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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Hollywood Sacrifices Truth For Propaganda

Author: atlasmb from United States
24 March 2014

They Died with Their Boots On was released soon after the U.S. entered WWII when patriotism was at a fever pitch. Any audience watching the film at that time would, no doubt, have cheered any character who went into battle with the U.S. flag. And this film certainly knows how to raise the American banner over all the highest principles--truth, honor, and bravery.

But it is easy now, from our vantage point, to delve deeper into the "truths" of this film. Despite the rousing performances of some very talented actors, TDWTBO is a film that diverges so greatly--and so purposefully--from truth that is must be decried as little more than propaganda.

We often forgive diversions from historical facts when we view a film. But a film must remain true to the spirit of the truth. In this film, I thought the spirit of the truth was honored its early scenes, through the end of the Civil War. After that, the facts were so distorted and contradicted that there is little resemblance to reality. In fact, Custer's role is elevated to a heroic level despite the fact that the real Custer was a prime agent in some of the worst actions of the Black Hills conflicts.

If one reads about Custer's campaigns against the Indians and the happenings in the latter years of his life, he does not emerge so nobly. TDWTBO sacrifices the honor of others to glorify Custer, which is too bad. The real story would have been just as compelling--just not as faithful to the Hollywood mythology of the treacherous savage vs. the dashing cowboy/pioneer.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

A Ride To Hell . . . Or Glory?

Author: zardoz-13 from United States
7 March 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Warner Brothers tampered considerably with American history in "Big Trail" director Raoul Walsh's first-rate western "They Died with Their Boots On," a somewhat inaccurate but wholly exhilarating biography of cavalry officer George Armstrong Custer. The film chronicles Custer from the moment that he arrives at West Point Academy until the Indians massacre him at the Little Big Horn. This is one of Errol Flynn's signature roles and one of Raoul Walsh's greatest epics. Walsh and Flynn teamed in quite often afterward, and "They Died with Their Boots On" reunited Olivia de Havilland as Flynn's romantic interest for the last time. They appeared as a couple in seven previous films. This 140-minute, black & white oater is nothing short of brilliant with dynamic action sequences, humorous romantic scenes, and stern dramatic confrontations between our hero and his adversaries. One of the notorious errors involves Colonel Philip Sheridan who is shown as the commandant at West Point before the Civil War. Indeed, Sheridan was a lieutenant at this point. In fact, the commandant was Robert E. Lee as the earlier Flynn film "Santa Fe Trail" showed. Another historical lapse concerns Lieutenant General Whitfield Scott; Scott was not the commander of Union troops throughout the Civil War. Warner Brothers presented Custer as a drinker (probably because Flynn had a reputation for drinking), but in real life Custer neither drank nor smoked. Nevertheless, these as well as other historical goofs do not detract from a truly splendid film.

