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Fictionalized account of Gen. George Custer's life is still very
watchable and very entertaining. This is a movie from Hollywood's
Golden Age, when movies and movie stars were bigger than life. Warner
Bros. pulled out all the stops to bring "They Died With Their Boots On"
to the silver screen, and, although it garnered no AA noms, remains one
of Hollywood's most enduring and exciting classics.
It is Errol Flynn's picture and he is supported by many of Warner's most recognizable character actors. Love interest is supplied by Olivia DeHavilland and the heavy is played by Arthur Kennedy, and also in the cast are Gene Lockhart, Sidney Greenstreet and John Litel. Crazy Horse is played by Anthony Quinn.
Other reviewers have covered the plot but I just wanted to log in my rating and add a few notes. There's a very tender scene near the end of the picture between Flynn and DeHavilland which I thought was worth mentioning as it was unexpected and may be one of Flynn's best ever movie scenes; he was a swordsman first and then an actor. The picture is a little long but maybe fitting for an epic of this stature, because they don't make 'em like this anymore, folks.
Well, well, such grand black and white 2-hour long movies could only appear in the 30-50'. Now, it will be virtually impossible to imagine such a crazy medley of motley genres and often unimaginably incoherent episodes. This head-cutting array of pure comedy, farce, tragedy, love story, drama, war film, and who-knows-what-not is sometimes puzzling and dazzling. Errol Flynne is excellent here, he was made right for this movie, with his arrogant air, big grin, flashy style, wild morale, unhinged behavior and tear-jerking sentimentality. Generally, the film is Not the accurate history document, as sometimes it borders on the brink of purely slapstick comedy of The Marx Bothers. The Civil War here is at least sketchy and jotted, the whole post-war period is at best blurred and slurred. The heroic demise? Custer's Last Stand? Well, typical sped-up cavalry run, chaotic battle, unrealistic deaths and falling. The Indians are pure barbarians here, only great mighty Anthony Quinn is a great Must See. generally, strange and not tragic death scene. It goes, and yes, it goes. That is all. The conclusion? Nice. Not perfect
Very good movie. Not sure if the humor is part of the construction to defer from the historical inaccuracies but excellent none the less. DeHaviiland and Flynn got along very well I suspect from there on screen ease of relating and comic timing. The Negro maid is very good also and of course Greenstreet with the funny laugh. Th film has a contemporary feel with its offhanded, dis-organized script structure(for the time) and slapstick relief throughout. Why is it that Anthony Quinn doesn't seem to look much different even 20 years later. It is interesting that Flynn got away with his strange mix of accents which may have formed part of his attraction and point of difference from other actors at the time.
Errol Flynn (Custer) graduates from military school but only because
the North is desperate for men to join the army to fight the Southern
Confederates. His disciplinary record is the worst ever and were it not
for the sudden outbreak of war, he surely wouldn't have made it. We
follow Flynn's rise through the military ranks until he makes his final
stand at Little Big Horn.
The cast are all excellent with the exception of Charley Grapewin (California Joe) who plays one of those comedy drunken wagon drivers who are NEVER funny. He's meant to be an endearing character but he just irritates. There is also an English buffoon thrown in - another cast mis-calculation. But everyone else hits the mark, especially Flynn, Olivia De Havilland as his wife Libby, Arthur Kennedy as his adversary Ned Sharp and Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse.
There are many good scenes, eg, the confrontations between Flynn and Kennedy regarding the issue of selling alcohol to troops and rifles to the Indians, the final scene between Flynn and De Havilland as he prepares to go into battle for the last time, and the numerous horseback charges that Flynn leads. However, we could do without all the scenes with the stupid wagon driver.
The film has comedy (NOT from the annoying wagon driver), action, drama and good actors that keep you watching despite it's length. Flynn is very likable as Custer and develops his character through to a man of conscience who gives Arthur Kennedy a satisfying pay-back time. What a shame that De Havilland sold Flynn's conditions at the end instead of exposing the corruption that had taken place to the general public. That would have caused the required shame. The Indians are the good guys in this film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
If you want to learn about General George Armstrong Custer, then don't
watch "They Died With Their Boots On". If you want to be entertained,
the do watch the film.
As one source said, the film is "rife with historical inaccuracies", yet it was a very successful film, and notable because it was the last pairing of Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. And, as I watched this film I couldn't help thinking that had Gable not been available, Flynn would have been an admirable choice two years earlier to play Rhett Butler.
So what of the historical inaccuracies in the film? Colonel Philip Sheridan was never the superintendent of West Point. Custer did not command troops at the First Battle of Bull Run, and -- as a person who lived just a few miles from there -- where the heck did all those mountains comes from? Custer was not a decorated soldier. By the time Custer was ready to return to the service after the Civil War, General Winfield Scott was too ill to do so. Custer was probably one of the first to die...not one of the last. Custer was a teetotaler and didn't smoke. Custer never had a peace meeting with Crazy Horse. And lots more.
But, this is a fictionalized biography, and it is undoubtedly entertaining. The performances are top notch. The pace in this long film moves right along. And the climactic scene at Little Big Horn -- though probably nothing like it really was -- really does give one a sense of how it must feel to be attacked relentlessly by an overwhelming force.
I'd almost be tempted to give this film an "8", were it not for the inaccuracies. This is a good example of why put things in that are false, when -- in many instances -- the truth is just as interesting.
