Review: Genre-busting 'Journey To Shiloh' Gets the Reevaluation It Deserves

by Frank J. Avella

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Saturday January 22, 2022

Review: Genre-busting 'Journey To Shiloh' Gets the Reevaluation It Deserves

"This war ain't workin' out the way I thought." — Michael Sarrazin in "Journey to Shiloh"

The above quote basically sums up the main theme of William Hale's genre-busting, critically-panned Civil War-set film, released in 1968. Now, thanks to Kino Lorber's excellent 2K Master Blu-ray a much-deserved re-evaluation of this nearly forgotten curio can begin.

Based on the novel by Will Henry, the narrative focuses on seven spirited, "wild and unwashed," incredibly naive young Texans who journey from their home state in hopes of joining the Confederate forces in Richmond, Virginia. These dudes have no real clue why they're setting off to fight, except for the fact that they're told they should. Alas, they're waylaid and encounter the harsh realities of life and war along the way, which include the terrible racism running rampant in the South. They soon find themselves bamboozled into taking part in the bloody Battle of Shiloh.

The stellar seven are played by a wig-wearing James Caan, Michael Sarrazin, Paul Petersen, Don Stroud, Michael Burns, Jan-Michael Vincent, and a long-haired Harrison Ford, in one of his very first films.

The movie opens in the campiest of ways, with a song set to the tune of "Yellow Rose of Texas" that introduces each of the boys and sets a "Cat Ballou"-like tone. A lyric tells us: "Their lips had known no women and their hearts had known no fear." (The rousing score is by David Gates, who would go on to co-write the song from "The Goodbye Girl.")

Our scraggly gents then frighten a slew of Southern socialites at a cotillion and come upon their first sighting of Black folk. It's at this point the film's tone shifts to a more serious one of racial concern, as the boys begin to realize that slaves are people with rights. Today these scenes seem embarrassing to watch, but one must contextualize.

After a deadly poker game and an unnecessary romantic subplot, the events turn bloody, and the film continues to "and then there were none" its cast.

The late '60s brought an influx of anti-war films that did not mention Vietnam by name. The western genre, trying desperately to appeal to youth, were doing the same, and "Shiloh" has obvious anti-war parallels, with these misguided, gung-ho boys having no clue why they're fighting, slowly figuring it out, and quickly losing all desire to fight — when it's too late. There are moving moments, especially with Sarrazin near the end.

Forgiving the crap use of stock footage and the cliché dialogue, the cast is uniformly swell, and the movie is much better than it's been given credit for.

Special Features include a cool six-minute chat with Don Stroud, where he quick goes through his thoughts on his cast mates.

Simon Abrams' informative audio commentary discusses how Universal ordered Caan to make the film, so the actor mumbled his way through filming, and most of his dialogue had to be dubbed later.

Abrams mentions how Ford was rejected for the lead in "Midnight Cowboy." He goes on to erroneously state that Don Stroud and Michael Sarrazin were also rejected for the iconic role of Joe Buck, which Jon Voight would play. Sarrazin was actually cast as Joe, but his agent, unbeknownst to him, asked for more money, and he was then passed over. Full disclosure: I am a bit of a Sarrazin knowledge-base and wrote a play in 2000 titled "Michael's #1 Fan," which bowed in NYC, where the protagonist hero worships Sarrazin.

"Journey to Shiloh" boasts an ultimate "war sucks" message, a cast of six hot young dudes on horseback, and a campy opening and closing song. Oh, and James Caan. The first three are enough for me to recommend it!

Blu-ray Extras Include:

  • Brand New 2K Master

  • New Audio Commentary by Film Critic and Author Simon Abrams

  • New Interview with Actor Don Stroud

  • Theatrical Trailer

  • Optional English Subtitles

    "Journey to Shiloh" is available now on Blu-ray.

    Frank J. Avella is a film journalist and is thrilled to be writing for EDGE. He also contributes to Awards Daily and is the GALECA East Coast Rep and a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. Frank is a recipient of the International Writers Residency in Assisi, Italy, a Bogliasco Foundation Fellowship, and a NJ State Arts Council Fellowship. His short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com) and won awards. His screenplays (CONSENT, LURED, SCREW THE COW) have also won numerous awards in 16 countries. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute