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It's this kind of movie that can give a reviewer a split opinion. On one
hand, it's a pretty good movie when it comes to entertainment, but on the
other hand the movie has taken tremendous liberties with the details of
Custer's life and death.
"They Died with Their Boots On" tells the story of George Armstrong Custer's life as a soldier. Custer starts out at West Point, where he graduates at the bottom of his class. During his time there, Custer meets Libby, his future wife. Though one of his superiors (Major General Taipe) sees Custer as unfit for duty, he is made a general anyway, due in part to the shortage of trained military men during the Civil War.
After his time as a general in that war is over, he marries Libby. Custer becomes restless in civilian life, even to the point of drinking at times. Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, who likes Custer, decides to give him a new job in the 7th Cavalry, a frontier unit assigned to protect settlers moving out west.
It is while he is out west that he meets the Sioux Indian chief Crazy Horse, and makes a promise to him that the Black Hills will be kept free of settlers. Crazy Horse agrees, on the condition that if any settlers enter the area, all the tribes of the region will declare war on the white men. Thanks to a fake gold rush scheme hatched by the now-retired Taipe, settlers flood the area, and Custer rides out to try to weaken the Indians enough that an unsuspecting general will not be destroyed. Thus, Custer and his men die "with their boots on."
Overall, the acting and directing seemed up to the task of creating both likable characters and a sense of Custer's valor, though the villains (such as Taipe) seem like cardboard cutouts, with no believable motivation. Custer (Errol Flynn) seems the archetypical hero, and Libby (Olvia de Havilland) the ideal, devoted wife.
The cinematography appears to be good, although it is impossible to judge completely because the film was shown in fullscreen, as opposed to its original widescreen format. What is visible is well framed, and many shots of the landscapes of the west appear at once desolate and full of life.
Weaker is the screenplay, which offers little dynamism to its characters, which are either wholly good or wholly evil. The only characters given any sort of depth are Custer and a supporting character named California Joe, who transforms from a crusty vagrant into a decent soldier in Custer's regiment.
The facts as presented in the film are not entirely accurate, and in some cases present events in exactly the opposite way as they occurred. For example, the film shows Crazy Horse's group of Indians rounding the top of a hill first, encircling and eventually killing Custer's entire group. In reality, Custer made the first move and attacked an Indian camp along the Little Big Horn River (called by the Indians the Greasygrass River, yet another inaccuracy), only to be slaughtered thanks to the Indians' superior numbers.
The movie's biggest departures from reality concern Custer's military history. As a general in the Civil War, Custer was known for his extreme bravery, even to the point of recklessness. The movie presents this quality as an admirable attribute, owing to Custer's determination. At times Custer refused to bury his dead soldiers, letting them lie where they fell. The movie carefully omits this part in order to paint a rosier picture of General Custer.
As pure entertainment, "They Died with Their Boots On" works well enough, but when it comes to being an accurate reflection of the events leading to Custer's Last Stand, it is far from successful. This movie would be recommended to those in the mood to be entertained, not those seeking historical facts about George Custer's life.
`They Died With Their Boots On' is a Western Historic Epic starring
Errol Flyon as General George Armstrong Custer. He is portrayed as an
arrogant, headstrong war-driven man who seeks the thrill of the open
The movie starts with Custer marching in boldly as a cadet at West Point in a lavish uniform especially tailored for him. Custer himself stands out in the crowd and quickly identifies himself as the smart mouth troublemaker coming up last in his class. It never seems to phase him that his actions always have consequences. Somehow he manages to graduate and is recruited into the military. Just as all the other randomness in the movie such as Custer riding off with the General's horse out of nowhere, he is accidentally promoted as General. After being appointed General he leads regiments of troops to their deaths after disobeying orders. He turns out to be victorious and is considered a hero among the people. Somehow along the way he manages to bump into a young woman, Beth 'Libby' Bacon Custer (Olivia DeHavilland), who turns out to be his superior's daughter. After meeting her in boot camp, he comes across her again. They get married and she stands strongly beside him no matter what his decisions. He ends up getting transferred to the West into a fort and is put in charge of the 7th Calvary. After much controversy in the fort, he captures the Native American leader Crazy Horse and comes into a treaty with him. Custer is then backstabbed and is lead to defend innocent settlers against his own will and eventually meeting his doom.
