Director: Hugh Hudson.
Starring: Al Pacino (Tom Dobb), Donald Sutherland (British Sergeant Major Peasy), Natasha Kinski (Daisy McConnahay)
New York trapper Tom Dobb (Al Pacino) does not want to participate in the American Revolution. But everything changes when his son Ned is drafted into the army by the British Sergeant Major (Donald Sutherland). Tom searches for his son and his eyes are to political reality in the new nation. He eventually decides to participate in the Revolution. (So there is an American Revolution and an internal revolution within Tom Dobb.) Another person going through a revolution is Dobb's love interest, Daisy McConnahay (Nastassja Kinski), who breaks from her wealthy Tory family to fight for what became the United States. The events of the war are revealed as Tom goes through his journey, such as the Battle of Yorktown and winter encampment at Valley Forge.
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
July 9, 1776. The colonial soldiers tear down the statue of King George III at the foot of Broadway, New York City, after the Declaration of Independence was read to the American army in the city. On this very day trapper Tom Dobb and his son Ned are coming down river from upper New York to Bowling Green, New York City, just at the time of the tearing down of the statue. Dobb's wife and two daughters babes died of the fever. He only has young Ned now. Tom does not read or write and he doesn't understand what all the hooting and hollering is about.
Daisy McConnahay and her mother and two sisters are from a Tory family, but Daisy is a born rebel. Her mother warns her not to spoil the day for them, but Daisy hops out of the coach and joins the people celebrating the taking down of the statue of King George. Some of the people are shouting: "Liberty or death! No more king!" Daisy joins in the refrain.
A woman calls out to Tom and tells him that the army need his boat to help drive the British out of Brooklyn. Tom says he can't give his boast to them. Daisy yells at Tom to be a patriot and give them his boat. The chant of "Take the boat!" is now heard from the crowd. Men start jumping onto the boat and Ned and Tom try to fight them but it's useless since there are so many men on the boat now. The men in the boat grab Tom and have the people on the dock pull him up onto solid ground. Daisy helps bring Tom up. A captain gives Tom a note to turn in to get cash for his boat. Tom is especially mad about the confiscation of his boat since the vessel with full of skins and furs. The note only says they will get $70 dollars for the boat and its contents.
Ned gets in line for his money after telling Ned to stay outside and wait for him, but there is a little parade through the streets and Ned joins in. Inside the speaker says there is no cash now. The notes will be redeemed within two weeks. The parade is for recruitment into the army of the United States. Ned asks if he can beat the drum and the officer says of course he can. And he will get 5 shilling for it. Tom comes out of the building but doesn't see his boy. He goes looking for him. When he finds him, he also finds out that Ned has joined the army. Tom pays the army back its 5 shillings and starts to leave, but the officer won't let him take Ned. Tom says his boy ain't joined because he didn't have his permission. It doesn't matter to the army. The boy has joined because he signed his name. They tell Tom if he wants to go where his son is going he will have to join the army too. With not alternative, Tom signs himself into the army roll book.
Tom gets his mess kit and a rifle. He is still made because he says he doesn't want to fight someone else's war of which he has no understanding of the reasons for it. As Ned and Tom are taken off in boat, Tom stares at Daisy. She sees him staring at her, so she stares at him. Tom thinks to himself that other women are lost to him. They are no comparison to the wife he lost. He gives Ned the note for $70 dollars and Ned puts it in his shoe.
The British have taken New York City and will be marching in soon. Daisy won't stay in the house, regardless of what her mother tells her.
The Battle of Brooklyn Heights. The Americans are walking to a hug field filled with yellow blossoms on green plants. Daisy goes to see Dr. Sloan who is operating on a man, taking his leg off. The doctor tells her to go back home. This is no place for her. Daisy says she has brought some food. The doctor tells her to distribute the food and then go back home. The doctor calls out for a tourniquet and Daisy gives him the patriotic red and white sash she is wearing.
