The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) Poster

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Errol Flynn's Inaccurate But Rousing Follow-Up to CAPTAIN BLOOD...
cariart2 September 2003
Errol Flynn, riding high with the spectacular success of CAPTAIN BLOOD, re-teamed with co-star Olivia de Havilland and director Michael Curtiz in this epic tale, owing far more to Rudyard Kipling's prose than Tennyson's poem, or any attempt at historical accuracy. As one of several 1930s Hollywood forays into India during British rule (GUNGA DIN, LIVES OF A BENGAL LANCER, and WEE WILLIE WINKIE are other memorable examples), the films are often criticized today for 'whitewashing' British rule, and ignoring the plight of Indians, who were treated as 'second-class' citizens of the Empire. While this argument is valid, these films were produced as 'entertainments' at a time when America, still suffering from the Depression, craved escapism, not social commentary.

Flynn, with his trademark moustache restored, is Major Geoffrey Vickers, dashing British Lancer, who, as the film opens, saves the life of Indian ruler Surat Khan (played by veteran screen villain C. Henry Gordon) during a tiger hunt. While Khan despises the British, he has a blood debt to Vickers, which must be honored.

Between assignments, Vickers tries to be the devoted fiancé of beautiful Elsa Campbell (de Havilland), but in a twist from the usual Flynn/de Havilland teamings, she actually loves his brother, Perry (Patric Knowles, who would later play 'Will Scarlet' in ROBIN HOOD). The love triangle subplot is the least effective part of the story; fortunately, these interludes don't last long!

Courting favor with the Russians (represented by Stalin look-alike Robert Barrat), Khan gambles, correctly, that the British would never consider him capable of murdering women and children, so his attack on an undermanned Chukoti, and the subsequent massacre of all the inhabitants (save Vickers and Campbell, thus fulfilling his blood debt), creates a furor that rocks India, and a evokes a vow of revenge from Vickers and the Lancers, who'd lost all of their loved ones. Khan flees the country, joining his Russian allies in the Crimea.

Just in time to fulfill the title, the Lancers are reassigned to the Crimea, and discover that Khan is located with the cannon emplacements on the Balaclava Heights. Arranging to get his brother safely away from the action, Vickers forges orders to have the Light Brigade attack the Heights, and 'The Charge' begins...

While the Charge (created by second unit director "Breezy" Eason) is one of the most incredible scenes ever recorded on film, with hundreds of horsemen galloping in formation 'to the guns', there was a deadly price for the spectacle; the buried explosives and trip wires used to create realistic cannon blasts injured many horses, resulting in a large number of animals having to be 'put down'. Humane societies nationwide (and Flynn, himself, who was appalled by the needless slaughter) raised such an outcry that standards were established barring cruelty to animals, which are still in effect today.

Besides Flynn's heroic performance (yes, that really IS him, leaping a cannon on horseback), Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, and J. Carrol Naish (as an Indian) provide memorable support. And watch for a young David Niven, as Vickers' doomed fellow officer. Flynn and Niven were great friends, sharing a cottage in Malibu (nicknamed 'Cirrhosis-by-the-Sea', because of their wild parties), and their final scene together is far more poignant than any Flynn/de Havilland moments in the film!

While flawed, historically, and unquestionably bloody, THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE retains its position as a 'classic', and proved to the WB that Errol Flynn was not just a 'one hit wonder'. Great things were ahead for the young star!
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It really was "Bring on the Empty Horses"
dougandwin21 June 2006
Director Michael Curtiz went all out in this 1936 version of "The Charge of the Light Brigade", and considering the era, he made a darn good job of it - sure, he threw history out of the window, and created a very fictitious story, but when it came to the actual Charge, it was a masterpiece of staging and direction. He was aided by that great pair - Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland (lovely as usual!) who kept the interest all the way through. The supporting cast was really star-studded, with Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce and Spring Byington, and in a very early role in his career, David Niven. If you had to pinpoint a weak link, it was Patric Knowles as Flynn's brother. But all that aside, it is a couple of hours of excitement and sheer entertainment while waiting for the Charge and what is going to happen to the nasty Surat Khan!! The remakes since, while having the benefits of far greater technical tools, falls way short of this epic.
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Charged Up
rmax30482314 December 2003
Warning: Spoilers
My vade mecum on battles, the Dupuy's "Encyclopedia of Military History," describes the engagement this way. "The Light Cavalry Brigade, though circumstances never satisfactorily explained, now charged the Russian field batteries to their front, riding up a narrow mile-long valley, exposed at the same time to fire from the captured Turkish guns on their right flank and other Russian guns on their left. They reached the guns, rode through them, clashed with the Russian cavalry beyond, and then the survivors rode back through the crossfire of the "Valley of Death"....doomed to death by the arrant stupidity of Brigadier General . . . Lord Cardigan . . . and Lord Lucan." The Dupuys are rarely so editorial.

Those "unexplained circumstances" probably don't involve Errol Flynn rewriting his orders to get even with his old enemy, Surat Kahn.