The layout of the movie was well done. I was very impressed especially since the time the movie was filmed was in 1942. In a historical aspect Custer was probably was not that much different then the man Errol Flyon plays in the movie. There are some major conflicts in the storyline. Custer would have never met with Crazy Horse much less any Native American unless it was to kill one. Custer defending the Native Americans? I'm pretty sure he would have been lynched for sure if that were the case in real life. There are a lot of scenes that were just out of left field, and the story would jump forward all of a sudden, sometimes even years at a time. I was pleased that they incorporated some comedy in the movie to keep me from going to sleep. Also, I was impressed with the sets and locations but disappointed that they did not leave the movie in black and white to enhance the classic feel of an old western. The drama between Custer and Crazy Horse was a little too exaggerated but overall I think they portrayed Custer as too heroic. It gave a sense that disobedience is and was expectable.
The acting was excellent, nothing was too dramatic and nothing was too phony. Errol Flyon did a good job of executing the role of General Custer as a heroic headstrong man. Olivia DeHavilland as Libby, Sidney Greenstreet as General Winfield Scott, Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse, Arthur Kennedy as Edward Sharp, Charley Grapewin as California Joe all do a superb job of supporting roles. I commend them for that.
I give this movie a 7 out of 10 stars. It was entertaining enough to watch, the acting was good, and it flowed pretty well for an older movie. The special effects were effective enough to get the job done. I was impressed, but I would not watch this to write a paper about Custer.
Being a fan of Errol's films, I found this picture disappointing. The story
of Custard's rise during the Civil war is interesting but seemed a little
too rushed in places. The character seemed to develop at an inconsistent
rate. I blame the screenplay, it didn't work as well as it
The performances are stunning, the Flynn/Havilland relationship was getting better and better and it showed on screen, they loved each others company. The supporting cast were also terrific, you couldn't fault them.
The direction was pretty amazing, but I wish Curtiz was doing it because I'm a fan of his work with the two leading thespians. Nevertheless, the director on this film did a marvellous job.
The screenplay didn't work as well, but it provided plenty of meat for Errol and the cast. Despite the historical inaccuracies, the film should be viewed!
Very good despite a disappointing screenplay.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
BEING Warner Brothers' second historical drama featuring Civil War and
Battle of the Little Big Horn, General George Armstrong Custer, THEY
DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON (Warner Brothers, 1941) was the far more
accurate of the two; especially when contrasted with SANTA FE TRAIL
(Warner Brothers, 1940), which really didn't set the bar very high.
ALTHOUGH both pictures were starring vehicles for Errol Flynn, there was a change in the casting the part of General Custer. Whereas it was "Dutch", himself, Ronald Reagan portraying the flamboyant, egomaniacal Cavalryman in the earlier picture, with Mr. Flynn playing Virginian and later Confederate Hero General, J.E.B. (or Jeb) Stuart; Errol took on the Custer part for THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON.
ONCE again, the Warner Brothers' propensity for using a large number of reliable character actors from the "Warner's Repertory Company" are employed in giving the film a sort of authenticity, and all is really happening right before our very own eyes. Major roles are taken by some better known actors and actresses, such as: Elizabeth Bacon/Mrs. Custer (co-star Olivia de Havilland), Ned Sharpe (Arthur Kennedy), Samuel Bacon (Gene Lockhart), Chief Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn), "Californy" (Charlie Grapwin), Major Taipe (Stanley Ridges), General Phillip Sheridan (John Litel), Callie (the Bacon's Maid, Hattie McDaniel).
THE rest of the cast is just chock full of uncredited, though skilled players such as: Joe Sawyer, Eleanor Parker, Minor Watson, Tod Andrews, Irving Bacon, Roy Barcroft, Lane Chandler, Spencer Charters, Frank Ferguson, Francis Ford, William Forrest, George Eldridge, Russell Hicks, William Hopper, Hoppity Hooper, Eddie Keane, Fred Kelsey, Sam McDaniel, Patrick McVey, Frank Orth, Eddie Parker, Addison Richards, Ray Teal, Jim Thorpe (All-American, himself), Minerva Urecal, Dick Wessel, Gig Young and many, many more.
THE film moves very quickly, particularly in the early goings; then sort of slows down out of necessity as the story moves along to the Post Civil War years, the assignment of Custer as a Colonel in the 7th Cavalry and the ultimate destiny at the Little Big Horn, in Montana. Under the guidance of Director, Griffith Veteran, Raoul Walsh, the film hits a greatly varied array of emotions; from the very serious, exciting battle scenes and convincing historical scenes; looking as if they were Matthew Brady Civil War Photos. As with most any of Mr. Walsh's films, he punctuates and expedites the end of many a scene with a little humor; but not going overboard and thus risking the chance of turning the film into a comedy (farce, actually).