"They Died with Their Boots On" opens with Custer riding into West Point Military Academy arrayed in a fancy dress uniform with an African-American carrying his luggage and tending his dogs. After the sergeant of the guard realizes that he has turned out a honor guard for a future plebe instead of a high-ranking foreign general, the sergeant turns Custer over to a ranking cadet Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy of "City for Conquest") to take charge of him. Sharp plays a practical job on Custer by installing him in the quarters of Major Romulus Taipe (Stanley Ridges of "Task Force") who promptly runs Custer out. Naturally, the volatile Custer attacks Sharp in a public brawl. General Phil Sheridan (John Litel of "The Sons of Katie Elder") is prepared to dismiss Custer from West Point for conduct unbecoming. As it turns out, Sheridan cannot expel Custer because Custer has not enrolled. Once he enrolls, Custer establishes a mediocre academic reputation with alacrity to fight and accumulate demerits galore. When the American Civil War erupts, West Point graduates cadets who have not completed their education and rushes them into combat. One of the last cadets hustled off to war is Custer. Avid as he is to get into the fight, Custer encounters his future wife, Elizabeth 'Libby' Bacon (Olivia de Havilland of "Santa Fe Trail"), and they pledge themselves to each other, despite Mr. Bacon (Gene Lockhart of "Carousel") who detests the sight of Custer. It seems that Bacon ran across Custer at a saloon and insulted one of Custer's friends and our hero reprimanded Bacon.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, Custer desperately seeks a transfer to a regiment, but Major Taipe has him cooling his heels. Custer befriends rotund Lieutenant General Winfield Scott (Sidney Greenstreet of "The Maltese Falcon") and they share an appetite for creamed Bermuda onions that becomes one of Custer's characteristics. Not only does Scott see to it that Taipe assigns Custer to the Second Cavalry, but also Custer appropriates Taipe's horse to get to his command. During the Battle of Bull Run, 21 July 1861, Custer disobeys orders from none other than Sharp, strikes his superior officer and holds a bridge so the infantry can cross it. Wounded in the shoulder and sent to the hospital, Custer receives a medal rather than a court-martial. When Confederate General Jeb Stuart threatens the Union Army at the Battle of Gettysburg, in Pennsylvania, Scott is shocked by the chance that the South may triumph. When a brigadier general cannot be found, Scott goads Taipe into promoting the first available officer. A mistake is made and Custer is promoted. Incredulous at first, Custer embraces the moment and cracks Stuart's advance. After the war, Custer idles down and starts boozing it up with the boys at the local saloons. Sharp shows up as a crooked railroad promoter and with his father they try to enlist Custer to serve as the president of their railway so that they can obtain funds. Eventually, Libby intercedes on his behalf with General Sheridan, who was in command of the army, and gets him back on active duty as the commander of the 7th Cavalry. When he takes command, Custer finds the 7th cavalry a drunken lot and is not surprised that Sharp commands the liquor at the fort. Meanwhile, Custer has his first run in with Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn of "The Guns of Navarone") and takes him into custody. Of course, Crazy Horse escapes, becomes Custer's adversary, and they fight.

Once Custer has quelled Crazy Horse and the Indians, Sharp with Taipe as a government agent conspire to destroy a peace treaty with the Sioux and other Indian nations. They also see to it that Custer is brought up on charges for striking Taipe in a saloon brawl. On his way to Washington, Custer discovers the perfidy of Sharp and Taipe who have drummed up a gold strike in the sacred Black Hills. Settlers rampage in and the Indians hit the warpath. Custer sacrifices himself and his 600 men at the Little Big Horn in a slam-bang showdown against 6000 redskins. "Stagecoach" lenser Bert Glennon captures both the grit and the glory. The long shot of the 7th Cavalry leaving the fort at dawn is spectacular. As an added premonition of Custer's imminent demise, Libby faints after he leaves their quarters for the Little Big Horn. "They Died with Their Boots On" benefits from a top-notch Max Steiner score that incorporates the regimental tune "Gary Owen."

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Hooray for the brash braggart I say!

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
4 March 2008

Very much a two part film about the army life of General George Armstrong Custer, They Died With Their Boots On is not the definitive accurate biopic many were hoping to see. What it is is a lavishly entertaining film based on a very famous man in American history. Who better than Errol Flynn to carry the film with a nudge here, or a wink there? The first part of the film plays out as a comedy, and it paints Custer as a dandy braggart who literally bluffs his way thru the service. This of course is done with a romantic glint in his other eye as he also takes time out to woo the beauty that is Elizabeth Bacon. After a series of contrived confrontations, Custer becomes a Civil War hero and this sets in motion the wheels that lead to that fateful day at Little Big Horn in 1876.

Director Raoul Walsh crafts a very interesting character study of Custer, one that makes for an intriguing watch because the director isn't taking sides. There's folly and bravery, the makers calling it probably as fair as they hoped to get away with. The battle sequences are excellently constructed, while the supporting actors are making sure their characters are fully fleshing out this take on Custer's world. Errol Flynn is wonderful here, he manages to fuse the braggart side of the character with the daring handsome heroism act that was his forte; with just the right amount pathos for each chapter of the Custer story. Olivia de Havilland {Elizabeth Bacon} of course is a given with the on screen chemistry with Flynn. This would be their last pairing and it gets added impetus with a poignant final scene between the two characters. This a cracking, gun toting and potent couple of hours entertainment, if you want a history lesson on Custer then you should go elsewhere, but get in the queue if you want to see Errol Flynn on form and a splendid yarny like take on the Custer legend. 8/10

