The Blue and The Gray (1982)

Virginia matriarch Colleen Dewhurst notes that her son John Hammond is different from the rest of the family because he has an artistic ability.  It if weren’t 1859, that would be code, but since it is 1859 and said in the very serious “The Blue and The Gray,” Colleen is actually talking about her quiet son’s ability to draw.  John, who treats Paul Winfield with as much respect as his Pa, Lloyd Bridges, actually does draw well, and decides to leave the family farm, not a popular decision, to seek his fortune in Gettysburg, where he has an uncle who runs a newspaper.  He rebuffs the scorn of his brothers and even Lloyd’s attempt to give him a gun upon leaving, asking for six months away from the farm to make money. 

Cute-as-a-button John (playing a character named John) has excellent timing.  His shady uncle’s newspaper needs an artist to cover the sentencing at the infamous trial of John Brown (Sterling Hayden, for once putting his inability to do anything but stand still to good use), already found guilty by the time John arrives and starts furiously drawing.  Also at the sentencing is Stacy Keach, playing Jonas Steele, a mysterious man who asks John not to use his likeness in his drawing, as not everyone would understand what he was doing at the trial.  John agrees and Jonas thanks him by hiring him a hooker, always awkward for a virgin. 

“The Blue and The Gray” moves along at a clip pace, but is filled with wonderful details.  For instance, when John Brown is sent to the scaffold, he arrives on a cart that is also carrying his coffin.  It’s an eerie way to spend one’s last moments, and given only a second of screen time, but it shows diligence on the part of the creators. 

John takes Jonas home to his Northern family, where Jonas has a chance to flirt immediately with sweet Mary (Julia Duffy), who needs the fire to dry her hair while Jonas needs it to dry his beefy body.  “I hope you don’t mind bold girls,” she teases after fluffing the pillows on his bed and closing the door.  John gets a raise to $5 a week and free rent.  For about two sentences, his cousins wonder about the possibility of a war, but Uncle Jacob silences such talk.  Again, it’s only 1859.

The next wee see of John, it’s Christmas 1860 and he’s back home, bringing the news of South Carolina’s secession.  John’s brothers are excited, but Ma realizes this could mean some of her sons might die, looking askance at John, knowing he might now have Northern sympathies, thus thinking further ahead than the rest of the family.  John’s sister quickly marries her fiance, a businessman worried that the war will interrupt his trade.  Brother Mark (Michael Horton) uses the fact that he might die in battle to sneak a kiss from a dim bulb sweetie at the celebration. 

Politics come crashing into the fete when a posse shows up looking for runaway slaves at freeman Paul Winfield’s cabin.  At first, John goes along with it, but when they threaten to hang Paul, John grabs a gun and tries to hold off the men, getting knocked out for his trouble by his own brother, already resplendent in his gray uniform.  The twin images of Paul lynched and his house burning a few yards away is as powerful a symbol of what is to come for the viewer as it is for John.

John can’t handle what’s happening and leaves (he’s his mother’s son, for she comforts the slave woman who was in love with Paul), fully horrified that a friend of his was killed while his family watched.  Civil War legends involve the literal splitting of families, “The Blue and The Gray” no exception.  Cousin Mary asks if he’ll enlist with the North, and John wonders, “now how could I carry a rifle for the North knowing that one day I might be asked to point it at one of my brothers?”  He’s in a delicate situation, having abandoned the South, but an accented-youth up North where everyone his age will be off to war.

This wouldn’t be an epic without the unexpected guest stars, and “The Blue and The Gray” indulges in stunt casting of the highest degree, using Gregory Peck as Abraham Lincoln.  He makes a grand entrance on a whistle stop in Leaman’s Place, John sketching away, invited into Lincoln’s train car because Stacy Keach is one of his guards and because Lincoln says he and Mrs. Lincoln have never been sketched together.  Okay, that’s stretching history to assume our fictional hero can get access to Lincoln that easily and on such a small turn, but that’s to be expected in epic sweep for the sake of efficiency (just ask Robert Mitchum’s Pug Henry, who manages to meet Churchill, Roosevelt, Hitler, Stalin and everyone but Madame Chiang-Kai Chek during “The Winds of War”).  Peck’s Lincoln is a savvy politician, telling John to pursue drawing and not take up arms, to show his family back in the South what the war really looks like.