Just about every critic of this movie has commented on the fact that the story is hardly true in reality, and while that is 100% correct, no one should deny that it is brilliantly done, with great acting, fantastic action scenes, a good deal of drama, and the ending in quite extra-ordinary. The sad part is that this was the last time we would see Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland together...without any shadow of a doubt, you can tell they both knew this would be the last pairing of them...their farewell scene was brilliant, and moving. The cast with Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse, Arthur Kennedy, Sydney Greenstreet,Charley Grapewin, etc all made this a film to remember. The story of the Black Hills and what happened is inspiring. It i much more than a western movie, because of the brilliance of the Director and the two main stars in making it very special.
Errol Flynn's roguish charm really shines through in this entertaining
and exciting, but historically bankrupt biopic of the famous (and some
would say infamous) General Custer, that follows his career from his
first day at West Point, through the Civil War and out west to the
battle at The Little Big Horn, all the while butting heads with rival
Arthur Kennedy and romancing pretty Olivia de Havilland.
Some might say that Flynn, who delivers a great, flamboyant performance as the general, is basically playing himself playing Custer!
A lavish production (that should have been in Technicolor) well directed by Raoul Walsh, They Died With Their Boots On features some truly well-staged battle sequences. Also, it's a real treat to see Anthony Quinn playing Crazy Horse.
The previous year, Flynn played Jeb Stuart opposite Ronald Reagan's George Custer in Santa Fe Trail (also with de Havilland), another action-packed Warner Brothers production designed to make you fail history class!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although this movie is inaccurate overall, there are some items that
may be true. Certainly, he was a wild character in his youth, having
played practical jokes on his fellow cadets at West Point, almost
expelled several times, graduating last in his class (of 34), and often
reckless in his leadership during the Civil War.
But history may have made him a scape goat of the Indian Wars. Certainly, he did his share of cruel things, but how much was he under orders? Also, there is evidence that he testified before Congress (at great risk to his commission and command) that he argued about the fairness of breaking treaties with the Indians and that if he was an Indian he would also fight rather than live on a reservation!
As a character said in the play 1776 when asked what will be said about the British about losing the Revolutionary War, the character states "history will do what it always does...it will lie." Who knows how bad a man Custer was. Certainly he wasn't the sympathetic character as portrayed by Errol Flynn and later by Ronald Reagan. But I also doubt he was completely evil as he is later portrayed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As a film unto itself, "They Died With Their Boots On" rolls right
along in the mainstream of Errol Flynn's action movies for Warner
Brothers. It's effectively directed, handsomely mounted, and
attractively shot, although it really would have benefited from
glorious Technicolor. They could have called in Natalie Kalmus who
would have been happy to see her name in the credits once again for
having done nothing but becoming the widow of Mr. Kalmus.
Flynn is his reckless self. He was only 30-ish when this was shot but in some scenes the effects of self indulgence were already becoming apparent. It hardly interfered with his handsomeness or the sense a viewer has that Flynn was not taking himself or his career too seriously, even in the serious scenes.
Olivia DeHavilland is beautiful and a little fragile but her acting stops short of being cloying. She and Flynn evidently got on well together. Curiously, the real Libby Bacon somewhat resembled DeHavilland in her early photographs. But she didn't age as well as some of the rest of us and became plumply matronly, raising the question of whether Custer, out of desperation, committed suicide by Indian.
No need to go through the story again, I don't suppose. Custer distinguishes himself in the Civil War, finds himself out West, and is killed along with 200 or so of his troopers atop Custer Ridge at the Little Bighorn River. Mannasas in Virginia apparently was fought among California's tawny hills under the blazing sun, just as the Battle of the Little Big Horn was. A pleasant environment. Max Steiner's score is based on "Garry Owen" except for a touching romantic theme used with Flynn and De Havilland.
Actually there were three simultaneous and independent battles of the Little Bighorn. One of them, Major Reno's, took place partly IN the Little Bighorn River. One of the reasons Reno never reached Custer in time is that his horses were completely fagged out. In movies like this, horses are always treated like machines, like cars that never run out of gas.
As for the Indians, the ones attacked by Custer are described as coming from all kinds of tribes but they were really from one group, the Sioux, who were divided into several nomadic, territorial bands -- the Minneconju, the Oglala, the Hunkpapa. They lived together for some months in larger settlements, then split up into small bands of 50 or so for the rest of the year. There were no Blackfeet present. There were only seven Cheyenne involved in the battle. One was named Two Moons. I lived with the Cheyenne at Lame Deer and Two Moons' descendants are still quietly proud of his participation.
And as far as that goes, the Visitor's Center at Custer Battlefield National Monument swarms with Indians. They appear not to view Custer as a hero. In 1988, on the anniversary, they installed a small, angry wrought-iron plaque commemorating the many Indians killed during the fight, placing it at the foot of the phallic monument to Custer's men -- under the eyes of armed National Park Service personnel. Nobody hears much about Indian resentment because they tend to be restrained and have no particular talent for media-grabbing practices, but the wounds still run a little deep.
Anyway, forgetting the historical realities and looking only at the fictional illusory ones, what you're left with is a rousing film about a guy who was a bit foolish in his youth but who grew up to be a Mensch.
Quite possibly the most historically inaccurate film ever made (only equalled by Flynn's 'Charge of the Light Brigade' or 'Objective Burma',which was banned in Britain for many years),but a great vehicle for Flynn's style of heroic character & still an entertaining matinée on a wet afternoon . When the film was made Custer was still an all American hero in the eyes of the public rather than the poor officer & seriously flawed character he undoubtedly was in reality,therefore the film is very much of it's time,literally black & white between good guys & bad. Great Stunt when 'Custer's' horse performs an equine emergency stop! 6 out of 10.
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