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

Custers Greatest Victory

Author: nelliebell-1 from United States
1 February 2005

I first viewed "They Died With There Boots On",about 1970 and though it has been many years since,this film and its impression remain.the cast was good to excellent and the lead man was truly heroic.When I first saw this film I knew the wisest as well as the only real position to have was to enjoy this film as a rousing bit of entertainment and then some.I felt then as I even feel now that the Silver Screen does not as such provide for a true depiction of much of anything let alone The Life of George Armstrong Custer,however the Director Raoul Walsh was to contribute to the real value represented in this film when I watched a semi-documentary with other great directors like Vincent Mennelli wherein these central figures talked about there accomplishments with valuable comments providing a glimpse into the Hollywood mind set.This is what I considered something of interest and where all of this became terribly interesting and very enjoyable.Yet, there have been so much made of all the problems with the silver screen and its story telling ability that some of the enjoyment has been lost and perhaps you would find that to be true here as well.Custer ranked 34 in a graduating class of...34.Much has been made of Custer's final class ranking,but of the 68 cadets who entered the Military Academy with him in 1857,half of them had already flunked out or quit by graduation day,June 24,1861.It is suggested in the movie as the various instructors are determining if a soldier is fit for command and then they come upon the name of George Armstrong Custer and there is to be certain an exchange between the two sides and here is where the Sargeant on Duty says in almost a low tone even to suggest as if that came out by accident"His squadron would follow him to hell,"Your at attention Sargeant,reprimands Tape.If Iam not mistaken when Flynn shows up at a initial battlefield it acknowledged that Custer did not see action right away and indeed he was doing work as a reliable attaché to not only Sheridan,but Hancocks forces as well only to end up for a time with the Army of The Potomac under General George McClellan.There is some truth to the audacity attributed to Custers battlefield heroics as was illustrated when in a counterattack ,"young Custer spurred his horse to the lead and boldly plunged in among the stunned Confederates.As a lone Union Soldier surrounded by rebels,Custers audacity shone through.He accepted the surrender of several enemy soldiers,including a rebel captain.Yet most outstanding was that in this action he personally captured the very first Confederate battle flag taken by the Army of the Potomac.This notable act of courage marked him as an officer of great battlefield promise."Robert L.Bateman-Armchair General.There is a problem here and that is the telling of the story and the truth as to George Armstrong Custer,the story is good Hollywood entertainment perhaps even great entertainment but for whatever reasons all that could be told was changed for entertainment purposes.Though this maybe jumping the gun it might be well to know that Tom Custer was to lose his life at the "Little Big Horn" only a few feet from where George Custer was to die as well.They were brothers and Tom Custer to this very day holds a honorable distinction of being amongst a very small group perhaps only 3 others to have been awarded the Medal of Honor twice in his military career.The list of engagements that the motion picture shows indicate that Custers indeed was an active young officer.He was not with Union forces at either Chancellorsville or for that matter Fredericksburg however he was with them at the Battle of Antietam and at that point in time he was actually promoted to Captain by General McClellan but that was not to last as McClellan was soon to be replaced due to the historical fact that The Army of The Potomac had the means,and the information(discovered wrapped around some cigars was General Lee's plans to split his forces)and yet he failed to act for some 17 hours.It can be speculated that the war could of been over then and there had that occurred but when McClellan failed to act President Lincoln replaced him permanently and the promotion was lost as a result. Custers greatest victory may of in fact come at Gettysburg,Pa.His forces which occupied an area called cemetery ridge at the field at Gettysburg in the summer of 1863 were able to defeat a Jeb Stuart Led Cavalry of some 6,000 rebels with but a force of 2,300.I Think the heroics at Gettysburg by Custer are worth some discussion.There is speculation had in the movie that Custers appointment was a blunder, well you better guess again because not only did Custer have men in his corner but he established a petition to present to the Governor of the State of Michigan which by the way was relatively new to the Union Cause and where preparing to form Cavalry regiments.Though Custer was severely admonished for that kind of shenanigan when he showed up in all that Gold Braid it was not by accident as you would be led to believe.The truth be told Custers defense at Gettysburg prohibited Jeb Stuart from having lunch at the Unions rear stores and vitally protected that flank.This action by the way occurred and it was timed to coincide with Picketts Charge so to make for the greatest likelihood of success.It was a critical victory and Custer was at his bravest and best.His men did follow him to hell and lived to tell about it.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:


Author: morphytal from Paris, France
15 December 2004

After working on 7 movies with director Mickael Curtiz (The Adventures of Robin Hood are their best achievement), Errol Flynn got tired of his dictatorial direction and decided to work with the great Raoul Walsh. This reunion is a happy thing for cinematography. THE DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON is their first and best film together. Raoul Walsh portrays the General George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) from his debuts at West Point, to the Civil War and finally at the battle of Little Big Horn. It's true the film shows a too heroic portrait of Custer, but that's not important. What is important, is the fact that we are transported with the passion and glory carried by the characters. Who can forget California Joe, the great "Queen's Own Buttler" with his song "Garryowen", the touching Mrs Custer (Olivia de Havilland), the diabolic Sharp well played by Arthur Kennedy ?

An eternal blow remains on this epic and tragic freso.

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2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:

One of the best films ever made that was meant to be based on true life but was mostly made up

Author: Blondeatheart56
15 October 2003

"They Died With Their Boots on" was an interesting film. It keeps the viewer's attention, even though it was made in the 1940's. Originally, it was filmed in glorious black and white, but has since been made into color. The color version of the film takes away from the originality of it. This reviewer would much rather watch it in black and white than in color.

Although the film was an enjoyment to watch, it did not accurately show the events that occurred in history involving General Custer. The film drastically changed many things including Custer himself. He was portrayed as a kind, loving man who had enough respect for the Sioux Indians to keep his promise that the Black Hills were theirs only. In reality, Custer could have been called a petty tyrant. He was mean even to his own men and he had little, maybe even no respect for the Indians.

Overall, the film was not so horrible that the viewer would not want to watch it again, but not good enough to buy for your home video library.

"They Died With Their Boots on" is about the life of General George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) from his years at West Point to his death. Although the film does have true elements from his life in it, a lot was made up just for the film. If someone wanted to gain a large amount of knowledge about Custer and his life, I would not recommend watching this film to make that happen.

Errol Flynn plays Custer. This reviewer had never heard of him before watching "They Died With Their Boots on" but has come to think of him as a very talented actor for his time. He does an excellent job of playing Custer as the sweet, romantic type, not only that, he makes the viewer really believe that Custer was a good and honest man. One thing that would make those who know the true story of George A. Custer happy is that in the film Custer does have enormous need to be in battle and obtain glory, two things that really make Custer's personality.

Olivia DeHavilland plays Libbie, Custer's wife. In the film Major General Phil Sheridan (John Litel) is said to be Libbie's uncle (which is why she is at West Point at the time that her and Custer meet) when in reality they aren't related. DeHavilland isn't a horrible actress. There are a few times in the film where her part doesn't come across as very believable, but she makes up for those times with parts where you can really feel the love between her and Custer. Sometimes this reviewer just wanted to yell at her through the TV., although she is a better actress than some of the other actors/actresses from back in the day.

Anthony Quinn plays Crazy Horse, leader of the Sioux Indians. If there was an award given for best actor with the smallest amount of lines, Quinn would get it. He rarely ever had to talk but he constantly had to look serious. Seriousness and anger were about his only two emotions in the film and he showed them magnificently.

There's a couple supporting actors/actresses that really catch your eye, namely, Hattie McDaniel who plays Callie (Libbie's maid) and Charley Grapewin who plays California Joe.

Although California Joe (Charley Grapewin) is a completely made up character, this reviewer wouldn't take him out of the film. He is extremely entertaining mainly because of his muffled form of speech. He will definitely make the viewer laugh. Callie (Hattie McDaniel) was the best character in the entire film. Her part was very little but the viewer will certainly remember her when the film is over. She was the biggest source of entertainment in the whole film.

"They Died With Their Boots on" was meant to be about the life of General George Armstrong Custer. Well, it is with a bunch of facts changed and quite a bit of things added in here and there. This film was wonderful, but would have been so much better if it wasn't 75% made up. In this reviewer's mind this film is more for entertainment purposes than to learn anything from.

