The film is about one of the first military units of the Union Army, during the American Civil War, to consist entirely of African-American men (except for its officers), as told from the point of view of Colonel Shaw, its white commanding officer. The regiment is known especially for its heroic actions at Fort Wagner.
The film was co-produced by TriStar Pictures and Freddie Fields Productions, and distributed by Tri-Star Pictures in the United States. It premiered in limited release in the US on December 14, 1989, and in wide release on February 16, 1990, making $26,828,365 on an $18 million budget. The soundtrack, composed by James Horner and performed in part by Boys Choir of Harlem, was released on January 23, 1990. The home video was distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. On June 2, 2009, a widescreen Blu-ray version, featuring the director's commentary and deleted scenes, was released.
During the American Civil War, Captain Robert Shaw, injured at Antietam, is sent home to Boston on medical leave. Shaw accepts a promotion to Colonel commanding the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, one of the first all-black regiments in the Union Army. He asks his friend, Cabot Forbes, to serve as his second in command, with the rank of major. Their first volunteer is another friend, Thomas Searles, a bookish, free African-American. Other recruits include John Rawlins, Jupiter Sharts, Silas Tripp, and a mute teenage drummer boy.
The men learn that, in response to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Confederacy has issued an order that all black soldiers will be returned to slavery. Black soldiers found in a Union uniform will be executed as well as their white officers. They are offered, but turn down, a chance to take an honorable discharge. They undergo rigorous training with Sergeant-Major Mulcahy, which Shaw realizes is to prepare them for the challenges they will face.
Tripp goes AWOL and is caught, Shaw orders him flogged in front of the troops. He learns that Tripp left to find shoes to replace his worn ones; his men are being denied supplies. He confronts the base's racist quartermaster on their behalf. Shaw also supports them in a pay dispute, as the Federal government pays black soldiers $10 not the $13 per month white soldiers earn. Tripp encourages the men to go without pay in protest; Shaw tears up his own pay stub in solidarity. In recognition of his leadership, Shaw promotes Rawlins to the rank of Sergeant-Major.
Once the 54th completes its training, they are transferred under the command of General Charles Harker. On the way to South Carolina they are ordered by Colonel James Montgomery to sack and burn Darien, Georgia. Shaw initially refuses to obey an unlawful order, but agrees under threat of having his troops taken away. He continues to lobby his superiors to allow his men to join the fight, as their duties to date have involved manual labor for which they are being mocked. Shaw finally gets the 54th into combat after he confronts Harker and threatens to report the illegal activities he has discovered. In their first battle at James Island, South Carolina, early success is followed by a confrontation with many casualties. The Confederates are defeated and retreat. During the battle, Thomas is wounded but saves Tripp. Shaw offers Tripp the honor of bearing the regimental flag in battle. He declines not believing the war will result in a better life for slaves.
General George Strong informs Shaw of a major campaign to secure a foothold at Charleston Harbor. This involves assaulting Morris Island and capturing Fort Wagner, whose only landward approach is a strip of open beach; a charge is certain to result in heavy casualties. Shaw volunteers the 54th to lead the charge. The night before the battle the black soldiers conduct a religious service, and several make emotional speeches to inspire the troops, and to ask for God's help. On their way to the attack, the 54th is cheered by the same Union troops who had scorned them earlier.
The 54th leads the charge on the fort suffering heavy casualties. At night the bombardment continues, forestalling progress. Attempting to encourage his men, Shaw is killed. Tripp lifts the flag rallying the soldiers to continue the charge. He is shot but holds up the flag until he dies. Forbes takes charge, and the soldiers are able to break through the fort's outer defenses. Outnumbered, Charlie Morse is killed and Thomas is wounded. At the end of the battle it is implied that Forbes, Rawlins, Thomas, Jupiter, and the two Color Sergeants are killed by canister shot. The morning after the battle, the beach is littered with bodies of Union soldiers; the Confederate flag is raised over the fort. The corpses are buried in a mass grave, with Shaw and Tripp's bodies next to each other.
