The Raid. 1954. USA. Directed by Hugo Fregonese. Screenplay by Sydney Boehm, Francis M. Cockrel, from a novel by Herbert Ravenel Sass. With Van Heflin, Anne Bancroft, Richard Boone, Lee Marvin, Peter Graves. 35mm print courtesy of 20th Century Studios. 83 min.
The central question of Fregonese’s cinema—to stay or to go?—gets vivid treatment in this unusual approach to the American Civil War, set in a small town in Vermont near the Canadian border, where members of a Confederate raiding party, led by Van Heflin’s pensive Major Neal Benton, have infiltrated the local citizenry in preparation for a daring guerilla attack on the local bank. Arriving early to scout out the territory, Benton finds himself being drawn into the community through an attractive widow (Anne Bancroft). The embittered major, who had seen his own plantation estate go up in flames in a Union raid, slowly softens as he enters the life of the village, all the while guarding his terrible secret.
Heflin, whose surly interiority often seemed an early manifestation of Method-style acting in Hollywood, delivers a performance of studied ambiguity, his character’s lust for vengeance battling with his affection for the widow, her son, and the quiet life they represent. The temptation of domesticity has perhaps never been so strong in a Fregonese film, yet his hero, true to his restlessness, ultimately opts for frantic escape, leaving the film to end on an abrupt note of chaos and moral destitution.