Sevastopol must have been an interesting place at the time. Not only were Raglan and Cardigan there (two sweaters, aren't they?) but Florence Nightingale too, her initial experience at the battlefield. Also observing was George MacLellan, later Lincoln's commander of the Army of the Potomac during the Civil War. He learned a lot about siege warfare and even invented a saddle based on his experiences. Maybe he learned to respect siege warfare too much. It was almost an impossible task to get him to move at more than a snail's pace as Lincoln's commander. Old Abe said of MacLellan that "he has a case of the slows."

This is a love triangle wrapped around a couple of battle scenes. Olivia DeHavilland in 1936 seemed tiny, vulnerable, loving, sweet, and entirely innocent, so much so that it would be an affront to even think about her ankles. She's engaged to Flynn but falls in love with Flynn's rather dull brother, for reasons known only to the screenwriters. Flynn rarely loses the girl during this period in his career. The story begins in India with a chronologically out of order battle against some insurgents, the treacherous swine. They lie, shoot innocent women and children, summarily execute prisoners, and break windows. The scene in which the survivors of Chukoti wade out to the boat trying to escape was shot at Lake Castaic. Try getting into Lake Castaic today without paying a million dollars for a shabby condo.

The uniforms are very snappy though -- tan, criss-crossed with black belts and other equipment, and closely enough tailored to make a viewer wonder exactly how this got past the censors. It's hard to imagine that some of the actors weren't embarrassed, although this certainly wouldn't have bothered Flynn.

The battle scenes are excitingly done, although next to completely improbable. (During one ambush by the Kahn's troops, Flynn jumps off a cliff, dehorses and kills one of the sleazebags, dons his black robe and black feathery headdress, and in this unlikely getup rides among the Kahn's troops shouting in their language that more English troops are about to arrive. The enemy believe him and take off in a panic.)

During the final charge the Light Brigade die enthusiastically as they charge the Russian guns in order to even the score for the Kahn's treachery at Chukoti. The horses die, too, a lot of them. At the time, a device called "the running W" was in use, thin wires attached to the horses' legs, and when the wires ran out to their full extent the horses' legs were yanked out from under them. It isn't recorded whether the horses died enthusiastically, there being no equine version of Tennyson. (Or maybe there is and we don't know about it? Horses may have an entire oral folklore describing how they've been exploited and mistreated by humans, not to mention being eaten by hyenas and whatnot. We may be to horses what Grendel was to the Danes.)

Anyway I kind of enjoyed it. Everyone has such a stiff upper lip, the women included. It's completely unpretentious, and Curtiz shot it with no aim other than entertainment. He achieved his goal.
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Charge against History
pw00266219 May 2002
Well, if you want to learn about crimean war or the famous attack, put into immortal words by Tennyson's poem, this one is definitely not for you. Turn to the 1968 GB movie of the same title for this. If you want thrilling entertainment and great battle scenes, this one is right for you. Errol Flynn at his usual best except loosing his usual love interest (O.d. Havilland) to his younger brother and his life to his revenge. The war scenes are staged perfectly alike Custer's fight in They died with their boots ... and the acting is good, also for younger side kicks like David Niven. Taking for the entertainment it is, not for anything serious and you will love it.
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Classic movie with impressive charge into the valley of death by British 27th Lancers in Balaklava during Crimean War
ma-cortes1 November 2014
At the beginning the tale is set in Suristan , it could be seen as part of the "Great game" that was fought for nearly a century between the British and Russian empires for control in the Middle East . After that , a massacre takes place at Chukoti , it seared into the minds of the 27th Lancers , a livid scar never to heal . International events , however , were soon to overshadow it in the world at large ; for the hounds of war had been unleashed and England was pouring troops into the Crimea to oppose the Russian hordes , the wave of war preparations swept into Calcuta . This drama deals with the chronicle of events that led to the British involvement in the Crimean War against Russia . In Balaklava is the Allied Headquarters , Army of the Crimea , and the new post of the 27th Lancers . Later on , occurs the siege of Sevastopol and the fierce ¨Battle of Balaklava¨ on October 25, 1854 which climaxed with the heroic, but near-disastrous cavalry charge made by the British Light Brigade against a Russian artillery battery in a small valley which resulted in the near-destruction of the brigade . As military minds blunder and six hundred Britishers , sabers flashing , ride to their deaths . The film is dedicated "to the officers and men of the Light Brigade who died victorious in a gallant charge at Balaklava for Queen and Country - A.D. 1856." It is based on Lord Tennyson's famous poem : Half a league , half a league onward , all in the valley of death rode the six hundred . Cannon to right of them , cannon to left of them , cannon in front of them volley'd and thunder'd . ¨Forward , the Light Brigade ¡ Charge of the guns¨ he said , into the valley of death rode the six hundred . When can their glory fade ? O the wild charge they made ¡ All the world'd . Honor the charge they made ¡ Honor the Light Brigade , Noble Six Hundred ¡ .

