Glory is a 1989 American drama war film directed by Edward Zwick and starring Matthew Broderick, Denzel Washington, Cary Elwes and Morgan Freeman. The screenplay was written by Kevin Jarre, based on the personal letters of Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, the novel One Gallant Rush by Peter Burchard (reissued in 1990 after the movie), and Lay This Laurel (1973), Lincoln Kirstein's compilation of photos of the monument to the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry on Boston Common.

The film is about the first formal unit of the Union Army during the American Civil War to be made up entirely of African-American men, as told from the point of view of Colonel Shaw, its white commanding officer. They were the first unit of what became known as the United States Colored Troops and known for their heroic actions at Fort Wagner.

The film was nominated for five Academy Awards and won three, including Denzel Washington for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Private Trip. It won many other awards, including from the British Academy, the Golden Globe Awards, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, Political Film Society, the NAACP, among others.

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 U.S. on December 14, 1989, and in wide release on February 16, 1990, making $26,828,365. It was considered a moderate financial success, taking into account its $18 million budget. The soundtrack, composed by James Horner in conjunction with the 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.


Glory (1989 film)

During the American Civil War, Captain Robert Shaw is injured in the Battle of Antietam and sent home to Boston on medical leave. He visits his family there, where he meets the abolitionist Frederick Douglass, a former slave. Shaw is offered a promotion to the rank of Colonel to command the first all-black regiment in the Union Army, the 54th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. He accepts and asks his childhood friend, 2nd Lieutenant 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 soon follow, including gravedigger John Rawlins, timid freeman Jupiter Sharts and Silas Trip, an escaped slave who does not trust Shaw. Trip instantly clashes with Searles and Rawlins must keep the peace.

The men learn that the Confederacy has issued an order that all black soldiers found in Union uniform will be summarily executed, as will their white officers, and are offered a chance to take an honorable discharge, but none of them do. The black soldiers undergo a severe training regimen under Irish Sergeant-Major Mulcahy. When Shaw confronts Mulcahy about his methods he comes to realize that Mulcahy is in fact training them fairly and is trying to prepare the men for the extreme challenges that they will face.

When Trip goes AWOL and is caught, Shaw orders him flogged in front of the troops. The scars from his beatings as a slave are exposed, giving pause to the abolitionist Shaw. While talking to Rawlins, Shaw discovers that Trip had left to find shoes to replace his worn ones. Shaw learns that his men are being denied regular supplies and confronts the base's racist quartermaster on their behalf. He further supports them through a pay dispute, as the Federal government decided to pay black soldiers $10/month as opposed to the $13/month that white soldiers earn. Trip encourages the men to go without pay in protest, and Shaw tears up his own pay stub in solidarity, earning the respect and admiration of his men. In recognition for his leadership among the troops, Shaw invests Rawlins with the rank of Sergeant-Major.

Once the 54th completes its training, they are transferred under the command of General Charles Garrison Harker. On the way to joining the war in South Carolina, the 54th is ordered to sack a Georgia town and burn it by Harker's second-in-command, Colonel James Montgomery. Though Shaw initially refuses to obey an unlawful order, he ultimately obeys under threat of being relieved and having his troops taken away, and the town is destroyed. Shaw continues to lobby his superiors to allow his men to join the fight, as their duties since being activated involved construction and manual labor. Shaw finally gets the 54th into combat after he confronts Harker and threatens to report the smuggling, looting, and graft he has discovered unless Harker orders the 54th into action. In their first battle on James Island, South Carolina, early success is followed by a bloody confrontation with many casualties. However, the Confederates are beaten and retreat. During the battle, Thomas is wounded but saves Trip, finally earning the respect of the former slave. He subsequently refuses to go home to recover. Shaw offers Trip the honor of bearing the regimental flag in battle, but he declines. Trip states that he doesn't believe the war will result in a better life for slaves, but at the same time that he knows he must fight for the mere hope that it might.

Sometime after, General George Strong informs Shaw and his other staff officers of a major campaign to secure a foothold in Charleston Harbor. This will involve assaulting the nearby Morris Island and capturing its impenetrable fortress, Fort Wagner. The fort's only landward approach is via a small strip of beach with little cover, and the first regiment to charge is sure to suffer extremely heavy casualties. Shaw volunteers to have the 54th lead the charge. The night before the battle; the black soldiers conduct a religious service where individual soldiers offer their prayers amid hymn signing. Jupiter, Rawlins, and Trip make emotional speeches to inspire the troops and to ask for God's help.

The 54th leads the charge on the fort and heavy casualties ensue from artillery fire. As night falls, the bombardment continues, forestalling progress. Attempting to spur his men forward, Shaw is shot and killed. Trip lifts up the flag and rallies the soldiers to continue on. He is shot several times while doing so, but holds up the flag to his last breath. Forbes takes charge of the regiment, and they are able to break through the fort's outer defenses, but find themselves greatly outnumbered once they are inside. The morning after the battle, the beach is shown littered with bodies of Union soldiers and the Confederate flag is raised over the fort. The corpses are buried in a mass grave, with Shaw and Trip's bodies next to each other.

The closing narration reveals that Fort Wagner was never taken by Union forces. The sacrifice of the 54th, which lost nearly half its men in the battle, was not in vain; their bravery resulted in the Union accepting thousands of black men for combat which President Abraham Lincoln credited with turning the tide of the war.