Three of John’s cousins enlist in patriotic fervor, two old enough to be kissed by welcoming ladies and one using the same “age on the shoe” trick used by the lying homesteaders in “Centennial” because he’s not actually old enough.  Mother Diane Baker is not happy to be losing her sons, but Mary tells her she should be proud.  Diane and Colleen are sisters (separated by at least twenty years of wishful thinking) and have the same sense of looming disaster. 

Stacy Keach confesses to Julia Duffy, the only pretty schoolmarm in all of miniseries history, that he is Lincoln’s bodyguard because he is a Pinkerton detective and goes way back with Abe, who was once the company’s lawyer.  They share a romantic few moments by the lake where Stacy rambles on in one of those “I had this dream one time…” monologues that are hoping to be pulled out again at Emmy time.  They seal their passion for each other with a kiss and then a very quick proposal. 

There is a comic scene to follow the romance that again shows an attention to detail that makes “The Blue and The Gray” such a watchable history lesson.  One has the tendency to forget that armies are made of individuals, instead treating them as hundreds of individuals.   The wars of the 20th Century delighted in spewing numbers in the hundreds of thousands as a scare tactic.  There is a training scene with a new recruit we know is not going to make it.  This being the 1980s (in real life), of course our feckless private has buck teeth and looks like the product of in-breeding.  Anyway, during a training on how to load and fire a gun (which was admittedly complicated), John’s ravishingly handsome cousins get it no problem, but the goober new recruit does it incorrectly and accidentally fires a shot.  No one is harmed and viewers can easily laugh, but the lesson is obvious: don’t forget the Civil War armies were made of ho-hum BOYS who had never prepared for any sort of war and enlisted not necessarily to preserve or destroy slavery, but because it was a matter of honor to do so.

John is off to Washington to work for Harper’s, nervous that he’s never covered a war, but when Stacy Keach shows up (he’s always popping up in the most unlikely of places), John begs to ride with him and they arrive at the camp where John’s youngest cousin is about to die of galloping diarrhea. 

Stacy has another dream to relay, but this time only John is around to listen.  This dream is every bit as annoyingly cryptic as the last one, but it ends abruptly when Stacy realizes the army is very close (he’s not a very good scout if it took him a dark night of seeing torches to figure that out). 

John gets to observe the war up close, with the first cannons finally roaring about 100 minutes into the movie.  If it seems odd that John is about twenty yards away from the cannons sketching violently, wait for Washington’s finest ladies and gents to show up and watch with picnic lunches.  Snicker all you want but that’s actually historical accuracy. 

In this very first battle we’re shown, John’s brothers and cousins happen to be fighting each other.  The brothers have the advantage (as the Confederacy usually did early in the war) with heavy cannons, and cousin Malachi wets his pants being fired upon (suave brother Jake is too sexy to have done such a thing).  This battle scene is very personal, not only because we know so many of the ordinary soldiers, but because the Civil War was really one of the last wars fought in the old hand-to-hand combat style that saw whole lines of soldiers downed by one round of gunfire, told to advance at all costs.  The battle’s winner is constantly in doubt.  The Union advances, despite heavy casualties, but the fleeing Confederate soldiers are goaded by the example of General “Stonewall” Jackson refusing to move his position.  The saddest victim of the battle is a bedridden old woman whose house is used by the Confederate army as a locale for snipers, but easily blown to smithereens by Union cannonballs.  Northern soldiers flee the onslaught (as do the onlookers, now closer to the action than they expected), and Malachi proves once again he doesn’t have the stomach for war.  It’s not he who helps fellow wounded soldiers, but his cousin John, who isn’t even a soldier!  Such goes the Battle of Bull Run.

The Union soldiers are chewed out by their superiors as a twinkly-eyed soldier with a “coward” sign around his neck is branded (oh, Private Lawrence Jones; great, the coward is the only gay kid in the whole army; a big “C” on his cheek ain’t gonna disappear, even under the dark lights of a disco, but that’s a lesson for another time).  John and his cousin Jake are worried about Malachi, who knows he should have been branded for running from the battle, but John is able to comfort him with the lesson this episode has worked very hard to make us understand: heroes in this war are not just the men who show up (or don’t show up, as this was still a war where one could buy a surrogate to fight for him), but the men who work hard and struggle to form a cohesive fighting army.  Pride has no place in this horrid war.