Good film with lavish production values dealing with events leading up to British involvement in Crimean war with stunning final battle sequence . This epic movie contains feats , a romantic love story , adventures , thundering action , thrills , and historical events . The film was originally set entirely in India, but the Crimean War was added due to fears by Warner Brothers that the story was too similar to Paramount's The lives of a Bengali Lancer (1935). Exquisitely made battle scenes being magnificently directed by action specialist B. Reeves Eason . Although during the filming of the charge sequence, a stuntman was killed when he fell off his horse and landed on a broken sword that was lying on the battlefield . The original script used the real-life siege of a British fort at Cawnpore , and subsequent massacre of its survivors , during the Sepoy Rebellion -, a nationwide mutiny of Indian soldiers in the British army - as the reason for the famous Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava during the Crimean War . The second of nine movies made together by Warner Brothers' romantic couple Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn , here playing star-crossed lovers . The success of this film set the seal on Olivia and Errol Flynn's super-stardom . The support cast is frankly excellent such as Patrick Knowles , David Niven , C. Henry Gordon , Henry Stephenson , Nigel Bruce , Donald Crisp , EE Clive , Roger Barrat and J. Carrol Naish . The picture climaxes with one of the most dramatic and immortal cavalry charges in history . For the filming of the climactic charge, 125 horses were trip-wired ; of those, 25 were killed outright or had to be put down afterward . Superb and evocative cinematography in black and white by Sol Polito , though is also shown in a lousy computer-colored version . Breathtaking score by the maestro Max Steiner in his first one for Warner Brothers . The motion picture produced in big budget by Hal B. Wallis , Harry Warner and Jack Warner was compellingly realized by Michael Curtiz .
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Noble Six Hundred
bkoganbing1 July 2007
Anyone who is expecting a factual retelling of the famous charge at the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War had better look to Tony Richardson's film from 1968. This particular Charge of the Light Brigade is a nice action adventure tale from the British Raj in the Kipling mold.

Of course this is all fictional. There's no such person as the evil Moslem ruler played by C. Henry Gordon who massacred a British garrison at a place called Chukoti in 1854. The reason for the famous cavalry charge did not happen so that the regiment could get to nail this dude for his crimes. Yet one thing I found contained more than an element of truth about British rule in India and some of our problems today.

At the very beginning Errol Flynn is accompanying E.E. Clive on a goodwill mission to Gordon. It seems as though there was a treaty with a promised subsidy from Her Majesty that expired with the death of his father. Even though they're not paying him any more to be the British friend, Clive still hopes for Gordon's friendship.

This in fact was how the British acquired 'friends' all over India, they ruled very little of it outright. They won a bidding war that was as acrimonious as the military conflict with other European powers which concluded with the French out of there altogether after the Seven Years War and the Portugese left with a couple of enclaves on the coast.

Clive in fact is one very large fathead, Flynn knows it only too well. In fact though this is how we're still acquiring 'friends' in that region which is now Pakistan.

Thrown into the politics is the rivalry between Errol Flynn and his brother Patric Knowles for Olivia DeHavilland. Originally Anita Louise was supposed to be slated for the part. But after the rave notices started coming in from Captain Blood before some of the romantic stuff was to be shot, Louise was substituted for Olivia DeHavilland and poor Olivia was typecast as the crinolined heroine until she left Warner Brothers.

Jack Warner spent a lot of money on this film. The whole garrison at Chukoti where the massacre took place was built from the ground, up; no miniatures were used. Thousands of horses were bought and about 200 were destroyed in the making of the final charge. So many animals were hurt the ASPCA stepped in and Charge of the Light Brigade got a lot of bad publicity among animal lovers. It did receive an Oscar for Best Assistant Director for the second unit work in depicting the charge when that was a category at the Academy Awards.

Errol Flynn said it was the roughest film he ever made in terms of pure physicality. It was pretty rough on Olivia DeHavilland as well who Flynn accidentally cold-cocked during a scene. These crinolined heroines do have it rough.

One of my favorite character actors, Henry Stephenson, plays the fictional Charles Masefield in this film. Stephenson in every film he did always embodied the stiff upper lip, attention to your duty ethic that the United Kingdom prides itself in. He's always a man of class and refinement. And he firmly believes in the John Ford mantra, when the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Which is what Alfred Lord Tennyson gave us when he wrote that poem extolling the young men of that generation who died at Balaclava. We're watching the legend here.
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The usual polished and impeccable Warner Brothers production values as well as their usual disdain for history!
MartinHafer2 January 2007
In the mid 1930s and well into the 40s, Warner Brothers made many fine films starring Errol Flynn that were very high on production values and fun but also of dubious historical value. While historically speaking this is not the worst of the lot (that honor goes to SANTA FE TRAIL), this film doesn't seem to have a lot to do with the Tennyson poem or the Crimean War and in fact, much of the movie is set around the same region of the world as GUNGA DIN--around Pakistan or Afghanistan. So, assuming you aren't looking for a history lesson, the film is packed full of excellent acting, sets and fast-paced fun. Part of the reason I particularly liked it was because it teamed Errol Flynn with Olivia de Havilland--a wonderful combination that began with CAPTAIN BLOOD and lasted for seven films. So, if you like this film, check out all their other films together--especially CAPTAIN BLOOD and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD. Their chemistry was always excellent and it is further enhanced by such wonderful supporting actors as Henry Stephenson, Nigel Bruce, Donald Crisp and David Niven.
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Fictional version of historical charge is highly entertaining...
Doylenf28 June 2005
As usual, Warner Bros. bent historical facts to provide ERROL FLYNN with some noble heroics in epics like this one and THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON. And as in BOOTS, it takes quite a bit of fictional footage to get to the climactic charge, but it's well worth waiting for.

