DVD Talk
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Reviews & Columns
Ultra HD
International DVDs
Video Games

Collector Series DVDs
Easter Egg Database
DVD Talk Radio
Feature Articles

Anime Talk
DVD Stalk
DVD Savant
High-Def Revolution
Silent DVD

discussion forum
DVD Talk Forum
DVD Price Search
Customer Service #'s
RCE Info

DVDTalk Info
Review Staff
About DVD Talk
Newsletter Subscribe
Join DVD Talk Forum
DVD Talk Feeds

Sponsored Links

Search: For:
Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Colonel Effingham's Raid (Fox Cinema Archives)
Colonel Effingham's Raid (Fox Cinema Archives)
Fox Cinema Archives // Unrated // July 16, 2014
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Paul Mavis | posted November 18, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Buy from Amazon.com
Skip It
E - M A I L
this review to a friend
Printer Friendly

Slow, talky, largely unfunny comedy. 20th Century-Fox's Cinema Archives line of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released Colonel Effingham's Raid, the 1945 comedy (released in 1946) from Fox starring Charles Coburn, Joan Bennett, William Eythe, Allyn Joslyn, Elizabeth Patterson, Donald Meek, Frank Craven, Thurston Hall, Cora Witherspoon, and Frank Orth. Based on the novel by Berry Fleming, and directed by Irving Pichel, Colonel Effingham's Raid suffers from a draggy, predictable script--for a set-up that's dramatically pretty thin, anyway--and less-than-impressive turns from the three leads. No extras for this good fullscreen black and white transfer.

Fredericksville, Georgia, 1940. One-time resident Colonel William Seaborn Effingham, ret. (Charles Coburn) has returned home to find his little town of 30,000 inhabitants indifferent to its own rich heritage. The Colonel's cousin, young newspaper reporter Albert Marbury (William Eythe), laments that that's just the way it is down South: politics and polite society don't mix. When the Colonel goes to Albert's boss, editor Earl Hoats (Allyn Joslyn), and proposes to write a war column for the local paper, cynical Hoats acquiesces, more from being bowled over by the Colonel's imposing disposition rather than for any enthusiasm for the project. However, when the Colonel discovers that the local political machine--the "Home Folks Party," through the office of the crooked Mayor Edgar (Thurston Hall)--is going to rename Confederate Monument Square after the HFP's founder, he declares war on the town through his column. Albert isn't sure where he stands...although he'd like to get closer to society reporter Ella Sue Dozier (Joan Bennett), but when the HFP machine ups the ante and tries to engineer a scam involving the destruction of the Square's old town hall, Albert must decide if he's a compromised newspaper reporter, or a supporter of his beleaguered cousin.

I'm pretty sure that more than a few newer, touchier reviewers--if they even bother with an obscurity like Colonel Effingham's Raid--will take one look at its benign pro-Confederate context (an afterthought in the movie), exacerbated by the presence of some stereotyped black servant characters, and reject the movie outright. That's the nature of today's lazy, insidious P.C. "film criticism" (yeech): plug in your own projected prejudices, and start slashing away at anything that doesn't toe the accepted party line, regardless of content or context or nuance. Far better would it be, though, for those reviewers to find justifiable fault with Colonel Effingham's Raid simply because it's not particularly amusing, or telling, or even interesting. All of which it decidedly ain't.

I've never read Berry Fleming's best-selling novel upon which Kathryn Scola (Baby Face, One Night at Susie's, The Constant Nymph) based her script, but from what I gather, Fleming fictionalized real events involving the notorious "Cracker Party," the Democrat Party machine in Georgia's Richmond and Augusta counties, that ran everything that went through the counties' auspices--including a shady plan to tear down Richmond's county courthouse--like the Mafia. While that sounds like promising material for one of Darryl Zanuck's socially conscious expose dramas from this time period, here...it's pretty dry stuff for a comedy. Not much else happens here in Colonel Effingham's Raid except the threat of renaming a town square and the threat of tearing down the courthouse--the middle and two ends of Colonel Effingham's Raid is almost all talk, and not much of it particularly funny. Problems of character motivation hound the movie, as well. We understand why the Colonel wants to preserve the town's historical heritage, but we never get a strong feeling that what he's doing--writing a newspaper column--is socially outrageous...even though everybody keeps insisting it is. The script tries to tie in the supposed gentility of the town's "upper class" looking down on the Colonel for writing his column, but Scola doesn't make a solid-enough case for the Colonel's actions being truly dangerous to their status quo (unlike say Capra, the movie is terrible at creating a believable community that would embrace the Colonel's actions--it always feels like Fredericksville exists on a sound stage, with a population of 12). The other two main characters also suffer from weak set-ups. Bennett is built up as some sort of important ally to the Colonel when it's mentioned her father used to run the newspaper. We somehow believe her dissatisfaction with being a society reporter, while her having to answer to new editor Allyn Joslyn (a Northerner), will somehow play into the Colonel's efforts...but absolutely nothing comes of her shadowy background. Eythe's role is even more superfluous (his role could have been eliminated completely), with his flat, unimportant narration popping up erratically throughout the movie, while we try and figure out what, exactly, he's doing in the story, and what, if anything, he believes in--a situation not helped by Eythe's lackluster screen presence.

