Director Charles Chauvel's Uncle, General Sir Harry Chauvel, had commanded the New Zealand and Australian desert corps in Palestine in the First World War. However Charles never mentions his uncle's part in the battles, because he didn't want the film to be seen as a family tribute. See more »
40,000 Horseman tells the story of the Australian Light Horse cavalry which operated in the desert in Palestine and probably has to its credit the last successful cavalry charge in battle, though apparently according to other reviewers some who dispute it. I'm perfectly willing to give credit to Australia for this remarkable achievement.
The story was filmed in 1940 when Australia had already entered World War II and troops were in the Sahara Desert while this movie was made. For propaganda necessity a hateful German had to be made the villain and Harvey Adams as Van Hausen certainly fills the bill there. To be sure Germans were in the desert, but the bulk of the fighting troops were the Aussies old foes from Gallipoli, the Turks. After all Palestine was part of their Ottoman Empire.
The film was made by Charles Clauvel who's uncle Sir Harry Clauvel was the actual general in charge of the Australian Light Horse. Perhaps the younger Clauvel was undergoing an attack of modesty, but personally I'd have rather seen the story of the uncle and the battles done in a documentary style like The Longest Day.
However several Australian acquaintances have told me that this film is regularly shown on Australian television on ANZAC day. Though the courage of the Aussies at Gallipoli gave the new continent nation a sense of national identity, this film does show them winning this one.
It's the final cavalry charge at Beersheba which opened the way for General Allenby to take Jerusalem is the main feature of the film. Even given the superior production facilities in America at the time, no Hollywood film could have staged the battle better. It is one of the most exciting charges I've ever seen done from any country.
I'm still not sure what the contrived romance between half French half Arab girl Betty Bryant and Aussie cavalryman Grant Taylor was doing here. Most of the time Betty is disguised as a boy. I'm thinking that Charles Clauvel might have seen Katharine Hepburn in Sylvia Scarlett and thought it was cute.
As one of Taylor's mates is Chips Rafferty who was THE Australian cinema star for three decades. This was the film that got him his first real notice.
Though the film probably could use a modern remake in the manner of Breaker Morant and Gallipoli without the wartime propaganda and unnecessary love story tossed in, 40,000 Horseman is an exciting piece of cinema detailing the story of one of the great events in Australian history. Maybe we'll get to see it on American television soon.
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