Flynn has a role tailor-made to his specifications, the noble hero who looks even more splendid than ever wearing a trim mustache and military uniform. The script, in a twist, has his brother (PATRIC KNOWLES), who looks enough like Flynn to be his real brother, winning over the heart of the heroine (OLIVIA de HAVILLAND) at a military outpost in India. Flynn, as Major Vickers, decides to avenge the massacre of British women and children at the fort, thus forging the orders that lead to the famous charge.

All of it is strictly meant to entertain, offering political background of a confusing sort to give an idea of the events surrounding the charge. While all of it has been falsified for the sake of providing a screenplay that makes Flynn the noblest of heroes, there is no denying the epic sweep of the derring do and romance.

Flynn and screen partner de Havilland make a handsome couple and they are supported by a fine bunch of actors from Hollywood's British film colony, notably Patric Knowles, David Niven and Donald Crisp. Max Steiner has provided one of his best military background scores that gives added dimension to the exciting battle scenes.

For Flynn fans, this is a must see. For anyone expecting to see an historical account of the Charge, better tune in to the History Channel for that sort of stuff. But as entertainment, CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE delivers the goods and should make Flynn and de Havilland fans happy.
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And what a charge it was!
Boba_Fett113824 June 2006
The movie starts of as your average period drama with a love triangle and formulaic, typical '30's dramatic moments. However about halve way through the movie its story takes a turn and turns into a delicious action filled epic, with the charge of the light brigade at the ending as the icing on the cake.

I watched this film without really knowing what to expect of it. I knew Errol Flynn was in it, so I expected an adventurous movie with lots of memorable action sequence. The movie started of just like Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor", with a love triangle story between the Errol Flynn character, his brother played by Patric Knowles and Olivia de Havilland. Flynn and de Havilland surely are one of the best screen couples of all time, so those moments are still better and more enjoyable than your average '30's love filled drama. But just like "Pearl Harbor" the best moments of the movie are in the second part, in the action sequences. The movie takes epic proportions in its action sequences, which are big and spectacularly brought to the screen. It makes the first part of the movie feel kind of obsolete and yes, it is definitely true that you can basically skip the whole first part of the movie, with the exceptions of a few sequences maybe, which are important for the development of the story and certain characters.

The story itself is quite fascinating, with the exception of the whole love triangle thing of course. It's based on true events, although the movie takes lots of liberties with the story but this really does the movie no harm. It doesn't make the actions of the light brigade seem any less noble or heroic, so the movie does the true story justice in my opinion. The several plot lines of the story are well developed in the story. I especially like the sequences with the political game between Surat Khan and the Russians with the British. There are some subtle sequences with some very well written and clever dialog. The drama in the movie is also surprisingly heavy. When you watch an Errol Flynn action flick you expect to see some lighthearted fun action sequences but in this movie the action is heavy, powerful and dramatic.

The cast is great! Errol Flynn is in his element as the popular and noble gentleman Maj. Geoffrey Vickers. Olivia de Havilland is also fine as always and it also was great to see David Niven in one of his first roles before he received real fame as an actor. It's amazing to see that he basically already looked the same in this movie as he did in movies that were made 40 years later. His role is quite small and not really significant but his presence is notable. Also really great was C. Henry Gordon as the cold-hearted villain Surat Khan, which starts of like a much warmer character. As the movie progresses he becomes more and more ruthless and he turns into almost a James Bond like villain, which works actually very well for such an adventurous action filled epic like this movie.

Based purely on all those things I just mentioned I would had rated this movie an 7 out of 10. But then came the ending...

Quite honestly, I was blown away by the ending. I simply did not expected to see such a large scale, complex action sequence in a 1936 movie. The charge in which literally hundreds of cavalry men, attack a Russian stronghold which is supported with numerous cannons is impressive to say the very least. Seeing all those hundreds of cavalry men, with Errol Flynn of course in front, riding up through the valley of death to an almost certain doom is extremely powerful. These are not CGI horses like for most part was the cast in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, this is the real thing! Horses and men flying around by the firing cannons and Errol's friends dying around him, as they come more and more closer to the Russians and Surat Khan. It such a arousing and spectacular filmed sequence that it still holds up by todays standards. Unfortunately also hundreds of horses and one stunt person got killed during the filming of the end charge. But to be honest, 1 person seems so few when you look at that sequences. I mean, men are flying and dropping from their horses like puppets, while horses ride around them within close range!

A classic epic. See this movie, if already alone for the unforgettable, arousing end charge of the light brigade.

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Into the Valley of Death Rode the Six Hundred
Bucs196011 March 2003
The premise of this movie is based on the epic poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Historic inaccuracies abound but this isn't the History Channel, so what the hell. Enjoy it for what it is.....if you are an Anglophile, the poem and the film will bring a tear to eye.

Errol Flynn is dashing as the hero and is surrounded by a great cast. Especially good in support are C. Henry Gordon, Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson and yes, even Patric Knowles. But make no mistake, Flynn is the star. The love triangle among Flynn, Olivia DeHavilland and Knowles is secondary to what everyone is waiting for.....the suicide charge on the Balaklava Heights.