Daisy walks back through the field. She sees Ned and Tom hiding amid the yellow blossoms. Tom sees her and asks her if she has something to eat? Yes. Daisy gives them food and then starts tending to a slight wound on Tom's chests. She asks him how the fighting was? Tom says the shooting started and men started falling all around them. Most of the men were killed by shot chain and grape spewed from the British cannon. Men were cut in half as a result. Daisy starts crying and says: "You fought for our cause." She fawns over Tom.
This happy scene is disturbed by the officers coming on horseback through the fields and chasing the stragglers out from there to get back in line to fight. Tom and Ned get on line, but Tom thinks to himself: "To be an American in this uneven fight is to be a lamb to slaughter. An angry squirrel fighting a lion."
The British wait march in line toward the American positions. The British cannon open up first. Then the British line comes forward. Sgt. Major Peasey leads the men. The Americans hold their fire until the British get closer to their lines. The order is given to open fire and British soldiers drop where they march. Replacements come forward to replace those wounded or killed by the Americans. As the British get closer, Peasy halts them. He has the men fire by ranks. A number of Americans are killed, some as they run from the American lines. Now Peasy calls for a bayonet attack on the Americans. The Americans are now running as fast as they can to a second line. They fire at the oncoming British, but many Americans run for it. American flag falls from the hands of a young lad shot by the British. Ned rushes over and picks up the flag. Tom grabs him by the hand to get him out of there. The British now catch up to the Americans and start bayoneting them. Now the Americans literally run for their lives. Tom puts on his bayonet, but the rifle is knocked out of his hands. He uses the American flag pole to defend against an attempt by Peasy to run him through, but the flag is knocked out of his hands. Tom runs away again. The British now stop as the Americans are all spread out.
Tom tells Ned that he will go back to New York and work in a rope factory. Back on Manhattan Tom notices that British troops are everywhere. Following a parade of British soldiers down the streets comes the American prisoners of war. Ned sees one of the drummer boy, Merle, who he knows. He calls out to him and Merle responds, but he gets pushed back in line by a British soldier. Daisy and her sisters watch the parade and one sister asks Daisy where are her wonderful soldiers now? They run off like skunks? The sisters see their father with their father up on the podium with the British general. Daisy moves around among the crowd watching the spectacle. She sees Ned on the other side of the parade line. She keeps an eye on Ned and follows him until he gets back to his father. Daisy looks at Tom in disbelief and asks: "You ran?" Tom replies: "We all ran. Everybody ran." Daisy shouts loudly: "You ran?" Tom replies: "It was run or get caught. So I ran." She says she thought he might have stood his ground. Tom takes Ned and tries to get away from that crazy Daisy. Tears run down the face of Daisy.
At Daisy's house, Daisy is shocked by how many British soldiers are in the house. She asks her mother what is going on here and mother tells her not to spoil things for her two sisters. They are hoping to catch a British officer to marry. And mother doesn't want Daisy getting upset and spoiling the whole affair. Daisy herself will have to be prepared to wear a very high wig to match her sisters and paint her face. In addition, the family is billeting two young British officers: Lord Hampton and Lord Darling.
At the big affair Daisy pretends she is flirting with one of the officers, but she takes out a long hat pin from the toy ship on her head and sticks into the leg of the officer. Daisy gets up as the officer grunts and screams: "You bitch." Daisy hurries out of the room. The officer continues: "Bloody Yankee bitch." To mother the officers says: "Your daughters are whores, madam. All of them. Whores." Meanwhile, Daisy is in the officers' room trying to be as destructive as she can be. Mother comes in and Daisy becomes calmer and stands still. Mom says that she and father have always loved Daisy. She adds that never before has Daisy given her cause to feel ashamed of her until now. Daisy says that's not fair and starts crying, as she goes to hug her mother. Mother says: "You cannot belong to this family and fight on the other side."
Spring, five months later. Ned has joined a group of boys called the Mohawks who still food and other things from the British. A man chases the gang down a street because the boys have stolen one of his pigs. At the rope factory, the British are harassing the workers. The boys come running through the factory. Ned goes over to Tom to say that they grabbed a British grenade to blow a hole in the sergeant's mess. Tom says: "You ain't blowing nothing. You ain't no Mohawk." Ned explains that he has been elected to the gang and he is not himself going to blow the grenade. His job will be to rush through the blown hole and grab as much food as he can to give to the American prisoners of war, like his friend Merle. Tom says he ain't doing anything with the Mohawks, but Ned says he will do what he wants and go where he wants.
