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The story of U.S. Army commander George Armstrong Custer, a flamboyant hero of the Civil War who later fought and was exterminated with his entire command by warring Sioux and Cheyenne tribes at the battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
George Armstrong Custer was one of the Civil War's famous "Boy Generals". Nelson Appleton Miles, Wesley Merritt and Galusha Pennypacker were among the others. They would all be reduced in rank once the war was over, though Miles and Merritt would rise to general rank in the regular Army after the war. See more »
Custer had risen to the rank of brevet (temporary) Major General during the Civil War. His actual rank at the time of his death at Little Bighorn was Lieutenant Colonel, though, as a courtesy, he could still be referred to as, "General". See more »
[in a jail cell and facing a firing squad in the morning]
Rules... regulations... court martials... Talkin' about the juice in a man's veins. I'm talkin' about all the good times you never had. 'Off the point,' you say. But drinkin', girls, smokin' cigars, chasin' rainbows - that's the point! You've got no feelings, General! There's just an empty place inside! A hole stuffed with rubbish!
The flag... the regiment... duty!
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Music by Bernardo Segall
Lyrics by Will Holt See more »
Robert Shaw plays the inimitable General George Custer, portraying him here as a statesman, a man of integrity, humility and at times, sympathy. His respect for Chief Dull Knife (Moore) is evident in the manner in which he addresses his foe, but the depth of his jingoist patriotism is equally apparent as he almost laments "you are a militarily defeated people". He does this again, rebuking Robert Ryan's desperate bid for clemency after he's sentenced to death for desertion. "I've got to have new facts" he pleads. Of course Ryan has no rebuttal. Shaw delivers a complex characterisation, one that opens further each time you watch.
The accent employed by Shaw is sometimes distracting, but it's not the liability some complain. Supporting performances are played with conviction, particularly Ty Hardin as the boozing Major, who finds Custer's work ethic an unwelcome interruption to his inertia, and Jeffrey Hunter as an Injun-sympathiser, the teacher drafted into the cavalry, looking for some semblance of moral justice amid the chaos. Needless to say, he resigns to futility, as does Custer in his final stand at Little Big Horn.
Perhaps the most revealing character trait chosen by Shaw in this interpretation, is his tendency to seek advice from his wife (Ure). Often absorbed by immense self doubt and political pressure, Ure is his constant sounding board. While this edge gives Shaw's Custer an interesting new dimension to an otherwise wholly glorified character in the movies to this point, it does largely waste Ure's talents as she rocks, knits and conjures pearls of wisdom for her conflicted husband to ponder. More liberty (e.g. removing the superfluous congress speech, the log-ride scene or the bizarre musical) with the guillotine could have cut 20-30 minutes off this epic tale, which is often paralysed by lengthy passages of dialogue and irrelevant plot diversions. Overall, while it certainly improves with each viewing, it's perhaps irrevocably flawed and overlong.
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