And what a charge it is! Under the second unit direction of B. Reaves "Breezy" Eason, it is as realistic as any battle in modern movie making. It can be tough to watch, knowing that men and animals were injured or killed during its making. But if you can get by that, you'll be cheering the Light Brigade as they thunder forward with the Union Jack flying.

(It is said that this is the film in which director Michael Curtiz, the master of malaprops and non sequitars said "Bring on the empty horses".)

To quote Tennyson:

"Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred"

So watch this rousing film and throw aside any knowledge that you may have about the Crimean War or the abilities of Lords Lucan and doesn't count here....just enjoy!
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Title Generally Misleading
paulfuller-327 July 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A lot of the reviews seem to focus on the issue of historical accuracy. I recognize this is a work of fiction and couldn't care less whether it's historically accurate or not, but if you create a movie called "The Charge of the Light Brigade", you should at least be creating a fiction based largely on the subject of the Crimean War. Instead, a fictional connection is made to India, which becomes the scene of 3/4 of the movie. If you want to see a fictional movie about the British in 19th century India, with a brief epilogue involving the Charge, this may be the movie for you. Don't expect to see much of the Crimea in this movie, though.
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Flynn plays hero(or fool?) in Asian versions of The Alamo plus Custer's Last Stand equivalents
weezeralfalfa28 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A largely fictionalized mishmash of two historic disasters in two quite distinct British wars in the 1850s. Most of the film deals with the misadventures of the Indian British army in connection with a largely fictional Surat Khan, who seems to be a tribal war lord in present northern Pakistan(arid and mountainous). The attack of the Khan on the isolated outpost of Chukoti, somewhere in the general vicinity of the regional headquarters in Lohora(presumably, present Lahore, PK), and subsequent slaughter of the survivors, after Flynn and Olivia escaped on a raft, clearly is a reference to the historic massacre of Brits by Indian rebels at Cawnpore, which was located in present northeastern India. Then, suddenly, in the last part, we switch to the historically prior Crimean War, and have Surat Khan allied with the Russians against the Turks and Brits, hence allowing the transferred Indian Brit cavalry an opportunity to extract revenge on the khan. Although Flynn's character, who leads this dramatic misguided charge on the entrenched cannon-rich Russians does manage to kill the khan, he, as well as the rest of his cavalry, pay the ultimate price for their pyrrhic revenge. As scripted, Flynn's character is really more of an insubordinating fool than a hero. Reminds me of a rather similar dramatic ill-fated charge in the later "Fort Apache".

Flynn had traded mortal wounds with the khan, hence conveniently ending the romantic triangle problem with his brother and Olivia's character. But, Olivia and his brother don't appear after the battle. Instead, we have a conference between the 3 commanders involved in the Balaclava fiasco with Henry Stephenson, who seems to have been the governor general of India, located in Calcutta, now strangely transferred to the Crimea. He implies that all 600 in the charge died: the British equivalent of Custer's Last Stand. Historically, this is far from the truth. Also, Lord Cardigan, who led the charge and hence was being played by Flynn, survived the charge. Historically, this charge by the sword and lance -wielding light cavalry was the result of confusion in officer communications. Central to this confusion was Captain Nolan, who was also the first to die in the charge. Thus, Flynn's character relating to this charge is an amalgam of Cardigan and Nolan. His character had previously incorporated some of Nolan's prior activities.

Returning to the middle portion of the film, a huge army of natives armed with anachronistic modern repeating rifles surrounds the frontier town/fortress of Chukoti, intent on massacring its inhabitants. Unfortunately, the fort commander(played by Donald Crisp) had previously ordered most of the cavalry out on a detail, leaving Flynn as the effective commander of the few remaining. Looks like an Alamo situation. The tribals use their many ladders to scale the wall , and it looks like they will soon kill all. But, suddenly, we switch to the women and children huddled in a room, and the attack seems to stop for no reason?? Later, when the escaped Flynn returns with reinforcements, they find all dead: mostly women and children. Flynn vows revenge, and eventually gets his chance when he learns that the khan has allied himself with Russia against the Brits and Turks in the Crimea.....Incidentally, the original screenplay didn't include the Crimean War segment. However, it was feared that it was too similar to the recently released popular "The Lives of a Bengal Lancer"

Henry Stephenson, who generally played fatherly authority figures in many films of the '30s and '40s, returns from Flynn's first starring role, in "Captain Blood"(as well as the award-winning "Mutiny on the Bounty) of the previous year. In the finale scene, he tells the 3 commanders involved in the charge fiasco that he takes full responsibility, after receiving a letter from Flynn's character admitting that he rewrote Stephenson's orders after having failed to convince Stephenson that his light cavalry unit deserved a chance to try to extract vengeance upon the khan. Stephenson burns his letter, preferring to take the blame in place of than his fallen 'hero'.

After the joyous romance of Flynn and Olivia's characters at the end of "Captain Blood", it's curious that Flynn is cast as the odd man out in the triangular love affair in this next pairing, especially since the historical leader of the charge he plays survived the charge. Flynn's character would, of course, again die in "They Died With Their Boots On", in another foolhardy cavalry incident. Again, Olivia played his love interest in their eighth and final film pairing.