Closing text reveals Fort Wagner was never taken by the Union Army. The courage demonstrated by the 54th resulted in the Union accepting thousands of black men for combat, which President Abraham Lincoln credited with helping to turn the tide of the war.Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
Denzel Washington as Private Silas Tripp
Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins
Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes
Andre Braugher as Corporal Thomas Searles
Jihmi Kennedy as Private Jupiter Sharts
Cliff De Young as Colonel James Montgomery
Alan North as Governor John Albion Andrew
John Finn as Sergeant Major Mulcahy
RonReaco Lee as Mute Drummer Boy
Donovan Leitch as Captain Charles Fessenden Morse
Bob Gunton as General Charles Garrison Harker
Jay O. Sanders as General George Crockett Strong
Raymond St. Jacques as Frederick Douglass
Richard Riehle as Quartermaster
JD Cullum as Henry Sturgis Russell
Christian Baskous as Edward L. Pierce
Peter Michael Goetz as Francis Shaw
Jane Alexander as Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw (uncredited)
Kevin Jarre's inspiration for writing the film came from viewing the monument to Colonel Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry (the first formal unit of the U.S. Army to be made up entirely of African American men) in Boston Common. His screenplay was based on Colonel Shaw's letters and on two books, Lincoln Kirstein's Lay This Laurel and Peter Burchard's One Gallant Rush.
Principal filming took place primarily in Massachusetts and Georgia. Opening passages, meant to portray the Battle of Antietam, show volunteer military reenactors filmed at a major engagement at the Gettysburg battlefield. Zwick did not want to turn Glory "into a black story with a more commercially convenient white hero". Actor Morgan Freeman noted: "We didn't want this film to fall under that shadow. This is a picture about the 54th Regiment, not Colonel Shaw, but at the same time the two are inseparable." Zwick hired the writer Shelby Foote as a technical adviser; he later became widely known for his contributions to Ken Burns' popular PBS nine-episode documentary, The Civil War (1990).
Glory was the first major motion picture to tell the story of African Americans fighting for their freedom in the Civil War. This came as a revelation to millions of Americans who had no knowledge of their participation. The 1965 movie Shenandoah, starring James Stewart, also depicted African Americans fighting for the Union, but suggested that the Federal army was integrated.
The film's original motion picture soundtrack was released by the Virgin Records label on January 11, 1990. The score for the film was orchestrated by James Horner in association with the Boys Choir of Harlem. Jim Henrikson edited the film's music, while Shawn Murphy mixed the score.
A nonfiction study of the regiment first appeared in 1965 and was republished, in January 1990, in paperback by St. Martin's Press under the title One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment. It dramatizes the events depicted in the film, expanding on how the 54th Massachusetts developed as battle-ready soldiers. The book summarizes the historical events, and the aftermath of the first Union black regiment influencing the outcome of the war.
Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, said, "[Broderick] gives his most mature and controlled performance to date....[Washington is] an actor clearly on his way to a major screen career...The movie unfolds in a succession of often brilliantly realized vignettes tracing the 54th's organization, training and first experiences below the Mason-Dixon line. The characters' idiosyncrasies emerge." Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times called it "a strong and valuable film no matter whose eyes it is seen through". He believed the production design credited to Norman Garwood and the cinematography of Freddie Francis paid "enormous attention to period detail".
Similarly, Variety staff wrote that the film is "a stirring and long overdue tribute to the black soldiers who fought for the Union cause in the Civil War" and that it "has the sweep and magnificence of a Tolstoy battle tale or a John Ford saga of American history". On Broderick's performance, they felt his "boyishness becomes a key element of the drama, as the film shows him confiding his inadequacies". Desson Howe of The Washington Post, pointed out some flaws including mentioning Broderick as "an amiable non-presence, creating unintentionally the notion that the 54th earned their stripes despite wimpy leadership". The Chicago Reader's Jonathan Rosenbaum called Glory an "always interesting period film, well photographed by English cinematographer Freddie Francis". The film, however, was not without its detractors. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone was not impressed at all with the overall acting, calling Broderick "catastrophically miscast as Shaw". Alternatively, Richard Schickel of Time described the picture by saying, "the movie's often awesome imagery and a bravely soaring choral score by James Horner that transfigure the reality, granting it the status of necessary myth".
