American Drummer Boy (2001)

The American Civil War and its events and heroes have inspired thousands of films and books. The coming of age genre also contributes to the theme – one of them being the 2001 production American Drummer Boy (also known as The Greatest Adventure of My Life). Narrated in the first person by the young Johnny Boone (good acting performance by Cody Newton) – the film tells the story of a young boy whose sense of honour and duty lead him to sneak out of his house one day and embark on a journey to join the 11th Kentucky Infantry. From that moment on, he gets himself in and out of trouble, finding himself with the enemy forces instead (only to realize that they are just people with beliefs and honour to protect and that their reasons to enlist are not much different than his own).

Johnny Boone/ Cody Newton with the soldiers of South

American Drummer Boy is a family film. Despite being produced by Peridot Pictures, you can think of any Hallmark late afternoon tale to get the idea of the film’s overall atmosphere. Or, think of one of the novels by Mark Twain – as Johnny looks, speaks and acts like a typical Southern boy – mischievous but not malicious, largely self-reliant, more at home in the country than the town (a detailed description of Southern American youth can be found in the essay written by Mary B. O’Shea titled Southern Boys and Coming of Age, included in the book Where the Boys Are – Cinemas of Masculinity and Youth).  Kentucky (as I found out from the documentary extras accompanying the film) was one of the states claiming neutrality – but sending soldiers to keep both the forces of the South and the North away from the state.  There are various historical battles (Battle of Shiloh, Battle of Perryville, Battle of Stone’s River) – whose names won’t mean much to anyone else. Still, US viewers who studied the Civil War in detail in their US History classes will surely relate to them.

Johnny Boone receives an award

Overall the film is well-made, even if its length is overdone.  At times, the film feels like one of those which your history teacher is likely to show in class to illustrate what the Civil War meant to most Americans at the time, who enlisted believing that it would end shortly and that they would be back to their families in less than a year. The character of Johnny Boone is based on three boys’ true-life stories (William Horsfall, Johnny Clem and Asa Lewis) who were drummers during the war.  Portraying “both the glory and the insanity of the Civil War” and revealing the “life-threatening decisions a young boy faces on his journey to manhood” were two of the film’s Director’s objectives, Dorian Walker – and they were both achieved. Yet, the fact that Dorian Walker paid attention to keeping the film suitable for showing in the schools (toned down battle scenes, partly compensated for by the focus on the soldiers’ emotions) – may not be pleasing to those looking for a more realistic portrayal of what war in that era was really like. The film raises several important issues, such as drummer boys’ roles and ages during the war (most were listed as “schoolboys” in the enlistment papers). The DVD also features a half-hour documentary that tells the true-life stories of two young Kentucky boys during the American Civil War.

Johnny Boone at his father`s grave

American Drummer Boy is a well-made coming of age saga about the Civil War and its heroes. Yet, despite its good photography and a few good scenes, it is likely to disappoint most viewers mostly due to its unjustified length and the plot’s predictability. However, if you are a parent in the United States looking for a good Sunday afternoon flick that your kids (below the age of 12) would enjoy and learn from at the same time, you won’t make a mistake by playing it for them.

American Drummer Boy Movie Trailer

American Drummer Boy ratingFilm title: American Drummer Boy
Alternative titles: The Greatest Adventure of My Life
Release year: 2001
Director: Dorian Walker
Cast: Cody Newton, Pat Hingle, Cristina Kernan, Clay Watkins, Jeri Burks, Dick Kreusser, Reegus Flenory, Mitchell Plumle, Dono Langley, Warren Hammock and others


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