It’s destiny that John, as John, should meet Kathleen Beller, playing Kathy, on the battlefield.  In a full hoop skirt and parasol, she’s almost split apart by a bomb, but John rescues her and she in turn helps a wounded soldier by ripping off a piece of her petticoat.  When John goes to find her, it turns out she’s the daughter of one of television’s baddest bad guys, a man who struck terror into the heart of every television detective for umpteen years, Robert Vaughn.  He’s a Senator here who is at first not too happy that John is a…”journalist,” the term that comes to the mind instead of “Southerner.”  Kathy’s fey friends, who of course ran from the battle, are horrified that Kathy was so moved by the experience that she wants to be a nurse.  “No gentleman would say that,” her German fiance snarls when John supports her decision to blossom into Florence Nightingale.  The German wants to duel “on the field of (heaving heavily) honor” because John calls him out on running from the fighting instead of being unconscious as he claimed. 

“I hate duels.  They are stupid and they are dangerous…and going out of style,” pop-up Stacy Keach says (they were also illegal by this time in American  history), acting as John’s second.  To act as the same, the German has picked Otto Von Bismarck’s grandfather, a man so old he probably showed up to help the British fight the American Revolution and has been wandering around Virginia ever since, but it’s lucky he’s there because he has an actual dueling handbook!  Okay, so even “The Blue and The Gray” is allowed some silliness.  Actually, it gets even funnier, because the German tries to kill John before the paces are called, meaning John is allowed to shoot him.  Grandpa consults the rule book again as John blows off the German’s hat and humiliates him.

A hallmark of the American miniseries, and of American TV at the time, was the cliffhanger.  That’s understandable, because these sagas were shown over multiple nights and they needed to bring back the viewers, but I question the logic of the finale of this first episode.  John’s duel and obvious win of the girl would have made a nice little ending, but instead we drag back Gregory Peck, the only filmed Lincoln I can remember who is a damn good shot, testing out a rifle for his troops, though Stacy Keach is better with it.  Lincoln, a detail man apparently, is aware that Stacy is to be married and gives him the new rifle, a gun so dastardly and efficient we know it will be back as a plot point, as a wedding present. A stunned Stacy watches as THE Gregory Peck (or THE Lincoln) walks back to the White House.  This damn war isn’t going to get any prettier.

It’s a rather confusing cliffhanger, but there we have it, the end of Part 1 of “The Blue and The Gray.”

Part 2 begins in the middle of 1862 at the Peninsula Campaign.  In the Union Army, John’s two cousins (and the goober) are still going strong, and his Confederate brothers are also alive.  The Union has a fancy toy, a hot air balloon used by an aviation expert that can fly over the Confederate position and telegraph information back to the army.  Luckily, it flies higher than any artillery can reach. 

As for John, he’s still courtin’ Kathy, much to Papa Robert Vaughn’s dismay.  The latter scrunches up his face to its most derisive and lays it out for John.  His daughter cannot risk her social position to be “intimate with an impecunious journalist.”  He’s happy (as happy as he gets) to hear Kathy is still unspoiled, though she sure as hell knows now to use her tongue when she plants a heavy kiss on John secretly.  Unfortunately, Robert still refuses to let her attend the wedding of Stacy Keach and Julia Duffy with John.

It’s a shame, because it’s a lovely wedding, though the first night is almost spoiled when Mary cuts her finger on broken glass and Jonas mistakes it for a bullet wound, the one in his dream where he brings harm to his beloved after they are married.  Foreshadowing, sure, but not yet!

I have some bad news.  Everyone sitting down?

You sure?

The goober soldier dies.  Not in battle, but murdered and pinned to a tree, so horribly that forensic and psychology expert Stacy Keach can tell this murder means something more than just war.

I’m sorry, I really am. I wanted him to live too, but we knew he was doomed.