At least we are spared the gruesome details of the historical massacre of mostly women and children at Cawnpore. Professional butchers were sent and literally hacked the victims to pieces. This instigated a furious response by the British, who slaughtered or burned thousands of Indians in retribution, with the battle cry "Remember Cawnpore".

I think it's a toss up whether we see more falling horses during the charge or in "The Comancheros". In the latter, at least the cruel and often lethal use of trip wires to make the horses fall when desired had long since been abandoned.
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Cannons All Around...
AaronCapenBanner4 November 2013
Michael Curtiz directed this fictionalized account of the real-life charge of the light brigade, based on the famous Sir Alfred Lord Tennyson poem. Errol Flynn stars as Major Vickers of the 27th Lancers in India circa 1856. He has been dealing with the local leader Surhat Kahn, who ends up attacking the regiment barracks, massacring the women & children stationed there, which causes Vickers to retaliate in kind, even though he has no such orders. Patrick Knowles plays his brother, a Captain stationed with him, and both men vie for the affections of Elsa Campbell(played by Olivia De Havilland). Rousing and well cast film is entertaining, but viewer should keep in mind how lopsided it is dramatically, and the horrific toll on the lives and safety it took in horses in its production.
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Bring on the Empty Horses
The_Other_Snowman10 August 2013
This is Hollywood History at its best. It has nothing to do with the real Crimean War, the Battle of Balaclava, or the Charge of the Light Brigade. It has everything to do with Errol Flynn, Olivia deHavilland, Michael Curtiz, and Max Steiner. Basically, this is a quintessential Warner Bros. adventure film of 1936, one of the best of the breed.

The story starts in Southern California -- or rather, Northern India -- on the outskirts of the British Empire. This setting had been picked up and dusted off after 1935's "Lives of a Bengal Lancer", and would be recreated for "Gunga Din" a few years later, with the same locations and similar plots. Flynn leads a company of British lancers in skirmishes with the local rajah, the villainous Surat Khan -- you can tell he's the villain because of his evil goatee -- and a betrayal and a massacre leads to a mission of vengeance, which reaches its climax in Tennyson's Valley of Death in the Crimea.

Opposite Flynn is, naturally, Olivia deHavilland, without whom Flynn would be lost. Patric Knowles, who played Will Scarlett in Flynn's "Adventures of Robin Hood", is Flynn's brother; David Niven is his sidekick; and Henry Stephenson, Donald Crisp, and Nigel Bruce are the top brass. Director Michael Curtiz brings out another energetic performance from Flynn, although his character here lacks the depths of the heroes of "Captain Blood" or "The Dawn Patrol". Max Steiner's score complements the action perfectly.

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" is quite an epic production, and notorious for the number of horses killed in the battle scenes. That knowledge puts a bit of a damper on the excitement, but it also led to the safety restrictions in place today, banning trip-wires and ensuring the well-being of animals in movies; so, ultimately a good thing. No such measures were ever taken to protect history from the ravages of Hollywood screenwriters: Surat Khan and the country of Suristan never existed, nor did Flynn's 27th Lancers, and although there was indeed a charge at Balaklava, it didn't happen for the reasons depicted in this film. But Flynn and Curtiz didn't care, and neither should the audience.
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What a ticket!
michael_robert_burns29 December 2004
I thoroughly enjoyed this film. But then again, any movie boasting the talents of both Errol Flynn AND David Niven is always going to be a treat.

My favourite part of Charge of the Light Brigade is at the ball in Calcutta, every man in the place is trying to avoid the interfering old bint (can't remember her name). The looks on their faces every time she approaches is priceless.

It doesn't matter that it's full of nonsense, Charge of the Light Brigade is an entertaining film that takes you back in time to the genteel goings-on of colonial times.
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"Our objective is Surat Khan!"
utgard1423 May 2014
Errol Flynn says to heck with orders and leads his men into battle against villainous Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon) to avenge Khan's massacre of men, women, and children. Highly enjoyable adventure yarn, loosely based on historical events. Superb action scenes, fine Max Steiner score, and great Michael Curtiz direction. It's always nice to see Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland together, although this has the surprising twist of Olivia preferring Patric Knowles to Errol. Exceptional Warner Bros. supporting cast includes David Niven, Donald Crisp, Henry Stephenson, J. Carrol Naish, and many other familiar faces. Judging by some of the reviews here, it would appear the history police have written many tickets for this one. At the risk of incurring their terrifying wrath, I'm gonna say nerts to them! Just enjoy the movie. If you want to learn about the history behind the movie, read a book.
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Ambitious, great credentials, but weirdly slow and uninspired
secondtake2 July 2010
Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

Michael Curtiz is a director with a beautiful sense of place, of interiors especially, and of night scenes. Sol Polito, the cinematographer, knows how to make even boring scenes visually rich, and is known for some first rate film noirs. And Olivia de Havilland, the lead woman in this historical drama, is an actress with extraordinary nuance to her psychological portrayals.