The conversation is broken up by the arrival of Marley and other British soldiers. He has one factory worker with him and apparently he wants Tom to be the second factory worker he is selecting for a job. At the point of a bayonet, they make Tom run in place to prove he is fit. Marley shows the two workers what is called a "guy" -- namely a poor ropey-looking effigy of George Washington. It is a replacement for a real fox in the officers' fox hunt. The two workers will get a head start dragging the guy far ahead of the dogs and officers on horseback. The two men will be paid for their work. Marley warns the workers that if they run off, they will catch them and hang them.
Before leaving with the soldiers, Tom tells Ned to get them a sausage, but Ned refuses. He says dad is ". . . toady to these bugs like they was tin Jesus." Ned goes on to say that he can handle himself and, anyway, it's not him that's hiding, but dad. Tom tries to stop Ned from leaving, but Ned pulls away from him and leaves.
Tom is taken over to the officers. Lord Hampton tells the two draggers that they are being paid handsomely for this, but they must earn their money by giving the officers "some good sport". The guys are told to start running and off they go. The officers and dogs and some ladies wait on their horses to provide a good head start for the draggers. After awhile, the dogs are released and the men and women follow on horseback. The man running with Tom is a big fellow and tires out. The man is tired and frees himself from the dummy. He frees himself from the rope around his hand and takes off. Tom tries to warn him: "You got the scent on you. . . . They're going to run you down. You got the scent on you." The other fellow just keeps saying he doesn't care.
Tom grabs the dummy and throws it over his shoulder and runs. The dogs smell the scent of the big man and go after him. They go after the fellow and start ripping him apart. The British just watch as this happens. This gives Ned some time to put some distance between him and the officers. Soon the dogs are coming after Tom and the effigy. Tom sunks the dummy in some water to get the scent off the dummy and off him. He then pulls the dummy through a marshy area. It does no good. The dogs are almost on him. He puts the dummy in front of his chest, puts his back against a tree and steels himself for the onslaught of the dogs. The dogs start trying to tear the dummy out of Tom's hands, while he holds on as tight as he can. When the officers arrive, they call off the dogs. Tom survives.
Bill Peasy is on burial detail. He says some words over the buried bodies. His young friend, Ben, the drummer boy, sticks close to Bill. He tells Bill: "It's me going next." Bill denies this because he says Benn will have "drummers' luck". And yet, they just buried some drummer boys and need to find some replacements.
In the prison Ned hangs out with Merle practicing how to drum. Peasy sees this and grabs Ned to be a drummer boy. Daisy sees that the Brits have Ned and she tries to free him, but is stopped by the guards. Daisy now goes in search of Tom. She finds Tom slumped in a dark corner at the factory. Daisy tells him that they took his son headed north. In his mind Tom swears to his late wife that he will find their boy. He slowly gets up. He tells Daisy he is going to get a boat. Daisy follows him to the wharf and helps him untie the rope. He tells her: "Thank you for coming to me" Daisy is disappointed, saying to Tom: "We could have spoke."
Tom sails up the river. By night he sees the campfires of the British army. He ties his boat up to the river bank and goes along the top of the ridge. At the camp Lord Darling tells Peasy that he wants a boy. Peasy brings the boys to him. Lord Darling chooses Ned, but when he starts touching Ned's face, Ned tries to bite him. This makes the officer very angry and he tells Peasy to deliver "the gunner's daughter" to Ned. The other boys will watch the punishment. Ned is tied down on top of a cannon. Peasy then takes a whip and starts lashing the legs and feet of the boy. Merle tries to stop Peasy, but Peasy just slaps the boy down.
