Shelley Duvall Presents: American Tall Tales and Legends: John Henry

Movie review by
Sarah Wenk, Common Sense Media
Shelley Duvall Presents: American Tall Tales and Legends: John Henry Movie Poster Image
Sanitized telling of the legend of John Henry.
  • NR
  • 2005
  • 54 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Lesson about perseverance.

Violence & Scariness

Some intense scenes of physical labor.

Sexy Stuff
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that there are some intense scenes in this retelling of the legend of John Henry, but it is well-done and designed not to be overly upsetting.

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What's the story?

This installment of Shelley Duvall's series tells the legend the greatest steel driver who ever lived. Danny Glover plays John Henry, who can do the work of four men, driving steel through mountains to build the railroad. When the boss buys a steam drill, it looks as if the men on John's crew will be out of work. But John challenges the drill to a contest, and in a dark and gripping sequence, he battles against it for ten straight hours.

Is it any good?

The legend of John Henry has the potential to be very upsetting, but this version has bypassed the worst parts of the story in favor of inspiration and heroics. The acting is very good, particularly Glover and Lynn Whitfield as his loving wife. The story moves slowly in parts, but the lessons about perseverance and sticking up for the little guy are inspiring and moving.

We are spared seeing John Henry die with his hammer in his hand, an ending that can be traumatic for children. Instead we get a tale of bravery, love, and friendship that will speak to viewers of all ages.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the history of railroads in America, and of how they were built. Also, why do we have and tell tall tales -- what purpose do they serve?

Movie details

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