Malachai runs from another battle, only to meet a Confederate soldier behind a tree.  Both need to reload their guns, but both are inept at loading it, so the two decide to talk it out in a rather tender exchange that again proves the theory that these armies are made of inexperienced men who truly have no idea what they are fighting for.  “Makes no sense shooting each other…there’s plenty of folks willing to do it for us,” the Reb soldier says, since both are chicken and have run from the battle.  Malachi asks what it’s like to have slaves, but the Reb says he has no slaves.  He didn’t even have shoes!  The scene is badly acted, yes, but highly effective.  And it ends with Malachai a hero, a Corporal no less, an unexpected touch (though almost ruined when Malachi kicks his heels up in the air walking away after getting it).

In case you have missed the point of the above scene, the theme is repeated when bathing Union soldiers find a little tiny boat loaded with tobacco from the Confederate soldiers across the river in return for coffee sent back.  The boat also has a note for John and his cousins to meet his brothers at night.  That makes me veeeeeery nervous. 

Brother Luke has invited John and his cousins to a barn dance behind Confederate lines where booze and broads abound.  In the third-in-a-row scene to hammer in the theme (it’s a bit tiresome, but so innocent you can’t get upset) as the Confederate soldiers warmly welcome their Union enemies with open arms.  John meets a girl who “if’n”s him into kissing her and drinking moonshine.  An uppity senior staffer is not happy to have the Blues there, but he lets them stay upon promise of Luke taking them home at dawn.  And he does, in a triumph of character over reality.  The uppity senior staffer offers Luke and his pal the choice of cleaning latrines or handling the new Confederate balloon.  Cleverness in war goes both ways.

Unfortunately, luck doesn’t and Luke and his pal Bear land in enemy territory, with Bear taking a bullet to his considerable gut, expiring once he gives Luke the old “go run and save yourself” speech.  Luke is taken prisoner. 

In a pause for history, Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation.  That minute over, after Lincoln and his cabinet pose like they were being painted, John trots off to visit Kathy.  His idea of romance is to relay the horrors of the battlefield, but Kathy is a nurse now and she understands.  Plus, John, three year older than when we met him, is still just as adorable and there’s no denying him a smile and a squeeze of the hand. 

Nurse Kathy sees John having a horrible nightmare and pats down his sweat with great love in her eyes. She then sneaks a peak at his sketches, in another of those ideal little touches, to show the horror of the war.  It takes only three brief pages to show what 150 years of books have tried to bring to life.

Flash forward to Mississippi, 1863.  Students?  What does that mean is looming?  You, in the second row.  Put down the note and tell me what Mississippi 1863 signifies?  No, not the Battle of Midway.  We’re not up to “War and Remembrance” yet.  Vicksburg!  Vicksburg!

John is trottin’ around down there when he comes across some Union soldiers about to rape a black  woman.  Having saved her life, he finds out that his beloved men in blue haven’t been treating the Southerners blacks so well, but with news of the Emancipation in hand, a bedraggled gaggle of slaves hiding in the forest are understandably thrilled.  John captures the glee of these now ex-slaves in his notebook.  John, sounding more and more like a textbook, tells them the truth, that the piece of paper only means something if the Union wins the war, but the leader of the gang tells him that they now have hope, something more powerful. 

The South is further painted in an unflattering light when John’s brother Matthew goes to visit his married sister in Vicksburg, the one with the merchant hubby, who apparently is profiting from the misfortune of others (and she ain’t so nice either, considering John cut out of the family for not fighting with the South–um, you wouldn’t have a plot without that fact, you twit!).  Cue the door and Emma’s bloody husband. With the spirit of Scarlett O’Hara in her, she races him to the hospital amidst cannon fire, good not only for him but because she’s about to pop a baby!  Hubby Lester recovers and gets to meet his son.  Emma slips back into irrationality and insists Lester go back into business to take advantage of the fact that food and medicine are in short supply and they can make a fortune.  He says no, he’s realized it’s not right.

It’s the last thing he says as a bomb decimates his hospital room. 

Though “The Blue and The Grey” soars beautifully, Part 2 is a bit of a let-down after Part 1.  Part 2, clocking in at nearly 45 minutes less than Part 1 seems more a history class than a fully plotted movie.  I forgive it because the history is not as leaden as we will see in other historical epics, but let’s be frank, the fictional characters are a whole lot more fun when they are part of the plot rather than observing it.

