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Santa Fe Trail (1940)

Approved  |   |  Adventure, Biography, Drama  |  28 December 1940 (USA)
6.3
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Ratings: 6.3/10 from 2,063 users  
Reviews: 67 user | 16 critic

The story of Jeb Stuart, his romance with Kit Carson Holliday, friendship with George Custer and battles against John Brown in the days leading up to the outbreak of the American Civil War.

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(original screenplay)
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Title: Santa Fe Trail (1940)

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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
...
...
'Kit Carson' Holliday (as Olivia De Havilland)
...
...
...
William Lundigan ...
Bob Holliday
...
Rader
Gene Reynolds ...
Henry O'Neill ...
Cyrus Holliday
Guinn 'Big Boy' Williams ...
Windy Brody
Alan Baxter ...
...
Martin
Moroni Olsen ...
David Bruce ...
Phil Sheridan
Hobart Cavanaugh ...
Barber Doyle
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Storyline

The story of Jeb Stuart, his romance with Kit Carson Holliday, friendship with George Custer and battles against John Brown in the days leading up to the outbreak of the American Civil War. Written by Col Needham <col@imdb.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

Where the railroad and civilization ended, the Sante Fe Trail began! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

 »
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Details

Country:

Language:

Release Date:

28 December 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Camino de Santa Fe  »

Company Credits

Production Co:

 »
Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (cut)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Aptly enough, the movie made its world premiere in Santa Fe, New Mexico. See more »

Goofs

The final battle takes place in a building called "The Arsenal". The Federal Armory at Harpers Ferry was actually a complex of manufacturing, storage, and office buildings. During the fighting, John Brown's force finally took refuge in the Fire House, one of the smallest of the buildings on the Armory grounds. The Fire House was built of brick but had three large wooden doors through which the firefighting equipment could move. See more »

Quotes

Cowboy: Kansas is all right for men and dogs, but it's pretty hard on women and horses.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Hollywood Hist-o-Rama: Errol Flynn (1961) See more »

Soundtracks

Along the Santa Fe Trail
(1940) (uncredited)
Music by Will Grosz
Played when Jeb and George say goodbye to Kit and when Jeb first kisses her
Waltz version played at the party in Washington
Played at the wedding and during the end credits
See more »

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User Reviews

 
Slavery's Long Shadow
26 May 2009 | by (Greenwich, CT United States) – See all my reviews

Errol Flynn is lost and Olivia de Havilland wasted in one of their last films together, an oddball Westerner that straddles the Mason-Dixon line presenting events leading up to the American Civil War.

Not a good film, "Santa Fe Trail" is nevertheless fascinating now because of the political and social undercurrents running through it. Sensitive to Southern moviegoers still smarting 75 years after Appomattox, the filmmakers present a convoluted tale where all of the terribleness of the War Between the States can be laid on the doorstep of that terrible scourge: Abolitionism.

Anti-slavery terrorist John Brown is on the loose, and it's up to Flynn to stop him, as future Confederate legend J.E.B. Stuart, still a U.S. Army officer as the war looms on the horizon. Stuart is presented as a champion not of slavery but of the status quo it is his duty to protect. Still, it's hard to find merit in his stance. "The South will settle it," Stuart says about slavery, "but in its own time and in its own way." No use rushing into righting an 80-year wrong, right?

Director Michael Curtiz and scripter Robert Buckner fall short in terms of story, too. Is this a Western? Or is it a love story? Again, cinematic economics are pretty transparent given how awkwardly Olivia is shoehorned into the film, standing on the sidelines and wringing her hands. She's beautiful and charming, but her scenes with Flynn are overlong compendiums of romantic cliché, made worse by a melodramatic and hyperactive Max Steiner score.

Playing the token liberal here is Ronald Reagan as George Armstrong Custer. Read that last sentence back if you want to know why some people really hate this film. "There's a purpose behind that madness," Custer says of Brown, "one that cannot easily be dismissed." But Custer doesn't protest too long, and the implication is clear that whatever Brown is fighting for doesn't outweigh his endangering the Union, for Custer or Stuart.

Luckily for the filmmakers, they had Raymond Massey on hand to play Brown, eloquent in word but constantly threatening to go off the deep end. Massey was a florid overactor, but he had in Brown the right part and makes the most of it. Even better is Van Heflin, as a nasty bravo named Rader whom Stuart tangles with at West Point and again later on when Rader inserts himself as one of Brown's deputies. Rader's a great foil, allowed to say some worthy things about the anti-slavery cause, but more compelling in how his anger-choked personality comes to clash with that of the self-righteous Brown. Heflin grabs every scene he's in with those beady eyes and high forehead, and it's probably why he rose to movie prominence soon after.

Far less successful is the film's effort to develop a romantic rivalry between Stuart and Custer. We have a pretty good idea de Havilland won't wind up with the Gipper. Alan Hale and Guinn Williams bicker like old maids for the sake of bad comedy, playing a pair of battle-hungry cowhands: "Calling me a rumpot's what hurt me...I haven't had a drink since noon!"

Even Curtiz the celebrated action director falters here. Halfway through the film there's a battle where Brown and his men hold up Stuart's troops, then ride off with a cache of weapons, leaving Stuart's force inexplicably still armed. Vastly outnumbered, Stuart chases them anyway. Brown obliges him by not turning around to fight, leaving the cache behind.

"Hey, wait a minute, they outnumber us three-to-one," protests Custer. With an attitude like that, he'll never make the history books.

However factually and dramatically flawed, "Santa Fe Trail" is one for the history books, in a way that shows how imperfectly the United States was coming to terms with its slave-holding past three generations on. It's not a good film even without its moral dubiousness, but that same dubiousness makes it historically worthy, as a reflection of just how hard it was for a nation to face a searing legacy of accepting the treatment of human beings as cattle.


7 of 11 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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