Writing for Entertainment Weekly, Mark Bernardin said the film's strength "belongs to the powerhouse supporting cast – Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher (in his first movie role), and Denzel Washington". He added: "The magic of Glory comes from the film itself. It speaks of heroism writ large, from people whom history had made small." James Berardinelli writing for ReelViews, called the film "without question, one of the best movies ever made about the American Civil War," and noted that it "has important things to say, yet it does so without becoming pedantic". Berardinelli also commented: "For a motion picture made on a relatively modest budget, Glory looks great. From a technical standpoint, the movie is a masterpiece, and the verisimilitude of the battle scenes is not in question." Rating the film with four stars, critic Leonard Maltin wrote that it was "grand, moving, breathtakingly filmed (by veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis) and faultlessly performed". He called it "one of the finest historical dramas ever made".
Chris Hicks of the Deseret News said the film is "big in scope, powerful in its storytelling drama, yet intimate in its character and relationship development." Referring to Broderick, he found he "does very well as the young officer, and among his troops are two of our finest actors — Morgan Freeman...and Denzel Washington". The staff of TV Guide said of the film: "Richly plotted, alternately inspiring and horrifying, Glory is an enlightening and entertaining tribute to heroes too long forgotten." On the acting merits, they wrote, "Glory also contains especially compelling performances by Broderick, Washington, and Freeman." Film critic Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film a thumbs up review, saying, "like Driving Miss Daisy, this is another admirable film that turns out to be surprisingly entertaining". He thought the film took on "some true social significance" and felt the actors portrayed the characters as "more than simply black men". He explained: "They're so different, that they become not merely standard Hollywood blacks, but true individuals."
American Civil War historian James M. McPherson also lauded the film, saying that it "accomplished a remarkable feat in sensitizing a lot of today's black students to the role that their ancestors played in the Civil War in winning their own freedom".
On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 93% based on 41 reviews, and an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's consensus reads: "Bolstered by exceptional cinematography, powerful storytelling, and an Oscar-winning performance by Denzel Washington, Glory remains one of the finest Civil War movies ever made."
The film was nominated and won several awards in 1989–90. A complete list of awards the film won or was nominated for are listed below.
American Film Institute ListsAFI's 100 Years...100 Movies - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Thrills - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Heroes and Villains:
Trip - Nominated Hero
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores - Nominated
AFI's 100 Years...100 Cheers - #31
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies (10th Anniversary Edition) - Nominated
The film premiered in cinemas on December 14, 1989, in limited release within the US. During its limited opening weekend, the film grossed $63,661 in business showing at 3 locations. Its official wide release began in theaters on February 16, 1990. Opening in a distant 8th place, the film earned $2,683,350 showing at 801 cinemas. The film Driving Miss Daisy soundly beat its competition during that weekend opening in first place with $9,834,744. The film's revenue dropped by 37% in its second week of release, earning $1,682,720. For that particular weekend, the film remained in 8th place screening in 809 theaters not challenging a top five position. The film Driving Miss Daisy, remained in first place grossing $6,107,836 in box office revenue. The film went on to top out domestically at $26,828,365 in total ticket sales through a 17-week theatrical run. For 1989 as a whole, the film would cumulatively rank at a box office performance position of 45.
Following its release in theaters, the film was released on VHS video format on June 22, 1990. The Region 1 DVD widescreen edition of the film was released in the US on January 20, 1998. Special DVD features include: interactive menus, scene selections, widescreen 1.85:1 color anamorphic format, along with subtitles in English, Italian, Spanish and French.
A special repackaged version of Glory was also officially released on DVD on January 2, 2007. It includes two discs featuring: widescreen and full screen versions of the film; Picture-in-Picture video commentary by director Ed Zwick and actors Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick; a director's audio commentary; and a documentary entitled, The True Story of Glory Continues narrated by Morgan Freeman. Also included are: an exclusive featurette entitled, Voices of Glory, an original featurette, deleted scenes, production notes, theatrical trailers, talent files, and scene selections.
The Blu-ray disc version of the film was released on June 2, 2009. Special features include: a virtual civil war battlefield, interactive map, The Voice Of Glory feature, The True Story Continues documentary, the making of Glory, director's commentary, and deleted scenes. The film is displayed in widescreen 1.85:1 color format in 1080p screen resolution. The audio is enhanced with Dolby TrueHD sound and is available with subtitles in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. A UMD version of the film for the Sony PlayStation Portable was also released on July 1, 2008. It features dubbed, subtitled, and color widescreen format viewing options.