Part 3 starts still in 1863, but back up North where Stacy Keach explains to his wife that battle could be headed their way, as Gettysburg isn’t too far.  He then goes off to meet General Meade (Rory Calhoun, of all people), who knows the upcoming battle is going to be tough because Union supply lines are “a shambles.”  It becomes Stacy’s job to assure the railroad supplies get through, but it’s immediately evident that he has an unenviable task. The Confederate soldiers set fire to a bridge they must cross and when they go to put it out, snipers attack.  Quick thinking, good guns and a pair of very tight pants on Stacy seem to save the day.

A small, but very bloody, hand-to-hand sword-to-sword combat battle erupts right outside of Mary Steele’s house (literally right outside).  A Confederate soldier slinks in, bloodied and blind, slumped against the table where a picture of hubby Stacy watches over him, and Julia Duffy helps the soldier as the battle rages.  Unfortunately for Julia, a stray bullet kills her.  She’s a victim of two stock issues in TV of this period.  The first is never to have a tearful goodbye with someone as it’s a sure sign that you will never see each other alive again.  Rarely does anyone die after a quick peck and a “have a good day.”  But, blubber and rant, and someone is a goner.  The second is that with only two hours to go before the end of the movie, we have to start picking off some lead characters.  Remember, these people (for the most part) are fictional.  They serve the story by lurking around historic events, but we haven’t had a death since one of John’s cousins way back in the first episode.  Unfortunately, given the low rank of most of the character soldiers in this movie, that’s surprisingly low.  More than a few of our beloved characters would have been dead and now the movie is catching up with reality. 

The irony is piled on thick as Stacy brings the train to the soldiers, having successfully made it through all of the Confederate-inspired problems, not knowing his wife is close-by, dead on the floor next to a dead Confederate soldier (and that omnipresent picture of himself).  Perhaps it’s those tight pants again, but Stacy feels something is wrong and rushes home to find his in-laws crying and Mary’s body in a coffin.  The above two definites of miniseries death were inevitable for someone to die, but Mary’s death was even more inevitable because Stacy had predicted it almost the first time they met.  She’s been on borrowed time ever since.  “May I join you soon,” he says and kisses her for the last time. 

Detail time again: Stacy leaves his wife’s funeral, having buried her in a nice little plot, having to ride through a vast field of dead soldiers and mangled war supplies.  It’s a beautiful, if horrifying, spectacle.

Gregory Peck digs into his vast reservoir of Oscar-winning focus to deliver Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. 

Back down in Mississippi, John is witness to the Siege of Vicksburg, a particularly grim spectacle that stops only three times a day so the soldiers can eat, separated by only yards of trenches (spooky foreshadowing of World War I).  Luckily all of the soldiers are so friendly that John can yell across the trenches that he wants to speak to his brother as the firing starts up again.  In a moment of sheer Americana-on-film, the soldiers halt the fight so John and his brother can talk for a few minutes.  “We’re holding up the war,” his brother even says at one point.  John’s brother is still sore at John for not joining the Confederate army, but he admits he’s matured, having seen the horrors of the battle, and he forgives John for simply taking a different path in life.  It’s a touching moment (if unlikely), once again making sure we get the central themes of the piece. 

In the above conversation, John learned that his sister and her baby are trapped in Vicksburg and wants to get into the city.  What he finds is frighteningly grim.  The Union has utterly decimated the town.  It’s a hell hole of burn-out buildings.  John tries to protect a lady from seeing a dead horse, but the woman pulls out a knife and rushes over to it to get her share along with others.  That’s how desperate the situation is in Vicksburg. 

The creepy horseflesh grabber, Mrs. Lovelace, follows John and cackles her way through the streets of Vicksburg with him.  I pause here to point out a rare misstep in this film.  When John finds his sister’s house, it’s overgrown with weeds.  I know weeds move quickly, but it’s only been a few months since we last saw this house freshly tended.  It wouldn’t be overgrown that fast!