AS previously mentioned, this is much more factual than its predecessor, SANTA FE TRAIL (last time we'll mention it, honest Schultz, Scout's Honor!). However, that is not to say that it wasn't without a few little bits of "Artistic and Literary License; as indeed, just about any Biopic will have. It would be impossible to make any similar type of film if indeed every fact and incident were to be tried to be included in the screenplay. Perhaps the most erroneous inclusion as well as the most obvious invocation of Literary License is that business about Custer's being accidentally promoted to the rank of Brigadier General. It just didn't happen that way, yet the "gag" both helped the film to move along; while it underscored the whole light, carefree feeling that permeated the early part of the film.
DIRECTOR Walsh and Mr. Flynn collaborated in giving us what would seem to be a characterization of this legendary Civil War Hero that was very close to the real life man. And they did this on top of the recreation of an incident, being the Massacre by the Lakota Sioux, the Cheyenne and the Fukowi of Custer and his 7th Cavalry at the Little Big Horn. At the time of its occurrence, June 25, 1876, "Custer's Last Stand" was as big an incident and shock to the Americans' National Psyche as were the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) or the Atrocities perpetrated by the Islamic Fascists to New York's Twin Trade Towers and the United States' Armed Forces' Headquarters in the Pentagon, Arlington, Virginia on September 11, 2002.
JUST as so many films of that period of WORLD WAR II (and the years immediately before), there were so many incidents in it that were, if not intentionally done, were demonstrations of virtues that would be needed in time of another Global Conflict, such as we were in by the time of THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON was finishing up its original Theatrical release period.
In this film Errol Flynn is the perfect person to play George Armstrong Custard. I don't know why I say this, because I've never seen another person ever play him before. But this role seems to be the prefect one for Errol Flynn. He shines at this role and plays Custard full of energy and wit. This role is almost as good as his Robin Hood role. The problem with this movie though is it's not a biography of Custard, but a brief telling of his life from West Point to Little Bighorn, and a little throw in of his wife. With all this featured in the film, it's just not enough to entertain. I think there are things that were missing to make this an excellent film. But sadly this is one Flynn film that just isn't taht good. The action sequences of short, and the talking scenes with his soilders, are way to long and at times very boring. I think there's just not enough action featured in this film, and the biggest action sequence of this film, the battle of Little Bighorn is way to short of a scene. Olivia DeHavilland makes a fine wife of Custard and it's nice to actually see Errol and Olivia actually play a married couple for once. Olivia looks just as beautful, but seems that she gained a liitle weight around her face. Her cheeks are a bit puffy in this film. I wonder if she did that for the film or it was a time where she went on an eating binge. The rest of the cast in this film are a bit annoying, but that's what you get in an Errol Flynn film, annoying characters, except of course not from Robin Hood. Overall, this film is way to long and boring. *1/2 out of ****.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
. . . hones in on the 19-year feud that almost caused America to lose A
PAIR of Civil Wars. George Armstrong Custer of Monroe, MI, was promoted
from 2nd lieutenant directly to brigadier general (over the objections
of future war profiteer and Custer's one-time West Point classmate, Ned
Sharp) on the eve of Gettysburg, just in time to save the Union by
winning that clash virtually single-handed. (His pivotal command,
"Ride, you Wolverines!!" is immortalized in the movie RED DAWN.)
Following the end of the War, the Sharp Family--in league with a
notoriously corrupt President Grant--conspired to completely annihilate
EVERY Native American, as documented here in THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS
ON. Political reformer Custer made a pact with his Blood Brother Chief
Crazy Horse that what is now known as western North and South Dakota
would become the U.S. state of Black Hills, with two U.S. Senate seats
and two chairs in the House of Representatives delegated by a
Natives-only-vote electorate. Since these innovative ideas made Custer
a leading candidate himself for U.S. President in 1876, the War
Profiteers behind Lincoln's Assassination a few years earlier provided
Winchester Rifles to some Renegade Braves (far superior to the weapons
of Custer's 7th Cavalry Regiment), with a contract for a "hit" on the
popular peacemaker known as "Longhair." Again, the racist and mercenary
Sharp Family coordinated the Skullduggery, BOOTS illustrates. Thanks to
their Winchesters, the Sharp pawns cut through Custer and his men like
a kid spooning custard, though Custer had the foresight to save
two-thirds of his command by posting them on his flanks. (Some of these
details are included in Mr. Walsh's "Director's Cut.") With Custer out
of the picture, the nefarious plotters rounded up and murdered Custer's
allies, including Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, and other prominent patsy
chiefs. Their Reign of Terror culminated with the Wounded Knee
Massacre, all in bogus "revenge" for the assassinated Wolverine
President-in-Waiting. Black Hills never became the Native State.
