Major Vickers is an officer at the 27th Lancers in India 1856. When the regiment is on maneuver, the barracks are attacked by Surat Khan and his soldiers who massacre British women and children. This leaves an inextinguishable memory and Vickers promises to revenge the dead. Written by
Errol Flynn's Inaccurate But Rousing Follow-Up to CAPTAIN BLOOD...
Errol Flynn, riding high with the spectacular success of CAPTAIN BLOOD, re-teamed with co-star Olivia de Havilland and director Michael Curtiz in this epic tale, owing far more to Rudyard Kipling's prose than Tennyson's poem, or any attempt at historical accuracy. As one of several 1930s Hollywood forays into India during British rule (GUNGA DIN, LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER, and WEE WILLIE WINKIE are other memorable examples), the films are often criticized today for 'whitewashing' British rule, and ignoring the plight of Indians, who were treated as 'second-class' citizens of the Empire. While this argument is valid, these films were produced as 'entertainments' at a time when America, still suffering from the Depression, craved escapism, not social commentary.
Flynn, with his trademark moustache restored, is Major Geoffrey Vickers, dashing British Lancer, who, as the film opens, saves the life of Indian ruler Surat Khan (played by veteran screen villain C. Henry Gordon) during a tiger hunt. While Khan despises the British, he has a blood debt to Vickers, which must be honored.
Between assignments, Vickers tries to be the devoted fiancé of beautiful Elsa Campbell (de Havilland), but in a twist from the usual Flynn/de Havilland teamings, she actually loves his brother, Perry (Patric Knowles, who would later play 'Will Scarlet' in ROBIN HOOD). The love triangle subplot is the least effective part of the story; fortunately, these interludes don't last long!
Courting favor with the Russians (represented by Stalin look-alike Robert Barrat), Khan gambles, correctly, that the British would never consider him capable of murdering women and children, so his attack on an undermanned Chukoti, and the subsequent massacre of all the inhabitants (save Vickers and Campbell, thus fulfilling his blood debt), creates a furor that rocks India, and a evokes a vow of revenge from Vickers and the Lancers, who'd lost all of their loved ones. Khan flees the country, joining his Russian allies in the Crimea.
Just in time to fulfill the title, the Lancers are reassigned to the Crimea, and discover that Khan is located with the cannon emplacements on the Balaclava Heights. Arranging to get his brother safely away from the action, Vickers forges orders to have the Light Brigade attack the Heights, and 'The Charge' begins...
While the Charge (created by second unit director "Breezy" Eason) is one of the most incredible scenes ever recorded on film, with hundreds of horsemen galloping in formation 'to the guns', there was a deadly price for the spectacle; the buried explosives and trip wires used to create realistic cannon blasts injured many horses, resulting in a large number of animals having to be 'put down'. Humane societies nationwide (and Flynn, himself, who was appalled by the needless slaughter) raised such an outcry that standards were established barring cruelty to animals, which are still in effect today.
Besides Flynn's heroic performance (yes, that really IS him, leaping a cannon on horseback), Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, and J. Carrol Naish (as an Indian) provide memorable support. And watch for a young David Niven, as Vickers' doomed fellow officer. Flynn and Niven were great friends, sharing a cottage in Malibu (nicknamed 'Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea', because of their wild parties), and their final scene together is far more poignant than any Flynn/de Havilland moments in the film!
While flawed, historically, and unquestionably bloody, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE retains its position as a 'classic', and proved to the WB that Errol Flynn was not just a 'one hit wonder'. Great things were ahead for the young star!
26 of 29 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?