Anyway, Mrs. Lovelace leads John to “the caves,” a shantytown where he does indeed find Emma, now a hag driven to insanity by the conditions.  It’s not a happy reunion, but things get worse when the Union army marches down Vicksburg’s main street, the town having surrendered, and Mrs. Lovelace still chewing whatever ash-covered scenery still remains.  I have not revealed until now that Mrs. Lovelace is played by the legendary Geraldine Page because Gerry sure as hell was slumming giving that performance.  On stage, it would have reached the upper balcony.  On film, it’s just plain over-ripe.

With that, we leave 1863 and it’s twin infamous turning points for 1864 and the Wilderness Campaign (the Wilderness being Virginia–we’ll save anything further west for other miniseries).  Stacy and John discover a soldier murdered and stuck to a tree, just like our beloved goober back a few years ago and Stacy vows right there, before a dramatic music roll fade out to commercial, that he’ll kill the demon who has been doing these killings. 

The major armies march toward each other in Virginia and it’s here we see nearly all of our main fictional characters.  John has a brother and two cousins still alive and the brothers have two very quiet and tender scenes where Malachi admits to be as scared now as he ever was as the two try to help some new recruits cope with the oncoming horrors.  These unfortunately boys are still boys, five years into the story, still frightened boys fighting out of a sense of duty.

Malachi and Jake survive a harrowing trap and Malachi turns to lead the men when the company leader is killed.  Now it’s their turn to ambush the Confederate soldiers and they do a much better job, not realizing they have wounded their cousin in the melee. 

John makes the first wildly out-of-character stupid decision of his entire life when he insists on going out into the battle “to save at least one life.”  Stacy warns him against it, but follows after him, picking off three soldiers in a matter of minutes, but then forced to separate from John.  However, I suppose I have to go back on my assessment of John when he runs into a burning forest looking for survivors, only to come across…let’s say it together…his brother, literally on fire as if the bullet in his chest isn’t enough.  John is begged by his kin to kill him, but John demurs, rushing off for his horse to drag his brother to safety, only to watch a burning tree fall and kill him.  It’s heart-wrenching, just the kind of character-driven moment that makes “The Blue and The Grey” so particularly special in its earnestly innocent way. 

But, there is another reason John and Stacy have had to separate.  Stacy hears the special humming of the man he knows to be the murderer of the goober and others, a character we briefly met and long forgot about, but Stacy kills him quickly, despite suffering a serious wound to his arm. 

Remember Kathy?  It’s okay if you don’t.  Not only haven’t we seen her in a few years, but she hasn’t made much of an impression.  John’s beloved is a nurse at the hospital where they take Stacy to amputate his arm and treat him for pneumonia (and where he can hallucinate and talk to his dead wife who tells him it’s not time to die yet).  And since John is always just a few steps behind Stacy, he soon shows up at the hospital to be reunited with his gal.  Unfortunately, he walks in when Kathy is kissing Stacy, just being kind to him since he thinks she’s his dead wife.  That’s the kind of soap “The Blue and The Gray” has mercifully done without most of the time, so I’ll forgive it a lapse. 

John goes to the family farm, where he hasn’t visited since he left in the first scene, to find one brother limping, one in jail and of course the one dead we knew about.  Sister Emma is there too, not longer nuts, but just as angry as the last time John saw her.  Pa Lloyd Bridges isn’t any more forgiving, but don’t he feel mighty bad when John gives him brother Mark’s ashes. 

As for Colleen Dewhurst, well, the news isn’t good, TV fans.  She’s in bed with “influenza or something” and we know that’s not good.  She’s always had a soft spot for John, and they have a loving conversation.  “I live for the day when it (the war) is done…and we can all be together again,” Ma says, not knowing one son is dead.  A line like that also speaks of upcoming death, sadly.  It’s a miniseries role not to hope for the future, especially sick in bed! 

The Confederate Army shows up at the homestead, telling the family to leave because the battle, get this, is going to happen right on their property!  John refuses to take a gun and the family turns on him again.  Lloyd threatens to shoot him if he doesn’t leave. 

We surge into high melodrama when Union soldiers invade the house and grab Colleen.  John finally takes up a gun and shoots three soldiers to rescue his Ma.  He then joins his father and brother at the barricade shooting at approaching Union soldiers.  Half-lame brother Matthew dies carrying the Confederate flag and he’s buried alongside Mark’s ashes (having gone back on their pledge never to tell Ma what happened to him).  The only thing this sequence missed was having Malachi and Jake be on the Union side of the battle.  But, there are still 40 minutes to go!

The melodrama was okay for a battle scene, but the following scene, a reconciliation between Stacy and John, is pure cheese.  But, the family needs Stacy to get brother Mark out of prison, though Emma refuses to trust him.  So, Stacy goes off to DC to get the order of release while John and Sis go to Elmira to keep Mark alive in prison until the order arrives.  Elmira in September 1864 is not a happy place to be!

The desk clerk at the prison, who looks a lot like John Lennon, hair and glasses included, foils wild Emma’s plan to smuggle a gun into prison for Mark and ends up getting them both arrested.  Luckily, Stacy arrives in time and sounds officious enough to get them all released.  He and Sis Emma flirt on the way home as John apologizes to Kathy, whom Stacy brought for John.  John proposes and Kathy accepts.  She may indeed be the blandest of the lead characters, but John deserves a girl.

We zoom from there to April 1865.  Jonas shows up at John and Kathy’s to announce the war is about to end.  He wants John by his side to witness the final moments, but Kathy insists he go.  They arrive just as Lee has signed away the South at Appomattox, where General Lee sweeps out in a huff and General Grant (an unusually restrained Rip Torn) looks pleased.  When Lee tells his soldiers he has surrendered, watch for another of those beautiful moments, very quickly.  They are disappointed that it’s over, but as Lee rides off, one soldier drops his gun and falls to his knees out of utter exhaustion.  They would have all gone on fighting, proud to do so, but now that it’s over, they can admit how tiring and scary it’s all been.

On paper, the war is over (though there is one momentous event to come), and John and his cousins reminisce about those they’ve lost: brothers, cousins, wives, even the goober soldier.  “Let’s sing to their memory,” John says and they trot off join the rest of the soldiers doing the same.  It’s wonderful that the soldiers themselves are so forgiving and itching for peace.  Politicians would beat the South into further submission with a decade of Reconstruction full of rules that amused Northern politicians and hardened Southern politicians into solidifying the next hundred years of outrageous violations of civil rights, but that’s material for another miniseries (or ten).

At a cabinet meeting, Lincoln’s dialogue all but portents his night at the theater, and Stacy Keach awakes in his tent to have a vision at what must be the exact time the Lincolns were taking their seats at Ford’s Theatre. (to see “Our American Cousin,” if anyone wants to remember that detail, which is not included in this retelling, just one of those details that is stuck in my head).  Stacy and John rush to the White House to warn Lincoln, arriving at the theater after the Booth has thrown the town into mayhem.  True to form, Mary Lincoln wails like a banshee as his pulse stops and Andrew Johnson is suddenly the new President (there’s no miniseries about him, and rightfully so).  “Now he belongs to the ages,” Secretary Seward says, as he did in real life. 

Against all typical-of-the-time TV odds, Mama Colleen has not died.  In fact, she’s in fine form as her family celebrates a gaggle of weddings.  Hell, even Robert Vaughn looks pleased to be there, and that I know of, he made it a promise since sometime back in the 50s never to look pleased on television.  Stacy arranges a full family portrait, of the Geysers and the Hales, Blues and Grays, but this is not for one of John’s sketches.  It’s for his brand-new camera. 

Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg play us out as we look at pictures of the family members. 

“The Blue and The Grey” is ideal historical fiction because its lead character is an observer.  None of the fictional characters in the piece actually affect history, they are here just foot soldiers or watchers.  John Hammond’s character does manage to be in the most important places of the entire Civil War, but that’s easily explained by his job.  If the second of three parts lacked for character development, and the third part soars into some oft-times laughable dramatics beyond the scope of most of the actors’ abilities, overall, this is a miniseries to treasure.  It tells a great story, pacing it well, not letting it go on too long.  Perhaps that’s why “The Blue and The Gray” has not entered the public memory the way the Herman Wouk miniseries or “The North and The South” have, but this is a sturdy gem that handles the Civil War in a fair and unique way, keeping politics at a minimum and story at a maximum.

Categories: Adventure Miniseries

Leave a Comment or Question