Instead, this sacred region--called "the place of the Gods'
Teepees"--got defaced by Mount Rushmore.
BOOTS is historically accurate down to its smallest, pains-taking details. For instance, George and Libby's hometown of Monroe is as far South as you can go in the Wolverine State, so naturally all the women there are dressed as Southern Belles and employ GONE WITH THE WIND-type mammies. Perhaps more importantly, BOOTS relates how "Garry Owen"--Michigan's official State Drinking Song--became the immortal marching tune of Custer's Seventh Cavalry. Unfortunately, it was all downhill for the Mitten State after Gen. Custer was rubbed out. Henry Ford hired gun-toting thugs to make sure that the workers on "his" car assembly lines could not talk to each other. Later Michigan Fords pardoned "I-Am-Not-a-Crook" Nixon, designed the Edsel Automofarce, and made the Lions an NFL laughing stock. Their crony Thomas Edison harnessed electricity and invented movies, so he could film a Selfie of him torturing the beloved Coney Island elephant Topsy to her fiery demise in ELECTROCUTING AN ELEPHANT (U.S. Library of Congress footage, 1903). Aviator Charles Lindbergh hobnobbed with the leader of the Third Reich, and Shrine of the Little Flower radio personality Father Charles Edward Coughlin was nick-named "Hitler's Priest." Fortunately for Michigan, its one true hero--George Armstrong Custer--is portrayed with Electrifying Elan and Acute Accuracy in Raoul Walsh's masterful film homage, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON. Though the remake--DANCES WITH WOLVES--later won a "Best Picture" Oscar, BOOTS should have taken the cake, as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The theme of this movie is that glory is of greater value than money.
And George Custer is all about glory. Right at the beginning of the
movie, when he arrives at West Point, he announces that he wants to be
a cavalryman in the army for the sake of glory, to leave behind a name
the nation will honor, noting that there are more statues of soldiers
than there are of civilians. We shrink from positing glory as a motive
today (we prefer to say that soldiers fight for our rights and
freedoms), but for any story set prior to the twentieth century, glory
seems to be acceptable.
Custer makes this statement about glory to Ned Sharp, who will prove to be his nemesis. But at this stage of the movie, he appears to be just a prankster, playing a trick on Custer on account of the fancy uniform and entourage of dogs and a servant he brought with him, a trick Custer seems at this point to deserve. Eventually, Sharp will come to represent the evils of capitalism, which values money above all else. But this side of him must wait until after the Civil War.
Speaking of which, the Civil War breaks out while Custer is still a cadet. He is given his commission early and sent to Washington. And then he is made a general through a clerical error. Most Hollywood movies take liberties with history, and this one is no exception, there being so many it would be tedious to list them all. But this one deserves special comment. The reality is that he was made a general because there was a shortage of generals needed to command the ever increasing number of brigades, and Custer seemed to be suitable. By making his promotion to general be just a lucky break instead, the movie is telling us that luck is the only difference between us and a man like Custer. That way we will like him better.
Because the Confederacy lost and was eventually reunited with the North, we like to think of southerners as basically good Americans. To this end, the movie never lets us see a single Confederate soldier being killed, and only one wounded Yankee is seen after a battle. We see Custer leading a charge, and we expect to see what we usually do in such cases: men slashing and shooting the enemy soldiers as they break through the ranks of the opposing infantry. But the camera stops filming just as they approach the Confederate soldiers. Then another charge is led, and we think that this time we will get to see some bloodshed; but once again we are denied such a scene. And then a third charge is led, and we think, "All right, the first two charges were just a tease, but now we are going to see a complete battle." Nope. But that's all right. Later in the movie, when war breaks out with the Indians, we get to see lots of slaughter to make up for the bloodless presentation of the Civil War.