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3 out of 5 people found the following review useful:

"Maybe you were right about glory"

Author: Steffi_P from Ruritania
30 October 2010

Hollywood has always had a rather casual relationship with historical accuracy. It's not that the world's greatest movie-making factory is necessarily ignorant or disrespectful, it's just that history as it really happened doesn't contain many ideal stories. To make a good picture, you have to jiggle things a bit. This biopic of George Armstrong Custer alters, tidies up or outright fabricates many aspects of the general's life and character, but it does make a damn fine yarn.

Perhaps it's best not to think of They Died with Their Boots On as Hollywood doing the Custer story. Think of it in terms of the star system, and the seeking out of the next vehicle for swashbuckling icon Errol Flynn. Despite his apparent inability to master an American accent, Flynn had played in quite a few Westerns in the previous two years, though with his clean cut features was better suited to playing soldiers than cowboys. Meanwhile at Fox Tyrone Power was filling a Flynn-shaped hole in various pirate pictures, an area which Flynn could probably not have returned to because of his poor health by this point. Given all that, a cavalry Western was ideal. What's more, Flynn was maturing as an actor, and a part with more gravitas in a picture with greater scope now seemed appropriate.

While Flynn never really proved himself able to handle deep drama, he has certain things that work for him here. First is a more advanced knack for comedy than the occasional delivery of a one-liner in his previous pictures. A great example is when he throws the lamp onto the fire, then sits back casually with arms folded as chaos erupts around him, making sarcastic little calls to raise the alarm. Second is his obvious tenderness towards Olivia de Havilland, and his almost boyish keenness in their first few meetings. Incidentally their very sincere romance here is much more satisfying than the equivalent in any of his earlier pictures, in which he would all but abduct her. De Havilland herself also responds well. She was never exceptional in any of the earlier swashbucklers, simply because they never demanded that much of her. Flynn's most moving display in the picture, and probably in his career to date, is his return to drink in the final bar scene with Arthur Kennedy, prefiguring his bitter alcoholic act in The Sun Also Shines (1957) which many (me included) consider his greatest role.

After a long run of pictures with director Michael Curtiz, They Died with their Boots On is Flynn's first pairing with Raoul Walsh. Like Curtiz, Walsh is very good at action pictures, but he also had a very actor-centred approach, always giving people and faces more prominence than sets and props, and I think this brings out the best in Flynn. Walsh also likes to make the audience feel involved, an obvious example being the captain at West Point addressing his tirade at the camera in the opening scene. A less obvious one is the camera dollying in on de Havilland as Flynn runs towards her from screen-right in their first meeting, which makes us feel we are rushing towards her too. Walsh's finest touch here however is his literally darkening the picture as the story becomes more sombre. Clear skies become overcast, interiors become cramped and shadowy. Walsh even slows down the pacing of the later scenes, especially Flynn's poignant farewell to de Havilland, or the aforementioned bar scene with Kennedy.

And this leads me onto what is the very best thing about They Died with their Boots On. In the end the real and inescapable fact of Custer's death in battle forces the angle that makes this a very different Flynn flick. You can't tell Custer's story without having him die at Little Big Horn, any more than you could finish a movie about the Titanic with an ice cream in Central Park. As a result, this has to be a somewhat tragic picture, and luckily writers Wally Kline and Aeneas MacKenzie have pulled this off exceptionally well, as presented perfectly by Walsh and his cast. They Died with their Boots On begins as a comedy, and there is nothing in the first hour that implies it will be anything other than comedic, except our knowledge of how it has to end. As Custer's fate approaches, the humour tails off, and the emotional impact is heightened by the fact that, up til now, we've been laughing. The result is an incredibly powerful piece of storytelling. Despite its cavalier disregard for historical accuracy, it is the obligation to stick to one historical truth that lifts They Died with their Boots On above other Western adventures of its era.

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5 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

Exceptionally well-made crap--and the sort of film that makes history teachers insane!!

