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Kino on Video presents
The Good Fight: The Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War (1984)

"This is my world too. And I'm gonna sit down and just let people do what they want to do…when it's wrong."
- Salaria Kea O'Reilly

Review By: Ross Johnson  
Published: August 18, 2008

Stars: Bill Bailey, Salaria Kea O'Reilly, Studs Terkel
Other Stars: Bill McCarthy, Ed Balchowsky, Evelyn Hutchins
Director: Noel Buckner, Mary Dore, Sam Sills

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild language)
Run Time: 01h:38m:00s
Release Date: July 29, 2008
UPC: 738329058425
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A A+BB+ B+

DVD Review

In 1936, the tanks of Generalissimo Francisco Franco began a relentless roll through Spain, moving closer every day to the capital of Madrid and the democratically elected government fighting to hold them off. On Franco's side were fighters from Mussolini and bombers from Hitler, while almost no one came to the aid of the Spanish government and its loyalist supporters. When the U.S. refused to intervene, 2,800 idealistic women and men, lead by American socialist and communist groups of the time, joined an international volunteer army as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Threatened with loss of citizenship for fighting in a foreign army, many were killed, and many of those that made it home were caught right in the middle of the communist scare. Despite having been at forefront in fighting the European fascist threat, they were blacklisted, and then forgotten for their trouble.

It's perhaps ironic in the wake of all that has occurred since, but it was these young communists who were most deeply taken aback by the impending failure of the democratic government in Spain. The collapses of the Soviet Union and China into oppressive dictatorship in the intervening years obscure the idealistic and hopeful tenor of American socialism and communism during the 1920s and 30s. In some ways, these were the hippies of their day, but more political, proactive, and organized than that movement ever became. They were fiercely anti-fascist, refusing to distinguish one form of oppression from another. At a time when the U.S. was rightfully leery of becoming enmeshed in any conflict, particularly another large-scale European war, these women and men had become accustomed to seeing events in terms of global struggle. "Workers of the World Unite," and all that. When watching newsreels about Jewish oppression, or tanks rolling toward Madrid, they weren't making the racial and national distinctions that the rest of the country was still making. Perhaps not surprisingly, the American and international volunteers in Spain created one of the most egalitarian armies that had existed to that time, with women serving alongside men and blacks and whites fighting together on equal terms. Also unsurprisingly, these idealistic kids didn't always make for the best soldiers, often refusing to salute and casting off some of the other traditions of war. When sympathetic American notables traveled to Spain to exhort them to even greater feats of bravery, they themselves being only interested in giving speeches, the worn and dirty soldiers of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade concocted a sung response: "We're just bastards. Bastards are we. We'd rather f*%# than fight for liberty." Trust me. It's catchy.

The Good Fight is a pretty stellar documentary from Noel Bruckner, Mary Dore and Sam Sills. Not only does the film pull from the archives a dramatic and rich bit of history, but it does so with a great deal of immediacy and life. Studs Terkel narrates the film in his rough-hewn, inimitable style, while interviews, news footage, pictures fill in the context and the personal journey of the women and men of Abraham Lincoln. It was also made at exactly the right time. In 1985, the WWII generation was only a few years into retirement. The reminiscences from Lincoln Brigade veterans like Bill McCarthy, Ed Balchowsky, and Evelyn Hutchins are powerful and surprisingly fresh. It's hard to imagine this film being anywhere near as successful without the presence of the articulate and prickly veteran Bill Bailey, who passed away in 1995, and the others. While I'd hesitate to recommend yet another film about the glories and honor of war, I came away from this one feeling less inspired to fight than to ask myself what I'd be inspired to give up for people that I'd never met, a world away. Salaria Kea O'Reilly explains that "I'm not just gonna sit down, and let this happen. I'm going out and help, even if it is my life…this is my world too." On paper, it reads as almost trite. From her lips, it's about as powerful an exhortation to do what you think is right as I ever expect to hear.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: While the film shows some definite signs of age and budget, Kino has done a fine job with the film's newly remastered transfer. There's a good bit of grit and grain, but overall colors are sharp and even the period footage looks quite nice.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: The two track audio is clear and clean. Studs Terkel's narration comes through loud and clear, and all of the period interview bits are crisp.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
8 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Commemoration of Those Who Served
Extras Review: The first extra is Interview with the Filmmakers (1988), a few short outtakes from the PBS program P.O.V. The lengthe is such that there's not room for much depth, but Noel Buckner, Mary Dore, and Sam Sills discuss the inspiration for the film, and also their concern about the possibility of glamorizing war in the post-Vietnam era. Next is a series of eight Outtakes from The Good Fight, all interview bits with Bill Bailey. None are really essential to understanding the events discussed in the main documentary, but Bailey is a lively talker, and his reminiscinces add a great deal of color.

The Homage with Pete Seeger is a bit of a stage piece where he invites Brigade veterans onstage to sing along with him, as he performs Viva la Quince Brigada, one of his Songs of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, along with some interview outtakes. Finally, the Commemoration of Those Who Served is a text piece listing the names of known Americans who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. It's certainly a thoughtful and appropriate inclusion.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

Noel Buckner, Mary Dore, and Sam Sills have put together a fine documentary about a rarely discussed bit of American history. With several frank and engaging American veterans of the Spanish Civil War, The Good Fight is as inspiring as it is entertaining.


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