On that score, this is a really well made film, an achievement. But it is one that doesn't use any of its main contributors to their absolute best. What they give is quite amazing--the direction is fast and smart, the photography sharply seen and nuanced, and de Havilland gives a moving, if minor and intermittent, performance. The last of the main contributors is Errol Flynn, who is charming, and gives this action adventure movie some good action and adventure. In a way, he's the only one in his element.

Not that movies can be reduced to their parts this way. But I've been straining to see why this movie struggles, even with the best of credentials. The story itself might be partly to blame, or more exactly the way the historical aspects of this famous military tragedy were forced to fit a romance of de Havilland's character with two brothers in the military. The telling of this tale fails to do what Gone with the Wind did three years later, layering a moving personal fictional story into a great war.

Curtiz does make it solid, given the story line he has to work with. An impressive, ambitious movie, overall. The bright, sunlit battle scenes are kinetic, for sure, and the actual "charge" that gives the movie its name takes up only the last ten minutes of the movie. The rest is a lot of foreshadowing.
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A Rousing Piece of Pseudo-History
theowinthrop17 July 2006
Warning: Spoilers
As a follow up to CAPTAIN BLOOD, Errol Flynn's adventure spectacle THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE is an exciting, well made film. It has a good cast, including Olivia De Haviland as Flynn's (Major Geoffrey Vickers) love interest (Elsa Campbell), and supported by Henry Stevenson (Sir Charles Macefield), Nigel Bruce (Sir Benjamin Warrenton), David Niven (Captain James Randall), Patric Knowles (Captain Perry Vickers), Donald Crisp (Colonel Campbell), C. Henry Gordon (Surat Khan), and Robert Barrett (Count Igor Volonoff), and it was directed by Michael Curtiz (THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, CASABLANCA). It is exciting, even if stiff at times (the addition of lines of Tennyson's poem towards the conclusion now seems rather silly, though in 1936 probably were more effective).

But it ain't history - or rather it is "mushed-up" history.

What happened here is that elements of the rivalry between Russia and England in India and central Asia, as well as one incident (a notorious one) from the later Sepoy Revolt, are combined here - and the clash of military personalities in the charge are sacrificed to the story.

Flynn and the other British officers are located in India in 1853, and find that Gordon has turned enemy because the British Government stopped paying him a bribe. Gordon is based on Nana Sahib, a leading Sepoy rebel, who had nothing really to do with the Crimean War. But in the film, now getting bribes from Russia (represented by Barratt), Nana Sahib leads an attack on a fort at Chikuti which ends with a general massacre of English men, women, and children when they were evacuating under a flag of truce. This is based on the massacre of the British at Cawnpore in 1857 - an incident that was one of the great atrocities of that period. Nana Sahib never was punished for it (he fled to the Himilayas to avoid capture, and died about 1870). Jules Verne would later use this atrocity (and Nana Sahib) in his 1881 novel THE STEAM HOUSE (made up of two novels, THE DEMON OF CAWNPORE and TIGERS AND TRAITORS).

Among the dead are relatives and loved ones of the soldiers in Flynn's brigade of cavalry, including his brother Knowles. He and his fellow soldiers pledge revenge, but Gordon is hiding in Russia. Then comes the Crimean War.

Now the Crimean War, one of the stupidest that four major powers (England, Russia, Turkey, and France) ever blundered into dealt with who had the rights to be protector of Christian shrines in the Holy Land against "infidel" (i.e. Mohammedan - Ottoman Empire) control. Russia claimed this, but was suspected (probably rightly) of wanting a pretext to gain control of the Black Sea and the Bosphorus. None of this is in the Flynn film (why should it be - it's not dealing with India but Palestine and the Dardenelles).

The conclusion is the charge - here caused when Flynn realizes there is a chance to get Gordon when he learns he is with Barratt and the Russian forces (one wonders why - he is of no use in the Crimea!). His commander in chief, Stephenson gives him an order for Bruce to take the Light Brigade to a position in a valley at Balaclava. Flynn (on his own) rewrites the order. They are now to charge the Russian guns. This is what they do, and in the process most of the Brigades heroes die, but Flynn (before he dies) gets Gordon (who while dying is speared by the other surviving Light Brigade members). Barratt also is killed. At the end Stephenson reads a last note from Flynn explaining what he did and why. He keeps quiet about it, and lets the world condemn him for the "magnificent blunder". Only his friend, E.E.Clive, realizes what Stephenson is doing.

Would that it was so simple, but the incompetence shown by the British high command was responsible for the disaster, not a hot blooded young fool's desire to right a tragic wrong. But the film is so well done - in a period when America simply honored the British Empire when not being self-congratulatory to itself in it's history films - that it remains quite entertaining. Flynn plays the brave heart who disobeys orders for honor and righteous vengeance quite well. Gordon plays the Indian as the "foreign devil" quite well.

Aside from the film's mock grandeur and mock history, it is significant as the first film that Flynn made with his pal David Niven, and for more than that infamous "Bring on the Empty Horses" crack of Michael Curtiz. It was in this film that Flynn had the experience of falling on his behind when an extra riding behind his horse purposely "goosed" Flynn's horse with his lance. Flynn (considered erroneously a pushover glamor boy by the extras) beat up the guilty party and won the respect of the other extras from then on.
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Pro-British Hollywood
phalsall1 August 2000
I saw _Charge of the Light Brigade_ shortly after seeing _The Patriot_, mainly in order to compare the battlefield scenes.

