  Wilkinson and Sherman.   They go after them.

John Brown and his men ride up to Osawatomi.  He sees that everyone is packed up and ready to leave in a sort of wagon train.  John scolds all of them reminding them that they will be the voters in the important election coming up.  He tells them to stay and so they stay.  Owen goes over to see Elizabeth and she is fuming mad.  She says that John Brown is a murderer.  She adds:  "He has made you one too."  She leaves. 

Jason and John Brown, Jr. are leaving.  They tell their father that they are going to turn themselves over to the Union army.  Father asks them if they are insane?  Jason says he thinks John is and he wants to get his brother some medical treatment.  Dad says that the army will imprison both of them.  John Brown, Sr. walks away and goes into his tent.  The two sons leave the camp.  Frederick says he's going too.  He has to get away from father after what happened this morning.  He wants to be alone for awhile. 

Only Owen, Oliver and Solomon are left now.  Owen says that father is still going to go on with the fight and they can't let him fight alone.  Oliver tells Owen to get father to stop the killing.  Owen goes in to talk to father.  He says they came to fight for the anti-slavery cause, but what they did this morning was just wrong.  Father tells him:  "I understand weakness and cowardice even in my own sons."  Owen turns around and leaves the tent. 

Martin White and his men ride up on Frederick and ask him to join their cause.  Frederick tells White that he doesn't want to harm anyone.  White says if Frederick is not with them, then he is against them.  He tells Frederick to stand up.  Now White recognizes Frederick as one of John Brown's sons.  White shoots him dead. 

A neighbor brings in the body of Frederick to the Browns.  A man shouts that the slavers are coming.  Brown orders the women and children to the woods.  All the men are ordered to get a gun. 

White's men charge the settlement.  Quite a few of the raiders are killed or wounded, but now Brown has to order everyman into the woods.  The raiders now sack the settlement.  Martin White sees John Brown walking and starts after him.  Owen sees what's happening and runs out to safe his father.  He saves his father, but he is shot by White.  White, in turn, is shot twice by another son. 

Elizabeth is going to be the nurse for Owen, but John Brown tells her that her services are not needed.  Elizabeth is about as plain-spoken as John Brown is and she tells him that he doesn't like her and she doesn't like him.  He's afraid that she might influence Owen.  Well, she is going to influence Owen not to follow in his father's footsteps.  Brown calls her some names and then starts to leave.  As he is about to exit the tent, the nurse now tells Father Brown that next time when he visits Owen, he should keep his voice down as not to disturb the patient. 

In the morning, John Brown tells everyone to get back to work.  Elizabeth and Owen restate their love for each other.  And now Oliver and Solomon tell Elizabeth and Owen that they are going back to the family farm and they want Owen to come with them.  Owen again says he can't abandon father.  Father comes into the tent and tells his sons that they will not leave.  "I forbid it."  Oliver talks back to his father and gets slapped for it.  The other two brothers jump on Oliver to make sure he doesn't strike father.  Oliver and Solomon now say goodbye to their father and leave.  Father just keeps his back turned to them not saying anything. 

It's the day of the election.  Owen tells Elizabeth that regardless of whether Kansas is a free or a slave state, they will be going back to Ohio.  Elizabeth asks if he is sure?  He says yes.  Owen even asks if Elizabeth will marry him.  She says that first they have to reach an agreement on certain key issues.  He says he has always wanted to be a farmer and he'll make a good one.  With this promise, Elizabeth agrees to marry Owen.  They hug and kiss. 

John Brown returns on his horse.  The free-staters have won.  "The election is over and Kansas is free."   They are all excited about the prospect.  And now Owen tells father that he and Elizabeth are going to marry and are headed for Ohio.  Father gives them his blessing and the couple both thank him.  He says:  "I'll be with you again in God's time."  He rides the short distance to the settlement. 

Everyone is back in Ohio together at dinner (except for the late Frederick).  But John Brown and his boys are still going to work for the anti-slavery cause.  He is going to visit a score of villages and towns to gather funds for the anti-slavery cause.  Oliver and Watson say they will go with their father wherever he goes.  Owen then tells father that he will stay with him too.  This upsets Elizabeth and she leaves the table. 