Not exactly helping, either, is Colonel Effingham's Raid's central dramatic conflict--the city's corruption--getting watered down to the point of being ludicrous. Apparently, citywide corruption in Fredericksville is perpetrated and then carried out, by only six or seven men. No one else appears to be involved...including the countless city and county workers whom these men have presumably helped (or extorted) in exchange for money or further quid pro quo favors. These scammers are shown as influential office holders, but members of the public and equally crooked employees that benefited from these malefactors' machine are absent from the movie's equation. It's corruption in a complete vacuum and thus...not very deep in its threat to small town democracy (this was perhaps studio-dictated, due to the story's propaganda angle and the production's wartime context--Zanuck wasn't going to poke a finger in the eye of Hometown, U.S.A. in 1945). This ultimately inconsequential feeling is borne out by the finale, SPOILER ALERT, a phony Disney-esque ending where the crooks pay nothing for their crimes, while sheepishly declaring they'll go straight when threatened with the prospect of the returning vets making sure the officials do as they're told.

I suppose Colonel Effingham's Raid's structural flaws might not have been so glaring had we at least been given plenty of amusing lines (I only laughed once here...and it was at a face made by the delightful Allyn Joslyn), or even droll performances. No such luck. The talented, sexy Bennett, clearly bored out of her skull, has nothing to do here except look for the exit off the Fox lot, which she would find soon enough after too many misfires like Colonel Effingham's Raid (she's well cast as a cynical news reporter, but then they cut away from her for long, long periods of screen time, for unexplained reasons). Eythe, whom Fox used as little more than Ty Power's stand-in, soon wound up in Bs and then obscurity, and it's not surprising, seeing how bland and ineffectual he comes over on the big screen (Eythe may vaguely look like his better Power, but the difference in their star wattage is, to paraphrase Twain, the difference between lightning and a lightning bug). As for our lead, phlegmatic Coburn is one of those actors that acquired a "national treasure" vibe that seemed to say whatever he did on screen, it was priceless. Well...I love Coburn, too, but usually in smaller doses. He comes over better as brief punctuation, rather than taking center stage (a little of him, I find, goes a long way). In Colonel Effingham's Raid he seems distracted and grumpy, rather than charmingly gruff. It's not a varied performance, nor a particularly interesting one, which perhaps can be explained (but not excused) by his being equally bored, as was Bennett, with a snoozer like Colonel Effingham's Raid.

The Video:
The fullscreen, 1.37:1 black and white transfer for Colonel Effingham's Raid looks quite good, with a smooth, sharp image, decent blacks, and not too many imperfections.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English mono audio track is okay, with a little bit of low fuzz and hiss. No subtitles or closed-captions.

The Extras:
No extras for Colonel Effingham's Raid.

Final Thoughts:
Corruption at the root. A draggy, uneventful script, questionable performances and worst of all--no laughs--makes Colonel Effingham's Raid a bust. Unless you're mad for the stars, skip it.

Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.

Popular Reviews
1. Bruce Lee: His Greatest Hits
2. The Lady Eve: Criterion Collection
3. Clueless Anniversary Limited Edition Steelbook (Blu-ray + Digital)
4. Soldier Blue
5. Black Rainbow
6. The War of the Worlds (1953)
7. Beanpole
8. Spaced Invaders (Special Edition)
9. Deanna Durbin Collection (100 Men and a Girl / Three Smart Girls Grow Up / It Started with Eve)
10. Sorry We Missed You

Sponsored Links
DVD Blowouts
Alien [Blu-ray]
Buy: $19.99 $9.99
Sponsored Links
Release List Reviews Shop Newsletter Forum DVD Giveaways Blu-Ray Advertise
Copyright 2020 DVDTalk.com All Rights Reserved. Legal Info, Privacy Policy, Terms of Use