Just as Sharp kept turning up wherever Custer was during war, as a thorn in Custer's side, so too does Sharp seem to show up everywhere Custer is after the war, except after the war it is always about money. Sharp and his father approach Custer about having him lend his name to a corporation, so that they can all cash in on his renown, but Custer is insulted by the suggestion. Later, when Custer is assigned to the Territory of Dakota, he arrives to find Sharp selling guns to the Indians and liquor to the troops, who spend all day in the bar.
Custer closes down the bar and runs off the Indians. Then he decides to get the regiment in shape, to make them a fighting unit. To this end, he has them learn the song "Gary Owen." I guess songs go more with glory than with money, which is why Sharp doesn't have a song to go with his money-making schemes. In addition to the song, Custer tells his men that their regiment will be immortal, even should they die in battle. And later, he tells Sharp that unlike money, which you cannot take with you when you die, glory stays with you forever.
The Sioux Indians sign a peace treaty, giving them the Black Hills. But when Sharp and his associates want to get their hands on the land for development purposes, they start a rumor that there is gold in them thar hills, hoping to cause a gold rush that will overwhelm the Indians with settlers, who will then be supported by the government. Actually, it was Custer who started the gold rush by announcing that he had found gold in the Black Hills, but that would not be in keeping with the movie's narrative arc, which is that Custer wants glory and Sharp wants money, and so the story about gold is attributed in the movie to Sharp instead.
Custer kidnaps Sharp and brings him along to the Little Bighorn. Custer figures they will all be killed in the coming fight, and by bringing Sharp along, he will bring about the demise of the one person in the movie in whom all the evil seems to be concentrated. Instead of running away, however, Sharp redeems himself in the battle, and dies telling Custer he was right about glory after all. And apparently he was too, because in the last scene of the movie, we see the images of Custer and his regiment riding to the tune of "Gary Owen," thereby reassuring us that the regiment and its glory are immortal, whereas we do not get to see any final images of Ned Sharp engaged in his various profiteering schemes, stuffing money into his pockets as he puffs on a big cigar.
This is a great movie. Great acting, great story, and a lot of fun. Errol Flynn is at his best, and he faces some really slimy bad guys. This kind of hero worshiping movie is usually badly done, which sets this movie head and shoulders above its type. Pay no attention to the chronic obsessives who notice that the muskets are not exactly correct to the period. This movie takes us through the Civil War and through the Indian Wars, and you feel like it's real enough. There are no plot holes. Everything hangs together nicely. The Black Hills gold backstory is a very interesting wrinkle that I had never heard before. It also holds up after further inquiry. This movie is a great counterpoint to another great movie: Little Big Man.
Who cares if this film is not historically accurate? We are talking
entertainment, not a history class, and entertainment is paramount
Errol Flynn was magnificent as general Custer, and I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job. He had the arrogance and bravado down pat, and we can see why Raoul Walsh was brought in. It worked and they would do eight more films over the next nine years.
It was the last pairing with Olivia de Havilland, a venture that started in 1935 with Captain Blood.
With Anthony Quinn, Arthur Kennedy, and Sidney Greenstreet, it was a rip roaring film that was pure entertainment.
As the above quote was the last dialogue spoken between Custer and his wife in this film, it's ironic that it came between the stars playing them in the last time they would be seen on screen together. Also ironic is that Flynn's movie just before this was SANTA FE TRAIL, in which he plays Jeb Stuart as a friend of Custer (played by Ronald Reagan) and then here in this picture he portrays Custer in battle against Stuart in the Civil War. Both movies were full of historical untruths, most appalling of which paints Custer as being sympathetic to the Indians' plight. In actuality, he readily embraced the Army's policy of forcing the tribes into flight, fight or surrender in the face of white encroachment upon their lands. Indeed, despite what this film purports, Custer was a champion of publicizing the discovery of gold in the Black Hills, fully aware that it would lead to war, which in a sense of poetic justice led to his own death and the Army's worst defeat in battle until the Japanese victory over them in the Philippines at the start of WWII. It's no wonder that he's the most reviled by Indians of all European-Americans who opposed them, except for possibly Christopher Columbus. Putting aside the historical inaccuracies, the film works as a decent enough romance and as a fair action-packed western, with the Big Horn climax as well-staged as any cavalry vs. Indians battle sequence has ever been done. And when casting this film, there was no actor better suited to play Custer, as the actor and the character shared so many character traits, both good and bad.Then, as now, Custer's legacy triggers strong emotions both ways. You either love him or hate him, with very little middle ground. This time you are urged to love him. Hollywood's later films about him never treated him as warmly. Dale Roloff
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