Boston, 1858.  A number of prominent abolitionists, including David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, ask John Brown what exactly are his plans?  Brown says he never divulges his plans.  Only he and God know what his plans are and he will not be "interrogated".  The prominent men give money to Brown.  One check is for $1,000 dollars. 

From a blacksmith Brown asks for the preparation of 1,000 long spears.  He also has rifles sent to Isaac Smith, Harpers Ferry, Virginia.  Six men arrive at the I. Smith farm with more coming.  There Owen receives the men.  Elizabeth nags her husband about what his father's plans are, but Owen is not telling her.  He says to her that the whole world will find out eventually. 

Brown talks with the conspirators.  He assigns Owen, Wilson and Green to be at the schoolhouse.  They will have the pikes and rifles.  He says:  "I only hope you'll have enough arms to equip all the slaves who will be joining us the minute they learn what we are doing at Harper's Ferry."  He adds that they will have hostages that must not be harmed.  They will use them as bargaining chips. 

On the day of the fateful start of the great rebellion, Owen tries to kiss Elizabeth goodbye but she won't let him kiss her.  He tells her now she knows what's going to happen.  Elizabeth says she thought this would be the ending.  John Brown says to her:  "You are mistaken Elizabeth.  It is not an end.  It's a beginning.  A beginning for the entire human race."  She tells Owen that if he goes, she will leave him.  Owen goes anyway.  A little later, Elizabeth tells her mother-in-law that she did not mean what she said.

The men go to their different positions.  John Brown now takes over the U. S. Arsenal.  He tells a black fellow that his name is John Brown and he has come from Kansas to free all the slaves in this state.  The black man tells Brown that he's been free for eight years now.  After that, John Brown starts taking hostages.  Colonel Washington is brought in and he says this is high treason.  "You'll be hanged for this."  Brown says:  "Perhaps.  If so, it'll be a hanging that this country and the world will never forget." 

Now the alarm goes out about the raiders having captured the arsenal and the fire house.  "They say they have come to free the slaves."  Col. Robert E. Lee is informed.  Lee says:  "Eighteen men against the nation?"

The people of the town start surrounding the firehouse where John Brown, his men and the hostages are.  Brown sends out two men with a white flag to tell the mayor of the town that Brown wants no bloodshed.  He will meet anywhere the mayor says to talk about releasing the hostages in exchange for the freeing of the slaves in this state.  As the two fellows with the white flag go outside, one of the hostages runs out the same door and passes by them.  Someone shoots the hostage from a window.  Now, the residents open fire on the fellows with the white flags.  One of the fellows goes down.  Brown's youngest son, Watson, is also hit but just does make it back inside the firehouse.  Now both sides start shooting at each other. 

Both sides have stopped shooting.  Watson is not doing very well. 

At the schoolhouse, the black man tells Owen that he doesn't think any slaves are going to come.  Owen says they've got to come.  Mr. Wilson tells the guys that he's leaving.  Mr. Green says he's staying with Owen even though he knows it's a lost cause. 

At the firehouse Watson dies.  Brown says first Frederick and now Watson.  "Can it be that the Lord has forsaken me?" 

Robert E. Lee and a detachment of marines have arrived.  They head down to the firehouse.  Owen tells Green that he has to go help his father.  Green stops him and tells him that nobody can help his father now.  They got to get out of Harper's Ferry.  He adds:  "Your father's finished and so is his dream of freedom."  The two men leave the schoolhouse. 

Lt. Stuart comes with a white flag to speak with John Brown.  Brown tries to negotiate with the lieutenant, but the military man says:  "There are no terms, Mr. Brown.  Either you surrender or you will be taken."

The marines get into place and storm the firehouse.  They use a big piece of lumber to break the doors open.  An exchange of fire takes place.  Brown is knocked down by the blow from the side of lieutenant's sword.  It's all over very quickly.  Brown is not dead.  Robert E. Lee says:  "Then he'll die on the gallows, lieutenant, you can be sure of that."

