Synopsis by Hal Erickson
The Coward is the earliest extant starring vehicle of popular "boy next door" actor Charles Ray, though in fact the film was partially designed as a showcase for venerable stage favorite Frank Keenan. Set during the Civil War, the film focuses on the conflict between a proud old Virginia colonel (Keenan) and his weak-willed son (Ray). When the boy refuses to enlist in the Confederate army, his father forces him to do so literally at gunpoint. Once on the battlefield, the son deserts at the earliest opportunity, whereupon his father, not wishing to sully the family name, takes the boy's place on the roll call. Meanwhile, the son overhears a group of Northern officers planning to stage a raid. Finally able to overcome his cowardice, he mounts a horse and rides to the Southern lines, hoping to relay his information before it is too late. But he is shot from his horse by his own father, who mistakes the boy for a Northern courier. As the wounded son hovers between life and death, his father tearfully tries to make amends, leading to a powerful finale -- made even more so by the subtle underplaying of the two stars.
courage, coward, hero, man