John Brown in Films and TV

John Brown appears in many songs, plays, works of literature, and films. His portrayal reflects attitudes toward him, it ranges from heroic to villanous, from saint-like to lunatic. Here are the video compilations of John Brown's appearances in popular movies and TV series.

Abe Lincoln in Illinois


John Brown film

The first appearance of John Brown in the motion picture. After the capture of John Brown by Robert E. Lee in Harpers Ferry, defiant and heroic he triumphally announces that “someone else will have to finish this job,” therefore, an important connection between John Brown and Abraham Lincoln is made. Interestingly, actor that plays Lincoln in this film, Raymond Massey, will play John Brown in both of the two movies dedicated entirely to John Brown, Santa Fe Trail and Seven Angry Men.

Santa Fe Trail


John Brown film
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The most famous film about John Brown doesn't do him a favor. Largely pro-Southern, Santa Fe Trail focuses on the attempts of young Jeb Stuart to catch John Brown. Film portrays John Brown in rather negative one-dimensional tones. The number of Brown's men in Kansas and Virginia are over-exaggerated, and even the slaves who were freed by John Brown are portrayed as being dissapointed with their freedom, which they “got no use for” and are anxious to “get back home to Texas.”

Seven Angry Men


John Brown film
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Raymond Massey, who 15 years ago delivered an electrifying performance as John Brown in Santa Fe Trail, returns as the Old Man to big screen. If his first portrayal of John Brown is considered the most negative, then, without a doubt, this one is the most positive. In this film, Brown is shown not only as a just anti-slavery warrior who is put into context of struggle against the overwhelming Slave Power, but also as a loving father and husband.Personal and informal interactions between the Brown family members shows a human side of the famous revolutionary. Even the heroine, who initially heard about Brown as a ”dangerous fanatical man,” is later convinced by her Kansas-dwelling father that Brown is a “great man” who should have arrived to Kansas earlier.

Skin Game


John Brown film

This comedy that ineffectively tries to poke fun on the antebellum race relations has a short but memorable appearance by John Brown. A slave auction in Missouri gets interrupted by the horseback Captain Brown and his soldiers who liberate the slaves and drive them away in the wagons. The episode refers to the actual liberation of eleven Missouri slaves by John Brown in the winter of 1858-1859.

The Blue and the Gray


John Brown film
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Played by a tall and dignified Sterling Hayden, John Brown is portrayed as a tragic figure in this television miniseries. We see him speaking in the trial and in jail, and meeting his death at the scaffold. The protagonist of the series resembles the historic artist-writer David Hunter Strother (also known as Porte Crayon) who was covering the Virginian saga of John Brown from beginning to end.

North and South


John Brown film
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For three minutes, famous singer Johnny Cash passionately portrayed John Brown in these popular TV series. The episode deals with Brown's raiders stopping the Baltimore & Ohio train. Although raiders and abolitionist sympathizers are mostly portrayed as fanatical and degranged, John Brown is shown as a reserved and rational person.

Touched by Fire: Bleeding Kansas


John Brown film

Documentary made 150 years after the beginning of Bleeding Kansas conflict deals heavily with the actions of John Brown. Great and painstakingly accurate reenactments give an extra edge to this film.

Bad Blood


John Brown film

Another documentary on Bleeding Kansas exceeds Touched by Fire in many ways. This documentary is more diverse: it has less of John Brown and more of other players in the fight for Kansas. Produced by both Kansas and Missouri, this film attempts to show both sides of the border war, however in some cases it fails to put actions of John Brown into context.

People Speak


John Brown film

Based on the book by acclaimed historian Howard Zinn, this documentary features actors and musicians reciting important quotes from American history. Performed by David Strathairn, John Brown's speech is unusual, but historically accurate: his voice was indeed high-pitched and his speech abrupt. This modernist portrayal sharply differs from the earlier movies whee dramatic John Brown has a deep and powerful voice.

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