Highly fictionalized account (see the IMDB 'goofs' for examples) of the life of George Armstrong Custer from his arrival at West Point in 1857 to his death at the battle of the Little Big ... See full summary »
Jake Roedel and Jack Bull Chiles are friends in Missouri when the Civil War starts. Women and Blacks have few rights. Jack Bull's dad is killed by Union soldiers, so the young men join the ... See full summary »
Highly fictionalized account (see the IMDB 'goofs' for examples) of the life of George Armstrong Custer from his arrival at West Point in 1857 to his death at the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. He has little discipline at the academy but is prepared to stand up to the senior cadet, Ned Sharp, who makes his life miserable. While there he catches the eye of the commandant, Col. (later General) Phil Sheridan and also meets his future bride, Elizabeth Bacon. Graduating early due to the Civil War, it is only through a chance meeting with General Winfield Scott that he finally gets assigned to a cavalry regiment. He served with distinction during the war and when he is promoted to Brigadier General in error, he leads his troops in a decisive victory. He has little to do after the war turning down lucrative positions in private industry and it's his wife who arranges with Gen. Scott for him to be appointed a Lt. Colonel and given command of the 7th Cavalry. He is depicted as a friend... Written by
Whether one views him as a gallant cavalier of the plains or a glory hunting egomaniac, debates about the life and military career of George Armstrong Custer continue down to the present day. They Died With Their Boots On presents certain facts of the Custer story and has taken liberty with others.
He did in fact graduate at the bottom of his class at West Point and got this overnight promotion on the battlefield to Brigadier General. His record leading the Michigan Regiment under his command was one of brilliance.
It was also true that his marriage to Libby Bacon was one of the great love matches of the 19th century. Libby and George were married for 12 years until The Little Big Horn. What's not known to today's audience is that Libby survived until 1933. During that time she was the custodian of the Custer legend. By dint of her own iron will and force of personality her late husband became a hero because she would not allow him to be remembered in any other way.
I think Raoul Walsh and Warner Brothers missed a good opportunity to have the Custer career told in flashback. Olivia DeHavilland should have been made up the way Jeanette MacDonald was in Maytime, and be telling the story of her husband and her marriage from the point of view of nostalgia and remembrance. Even then the cracks in the Custer legend were appearing, but if done from Libby's point of view, they could be understood and forgiven.
Sydney Greenstreet gave a fine performance as General Winfield Scott. The only problem was that Scott had nothing whatsoever to do with Custer, he was retired and replaced by George B. McClellan in late 1861 while Custer was still at West Point. I'm not sure they ever met. But Greenstreet does a good characterization of the ponderous and powerful Winfield Scott. A nice Mexican War story should have been what they gave Greenstreet instead for his very accurate portrayal of old Fuss and Feathers.
The film though is carried by one of the great romantic teams of cinema, Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland. This was the last of eight films they did together. The last scene they ever did for the cameras was Libby's farewell to George as he leaves to join his regiment for what will prove to be his last campaign. Both their performances, Olivia's especially, was a high point in their careers at Warner Brothers. We know through history that Custer is riding to his doom, that and the fact that this was their last screen teaming give this scene such a special poignancy. If your eyes don't moisten you are made of marble.
As history They Died With Their Boots On leaves a lot to be desired. As western adventure that successfully mixes romance with the action, you can't beat this film at all.
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