Early the next morning it rains hard. Tom runs down the side of the ridge to get close to the British encampment. He slowly sneaks around the tents until he finds Ned, who is tied with ropes to a wagon wheel. Tom cuts him free. Ned demands that dad take Merle too. So Merle goes with them. Ben sees what is happening, but does not report it. Tom carries his son up the side to the top of the ridge. When it gets lighter, Peasy asks Ben where did they go? Ben doesn't want to tell, but finally says they were "tooken" (sic). Peasy wonders why Ben didn't sound the alarm. Ben starts crying and throws himself against the chest of his mentor. He confesses that he thought Bill liked Ned more than him and he was glad to see Ned taken away. Bill consoles Ben by assuring him that he will always be his Ben.
Peasy now sends some Indians to hunt down the missing boys and the one who took them. The Indians go to an overlook to see if they can see anything. They find the boat and use their hatchets to cut big holes in Tom's boat. Tom and the boys arrive and accidentally knock a rock over and it plunges into the river blow nearby the ruined boat. Now the Indians start running uphill to catch the escapees. One of the two Indians finds the boys, but Tom umps out from behind the man and knocks him down with his fist. Tom then grabs the other Indian and plunges his knife into the man's mid-section and keeps pushing the knife deeper and deeper into the Indian until he is dead. Merle warns Tom that there are three more Indians up on a ledge. The Indian called Tonti asks in French if they are English? Tom says American. Tonti says he hates the English. He is a Huron and the men Tom fought are Iroquois and Iroquois kill Huron. Tonti says his father was French and his mother Huron. He takes the scalp of the man Tom just killed. Tonti shakes hands with Tom and says the enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Tom and the boys now travel with the Huron. Tom thinks back to the early days when he as a boy was an indentured servant in the colonies. He thinks how in those day he thought himself not much better off than the black slaves, but at least he did get some money and he was freed after he served his term of indenture. The Huron takes them to their encampmemnt and give them food. They heat up a knife in a fire. They are going to cauterize the wounds on Ned's feet. Then they will put some mixed herbal medicine on it. Of course, it is very painful for Ned and he screams and tries to get away, but his father holds him in place.
Ned tells his father that he saved him. He thought dad was a coward. Tom speaks of his need for his son. He is worried that his son is going to die on him, so he talks to him to keep him conscious and alive. Ned survives. And dad starts rethinking his outlook on the war. He sees how his son is deeply attached to the land of his birth and he decides that he and Ned will work as scouts with the American army.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, winter of 1777-1778. Daisy with a young black woman known as Cuffy works as a wagon driver bringing food to Valley Forge for the American soldiers. The men are happy to see the wagon coming in. Daisy is given a new assignment. She is to take wounded men to the hospital at Yellow Springs village (located in today's Chester Springs, PA). The wagon is unloaded of goods and then is loaded with wounded men. Ned comes over and recognizes Daisy, but Daisy at first doesn't recognize the older Ned. Ned tells her who he is and she is amazed at how much he has grown. She asks where his dad is and he takes her to him in one of the huts. Tom is shocked to see Daisy. He wonders what to say to her. He thinks to himself: "Through all the thunder of battle, soft and smiling she appears still like a guiding angel." The two hug each other. He takes her over to the fire to warm her up and gives her some pumpkin soup. In his mind he describes her as a well-born Joan of Arc. Dasiy tells Tom that she and Cuffy left New York and went to Philadelphia and joined the partisans there. They smuggled supplies to the American army. Tom sees her in a captain's army coat and asks her about it. Captain Stanhope gave it to her. Tom wonders if she is the captain's girl now.
Daisy's wagon is ready to go. She hops onto the wagon with Cuffy and prepares to leave. Ned meets a nice young girl named David, daughter of Israel Davis, the gunner. They take an almost immediate liking to each other. Tom walks and runs by the wagon while Daisy drives the horses forward. He desperately wants to tell her something, but has a hard time getting it out. He gets more desperate as they reach the border of the encampment. He finallly blurts it out: "The guy who gave you the coat. . . .You gonna marry him?" Daisy shouts back: "No. Only you, Tom Dobb, Only you." Tom is very relieved as he watches them travel away from the encampment. All of a sudden Tom hears the hoof beats and shots of British soldiers attacking the wagons. The Americans manage to kill some of Daisy's pursuers, but Lord Hampton catches up with Daisy, recognizes her, calls her a traitorous bitch and slashes her with his sword. Tom sees all this and is devastated. He doesn't know now if she is alive or dead. The British take the wagons and their drivers away with them.
