Join us for a Civil War story Saturday

Published 12:06 am Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration will present the 1957 movie based upon Ross Lockridge Jr.’s novel about a mythical Indiana county named “Raintree” at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center.

Admission is free. The film, which stars Montgomery Clift as John Wickliff Shawnessy, Elizabeth Taylor as Susanna Drake, and Eva Marie Saint as Nell Gaither, tells the story of a tempestuous marriage between a Northern abolitionist and a beautiful Southern woman.

Tempted away from his girlfriend, Nell, John falls for the seductive Susanna, whose lies are rooted in the insanity that runs in her family. With the Civil War raging, the couple breaks apart.

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Susanna takes their son and flees to New Orleans, followed by John, who marches into the South with the Union army.

The film is one of a seven-part sequence of monthly screenings titled “Hollywood Comes to Natchez: A Civil War Film Series.”

The series features movies filmed in the Natchez area that relate to the Civil War. The films lead up to the 24th annual Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration, set for Feb. 21-24, with the theme, “Fiction, Fact, and Film: The Civil War’s Imprint on Southern Culture.”

Co-sponsoring the film series along with the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration are the Natchez Convention and Visitor Bureau, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, and the Natchez National Historical Park.

Up to 2.1 Continuing Educational Units are available for teachers by calling Beth Richard, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, 601-446-1103 or e-mailing her at

The cost for the CEU program is $10 for the entire film series.

Along with recognizable Natchez locations in the movie, one of the film’s famous scenes takes place at Windsor Ruins in nearby Claiborne County. Helped along by the movie’s popularity, Windsor Ruins, with its majestic and lonely columns, became a symbol of the shattered Confederacy.

In truth, the mansion survived the Civil War only to be destroyed by accidental fire in 1890.

Following the filming, the grand staircase constructed by the movie crew remained in place for several years, leading many visitors to the site to assume that the steps were original.

As a matter of fact, three of the mansion’s four original cast iron stairways may have been sold for scrap in the late 19th century. The fourth staircase was moved to Alcorn State University sometime prior to 1912 and installed at Oakland Chapel. Today, Windsor Ruins is a state-owned historic property administered by the Department of Archives and History.

The two previous screenings in this series generated lively audience discussions during the post-movie sessions moderated by James Wiggins, instructor of History at Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Natchez Branch.

Once again, audience members will have an opportunity to discuss the story’s strengths and weaknesses following the film’s conclusion.

Questions to ponder include the movie’s treatment of the abolitionist movement. Wiggins asks, “Does the abolitionist played by Montgomery Clift acknowledge the complexity of the issues surrounding the abolitionist movement as he wrings his hands over the mad but alluring Southern hussy played by Elizabeth Taylor?”

Please join us Saturday as we continue with “Hollywood Comes to Natchez: A Civil War Film Series.”

Information about the film series and the 2013 Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration is available at, by calling 601-446-1289, or by e-mailing


Jim Barnett is the director of the division of historic properties Mississippi Department of Archives and History.