Author: planktonrules from Bradenton, Florida
1 September 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

As I am a history teacher, I hated this film purely from a historical point of view, as the writers had complete disregard for the facts and created a beautiful and fun film that is pure hogwash. The film purports to be the story of George Armstrong Custer from his days at Westpoint to his death at Little Big Horn in 1876. But, aside from a few points here and there, the life portrayed by Errol Flynn on the screen bears little resemblance to Custer's. While I could write for days about all the historical problems with the film, I'll just mention a few. First, while Custer was at the First Battle of Bull Run, he was NOT in charge of a unit nor did he receive a medal for bravery. Even more unforgivable is the implication that the Union won the battle (mostly due to Custer), as the Confederates routed the superior forces of the North. Plus, you see the battle being fought around mountains, but I lived near Manassas and there are no mountains--just farmland. Second, the entire focus of the last portion of the film is on how others conspired and were actually responsible for the massacre of Custer and his men at Little Big Horn. According to Warner Brothers, he was innocent of all blame and he knew he'd die but sacrificed his life to save infantry troops stationed miles away not under his command. Well, most historians feel that Custer was the one responsible for having his command destroyed since he was an amazingly reckless and overconfident man--ignoring reports that they would be greatly outnumbered if they continued. My favorite, though least important mistake is that involving Winfield Scott. While he was in command of the Union army just for a few months at the beginning of the war due to his age, the film makes it seem like he remained in this position for the entire war. Even this is forgivable. BUT, when after the war Scott intercedes to get Custer command of the 7th Cavalry, this is truly amazing--as he'd already been dead for several years!!! Apparently, Scott was a zombie or something!

Now as for the film apart from the lousy history, the music, direction and acting are all exactly what you'd expect from a top Warner Brothers film of the era--it is near-perfection. But, even with lovely performances and all, it just can't overcome both the historical inaccuracies and unforgivably sappy treatment of Custer--making him seem almost like a saint at times, when in reality he was an idiot whose luck had finally run out and he got his comeuppance!

By the way, since Warners played so fast and loose with history, why didn't they just have Custer LIVE at the end of the film and ride off in the sunset with DeHavilland?! Also, while I HATE films where Native American parts are played by obviously non-Indian actors, Anthony Quinn looked amazingly convincing as Red Cloud. The man could practically play anything--too bad he never played a woman!

For more inaccuracies and background on the REAL Custer, try reading .

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Is this an anti-army movie?

Author: richard-1787 ( from United States
8 July 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is a strange movie, when you keep in mind that it was made as we were gearing up to go to war - again.

It glorifies a rebel who won glory by constantly flying in the face of army orders, someone who won battles because he refused to follow orders, and knew better than the top brass.

It presents the Battle of the Little Big Horn as the result of greed and corruption by army suppliers and former army top brass.

Others will tell you that this movie has little basis in historical fact. That's true. Who cares? This was not made as a BBC documentary.

But what was this movie trying to say in 1941, as the government poured millions of dollars into building up our army? Was this movie an indictment of army failure?

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Will make you want to know more about an American original

Author: evening1 from United States
2 May 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Bowdlerized but still interesting biography of George Armstrong Custer, from his days as a misbehaving West Point cadet to his hopeless demise in the Battle of the Big Horn.

Errol Flynn creates a compelling portrait of a man who was as fearless in social interactions as he was in battle. Olivia de Havilland is the prim and proper wife, Elizabeth, who was raised as a gentlewoman but has no trouble following her bored and alcoholic husband out West so he can have something to do after serving valiantly in the Civil War. I also liked Hattie McDaniel as a slave at Libby's estate and Charly Grapewine as California Joe, the civilian sidekick Custer took on who advised on how to think like an Indian.

This film does an excellent job of recreating battles as it shows Custer's rise as a hero in the War Between the States. But the shockingly unequal showdown, during Custer's Last Stand, is horrifying to watch. Custer and every last one of his men were killed as 6,000 Indians battled only 600 white soldiers.

I have seen few more harrowing battle scenes on film.

The portrait of Custer that is created here is certainly prettified for a 1941 audience. A glance at Wikipedia will remind the viewer of all kinds of facts that will give this unique historical figure more depth. But the movie will definitely keep you riveted.

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