  • Matthew Broderick as Colonel Robert Gould Shaw
  • Denzel Washington as Private Silas Trip
  • Morgan Freeman as Sergeant Major John Rawlins
  • Cary Elwes as Major Cabot Forbes
  • Cliff De Young as Colonel James Montgomery
  • Andre Braugher as Private Thomas Searles
  • Jihmi Kennedy as Private Jupiter Sharts
  • Alan North as Governor John Albion Andrew
  • John Finn as Sergeant Major Mulcahy
  • 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
  • Jane Alexander as Sarah Blake Sturgis Shaw (uncredited)


Glory (1989 film)

Kevin Jarre's inspiration for writing the film came from viewing a 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. Jarre's 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. He then based the story on letters written by Shaw during the Civil War.

Principal filming took place primarily in Massachusetts and Georgia. Opening passages, meant to portray the Battle of Antietam, were 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 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 historian 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 and 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 original motion picture soundtrack for Glory, 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.


Glory (1989 film)


A nonfiction study of the regiment appeared first in 1965 and was republished in paperback by St. Martin's Press, One Gallant Rush: Robert Gould Shaw and His Brave Black Regiment, in January 1990. The book 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.


Critical response

Glory was met with acclaim from critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a rating of 93%, based on 41 reviews, with an average rating 0f 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."

Among major professional critics in the U.S., the film received overwhelmingly positive reviews for its story line and production values, though the critical verdict was more moderate in its evaluation of Matthew Broderick's performance in the leading role. Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, exclaimed: "[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 Freddie Francis paid "enormous attention to period detail". Ebert just had one qualm about the film wondering why a "black experience" had to be seen "largely through white eyes."

Similarly, the Variety staff wrote that the film was "A stirring and long overdue tribute to the black soldiers who fought for the Union cause in the Civil War" and that the film "has the sweep and magnificence of a Tolstoy battle tale or a John Ford saga of American history." On Broderick's performance, they believed his "boyishness becomes a key element of the drama, as the film shows him confiding his inadequacies". Desson Howe of The Washington Post, stated that with Glory, "it's hard not to get carried along". He praised the individual cinematic elements saying the motion picture was "a thoroughly pleasant experience, a lightweight, liberal-heart-swollen high." He did, however, point out some flaws by mentioning Broderick as "an amiable non-presence, creating unintentionally the notion that the 54th earned their stripes despite wimpy leadership". Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader, rated Glory as "pretty watchable" and calling it an "always interesting period film, well photographed by English cinematographer Freddie Francis." The film, however, was not without its detractors. Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone, was not impressed at all with the overall acting, calling Broderick "catastrophically miscast as Shaw". Alternatively, Richard Schickel of TIME described his enthusiasm for 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 â€" 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." Marjorie Baumgarten of The Austin Chronicle, applauded the film as a "fabulous historical re-creation [that] depicts the experiences of America's first unit of black soldiers in the Civil War and the young Northerner who leads them." Rating the film with 4 Stars, critic Leonard Maltin wrote that the film was "Grand, moving, breathtakingly filmed (by veteran cinematographer Freddie Francis) and faultlessly performed". He wrote that it was "One of the finest historical dramas ever made."

Chris Hicks of the Deseret News, said the film was "Big in scope, powerful in its storytelling drama, yet intimate in its character and relationship development." Referring to Broderick, he found the acting "does very well as the young officer, and among his troops are two of our finest actors â€" Morgan Freeman...and Denzel Washington." In TimeOut, author CM wrote that in terms of authenticity, "the battle sequences are truly impressive." He exclaimed, "the stark clarity of Freddie Francis' cinematography combined with Zwick's intimate style evokes immediacy and fear." On another positive front, the staff of TV Guide commented on the production values of the film, saying they were "Richly plotted, alternately inspiring and horrifying, Glory is an enlightening and entertaining tribute to heroes too long forgotten." While on the acting merits, they noted "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."


The film was nominated and won several awards in 1989â€"90. Among awards won were from the Academy Awards, the Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards and the Golden Globe Awards. A complete list of awards the film won or was nominated for are listed below.

American Film Institute Lists

  • AFI'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

Box office

The film premiered in cinemas on December 14, 1989 in limited release within the U.S.. During its limited opening weekend, the film grossed $63,661 in business showing at 3 locations. Its official wide release was screened 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.

Home media

Following its cinematic release in theaters, the film was released in VHS video format on June 22, 1990. The Region 1 Code widescreen edition of the film was released on DVD in the United States on January 20, 1998. Special features for the DVD include, interactive menus, scene selections, widescreen 1.85:1 color anamorphic format along with subtitles in English, Italian, Spanish and French.

A special edition repackaged version of Glory was also officially released on DVD on January 2, 2007. The DVD set includes two discs featuring; widescreen and full screen versions of the film; Picture-in-Picture video commentary from director Ed Zwick and actors Morgan Freeman and Matthew Broderick; a director's audio commentary; a documentary entitled, "The True Story of Glory Continues" narrated by Morgan Freeman; 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 TruHD 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. The disc features dubbed, subtitled, and color widescreen format viewing options.

See also

Glory (1989 film)
  • List of films featuring slavery
  • White savior narrative in film


Glory (1989 film)

External links

Glory (1989 film)
  • Official website
  • Glory at AllMovie
  • Glory at the Internet Movie Database
  • Glory at the TCM Movie Database
  • Glory at the Movie Review Query Engine
  • Glory at Rotten Tomatoes
  • Glory at Box Office Mojo

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