In the trial the judge says the charges against John Brown are treason, conspiring with slaves and others to rebel and murder in the first degree.  In Brown's last words to the court, he says:  "I believe that to have interfered as I have done on behalf of God's despised poor, I did not wrong, but right.  Now if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for furtherance of the ends of justice and mingle my blood with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights have been disregarded by wicked, cruel and unjust enactments. I say let it be done."

Brown is sentenced to die by hanging on the date of December 2, 1859. 

Owen and Elizabeth visit dad in jail.  They are planning an escape attempt.  John Brown, however, will not escape.  It says:  "I am now quite certain that I am worth inconceivably more to hang than for any other purpose."  Father and son embrace each other.  Owen and Elizabeth leave his cell. 

John Brown is brought out to hang sitting on his own casket in the wagon.  He walks to the gallows.

 

Good film.  Raymond Massey was great as John Brown, a man willing to give his life for the anti-slavery cause and freedom from slavery.  The picture quality is terrible.  A lot of times the screen is almost pitch black.  It's a shame they don't make a remake of the film.  They could make it a little longer and stick in some more of the great quotes from Brown.  If they did a film on Mary Surratt, they certainly should be able to do one on Brown again.  The United States has had this problem of slavery and injustice against blacks for almost 400 years now.  The nation always underestimates the strength of the problem and tends to do something good in this area only when they are forced to do something:  by a civil war or by a large civil rights movement.  At other times the injustices are tolerated by far too many.  It seems people want social control more than they want social justice and periods of progress in the civil rights area are far and in between.  To this day, this national amnesia continues and will continue to fester until something dramatic is forced upon the USA with its broken government.  Right now we are probably more divided by race than at any other time in the history of the USA. 

In a society run under the rule of law, a man like John Brown has to be punished.  But in a society as unjust as the USA, there are always going to be men and women who will rebel against injustice.  Brown himself was willing to pay the ultimate price in his attempts to end slavery by going to the gallows.  For this he is a hero.  To a racist, Brown is a terrible man, a devil, but it's never worthwhile to listen to racists. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:


John Brown

1800 -- born in Torrington, Conn., U.S.A.

Brown was cursed with wander lust. He lived and worked in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York, but had a hard time even supporting his large family. Among the jobs he had was: tanner, sheep drover, wool merchant, farmer, and land speculator.

1849 -- the white Brown settles with his family in a black community founded at North Elba, N.Y., on land donated by the New York antislavery philanthropist Gerrit Smith.

1855 -- Long-time foe of slavery, Brown becomes obsessed with the idea of taking overt action to help black people. He follows five of his sons to the Kansas Territory to assist antislavery forces struggling for control there in the campaign known as "Bloody Kansas." Brown settles in Osawatomie and becomes the leader of antislavery guerrillas.

1856, May 21 -- the sack of Lawrence, Kansas by a mob of slavery sympathizers.

1856, May 24 -- Brown takes vengeance with a nighttime retaliatory raid on a pro-slavery settlement at Pottawatomie Creek. Five men are dragged out of their cabins and hacked to death. Such violence is horrific, but such actions as those of Brown were quite frequent on both sides of the struggle over slavery in Kansas and Missouri. 

1858 -- Brown convenes a meeting of blacks and whites in Chatham, Ont., at which he announces his intention of establishing in the Maryland and Virginia mountains a stronghold for escaping slaves. The convention adopts Brown's proposed constitution. He gets support from Gerrit Smith and several prominent Boston Abolitionists.

1859 -- with an armed band of 16 whites and 5 blacks, Brown sets up headquarters in a rented farmhouse in Maryland, across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry.

1859 -- On the night of October 16, Brown takes the local armory and rounds up 60 leading men of the area as hostages. He thought he could start a general slave rebellion. He eventually surrenders to a small force of U.S. Marines under Robert E. Lee who break in and overpower him. Brown is wounded, and 10 of his followers (including two sons) are killed.

Tried for murder, slave insurrection, and treason against the state, Brown is convicted. But his great moral defense of his cause immortalizes him in anti-slavery circles.

1859, December 2 -- hanged in Charlestown, Va. (now W. Va. after civil war).

 

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