Tom notes that there is talk about the war being over soon, because the French have joined the United States against Britain. Feb. 6, 1778 France recognized the United States. Britain declared war on France in March of that year. Tom and other others didn't know that the war would continue until 1783. Yorktown would not fall until 1781. Tom's is looking forward to the end of the war, but his happiness is clouded by his thoughts of Daisy.
Philadelphia. Tom comes in to town with Ned and Ned's girlfriend. He checks with the rolls of the wounded, but Daisy's name cannot be found in the roll book. Ned and Bella go upstairs to the messy room in which Congress will meet. Tom joins them after finding out that Daisy is probably dead.
The soldiers are about to move out. It is said they are heading north. Ned is getting married to Bella. Tom comments: "A nearing victory and the last few days of war they gave promise to became threescore months and more till we marched into Yorktown with guns still smoking and firing."
Yorktown, three years later. Tom and Ned fight side by side. The two Indian scouts, one of them Tonti, are with them. Tom shoots a man as he runs. All of a suden through a hand telescope, Ned finds Peasy. All of a sudden Peasy, another British soldier and two Indians start running toward the water. Tom says they must be going after their spotter. He aims to prevent that. Father and son, Tonti and the other Indian start running to the water passing the many cannon firing on the British positions.
Peasy and his men make it down to the beach. Tom and his crew are not far behind them. With Peasy is Ben, now grown up. The Indians and the two Britis go out onto the beach to investigate. They look around, when all of a sudden all four men are either wounded or killed. The two Indians are dead, Ben and Peasy are wounded. Peasy tells Ben not to leave him. Ned approaches with his rifle trained on Peasy. The other come behind him. Peasy prays. Ned says he's got Peasy, but he doesn't fire. He says he won't kill a man who is unarmed, wounded and praying. Tom is proud of his boy. They take all the British rifles and leave. Peasy gets up and forces Ben up too. The two start walking back to the British lines.
The British have surrendered to America and France. The two side meet to settle technical problems of the surrender. Tom is very happy that it is finished.
Tom and Ned are now back in New York. Tom only gets paid $40 dollars from the promised $70 dollars for his boat. The officer says that the continental dollars has undergone devaluation. Tom asks about the 150 acres of land that was promised to him. The land was sold to land speculators. Tom gives the officer a real hard time, but eventually leaves. Tom gives Ned the bad news. He then tells Ned to take his bride and to travel up along the the Hudson River to the Mohawk Trail and then take that to its end. There will be land out there that he can get. Tom is not coming with him. He is staying in the city and is going to learn to read. They say goodbye to each other. Tom kisses Bella and her pregnant belly, says bye to Tonti and Merle and the crew moves out. Tom thinks of his late wife and Daisy and then thinks about how the young people will do better in this new country than before because of the greater equality of opportunity in the land.
Good, entertaining movie. Al Pacino was great as poor Tom, father of the young Ned. At first Tom wants nothing to do with this so-called revolution. He doesn't even know what this. After all, he can't read or write. But he does know that he wants no part of the fight for the new country they speak of. It's not his fight he keeps telling people. But Tom is picked up by the wave of revolution and forced against his will to fight alongside the Americans. He performs well and learns to respect this new country, the land where Ned was born and of which he is so very proud and protective. When he sees the United States from the perspective of his son, he decides that he and Ned will serve the army again. They will be scouts. So the revolution in the country, brings about a revolution in the way Tom thinks about the new nation. He finally figures it's a nation worth fighting for. He mentally grows up alongside his son, who is also growing up physically and mentally.
The film shows the action in the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, the winter encampment at Valley Forge and the Battle of Yorktown, which brought the fighting to an end..
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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