Much could be written about the different possibilities open to the directors and the approaches taken. What interested me more, however, was the very different stance towards Britain.

Recent American movies have been extremely prejudicial towards Britain, either appropriating events in British history as American, or adopting an outright hostility. _Charge_ reflects a different era in which American viewers were apparently expect ed to be on the side of the British.

I suspect the reason for this change derives from changes in American education. Until roughly twenty years ago, most history departments in American colleges had two or three historians who concentrated on Britain, and British history was a required subject. Despite the Revolutionary Wars, the United States was seen in a very real sense as a "continuation" of Britain. This has now changed, perhaps for the better.

My point is that not only could a film like _Charge_ not be made today because of damage to the animals, but because Hollywood would be incapable of seeing British history as does this film.
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don't spare the horses - don't worry, they didn't
blanche-24 September 2010
Unfortunately for "The Charge of the Light Brigade," I am an animal lover, so I was somewhat repulsed by the battle scenes in this film. Killing 200 horses and a stuntman to make a movie is unacceptable - it was even considered bad in 1936. For this reason, unlike Errol Flynn's other adventure movies, it was not re-released. The film also did nothing for Olivia de Havilland's career, typecasting her with Warner Brothers as a typical ingénue, when in fact, she was a fantastic actress.

Errol Flynn, Patric Knowles, Henry Stephenson, and Nigel Bruce star in the film, along with the aforementioned de Havilland. Knowles was sort of a B-movie Flynn, so it's good casting that he plays Flynn's brother. Both of them are in love with Elsa Campbell (de Havilland), whose father is a colonel (Donald Crisp).

This is a highly fictionalized version of the actual battle and the events leading up to it. No expense was spared. The battle scenes are very graphic, and you can really see why horses would have died. I've seen thousands of films, and I've never seen horses falling and ending up on their backs.

Flynn is at his handsomest best; the still up and coming Niven has a supporting role.

Not recommended - by me, anyway.
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I saw it when I was 12 yrs old.
tejonm16 December 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I just watched it again--I am now 83. I was unhappy with it the first time because I wanted to see something accurate about the Charge of the Light Brigade, not a made up tale. Even the India part of the film was hash, although I did recognize some scraps of history in it. I can be a little kinder to the film now, Errol Flynn was braver and braver as we expected of him! I think the Charge scene is a bit overrated--check it against the Charge Scene in the 1968 GB version--you can hear the Horses scream! That ought to be enough reality for anyone! I won't watch it again. Errol Flynn was the perfect Robin Hood--that is the film I remember him for.
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Great Movie - Laughable criticism.
amazeika22 March 2007
Puh-LEEZE! Enough, already. All you well-meaning folks knocking the historical accuracy of this classic film, you're on the wrong website! It's Hollywood, not HISTORY. You probably think Tennyson's poem is a bad summary of the event, too.

This is a great movie, with an excellent cast, by one of Hollywood's best and most overlooked Directors, Michael Curtiz. You want a laundry list of great movies? Go look up Michael Curtiz whose credits include rescuing THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD after William Keighly was excused, CASABLANCA and YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. Throw in a memorable score by one of the best movie composers of all time, Max Steiner (KING KONG, GONE WITH THE WIND).

The Climatic charge is STILL one of the best action sequences you will ever see. Done, as has been previously pointed out, without the aid of computers and 21st century FX, and directed by noted 2nd unit director, B. Reeves Eason, who was also responsible for the 1925 BEN-HUR chariot race as well as the burning of Atlanta for GONE WITH THE WIND.

See this film (On DVD beginning 3/27) and enjoy it for what it is: A sterling example of the Hollywood Dream Factory in it's golden age.

You want to criticize films that purport to be historically accurate? Go jump on JFK or some other piece of Oliver Stone revisionist propaganda.
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About as historically accurate as the red car in Ben Hur!
robavery17 November 1998
Although I also agree that the charge scene is well done, this cannot make up for the fact that this film has an appalling plot, wooden script, and tampers with history with all the finesse of an atom bomb!

What annoys even more is that the basic premise, an officer changes an order (and so sacrifices his regiment) to take revenge on a particular enemy officer, is a good one: good enough not to need to be nailed so artificially to a real historical event.

Do yourself a favour: watch the Trevor Howard version instead!
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love triangle strikes again
SnoopyStyle13 March 2019
In 1854, the 27th Lancers of the British Army, led by Major Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn) and his brother Captain Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles), escorts Sir Harcourt on a diplomatic mission to Suristan. Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon) rejects the British. Perry's fiancee Elsa (Olivia de Havilland) falls for Geoffrey. Geoffrey is assigned to the remote outpost Chukoti. He is joined by Elsa and her family. With flawed British strategy, the outpost is left undermanned. Surat Khan attacks the fort and massacres the defenders including women and children. Geoffrey and Elsa manage to escape. The Crimean War heats up and the 27th Lancers are sent into the Battle of Balaclava where Surat Khan has joined the side of the Russians.

I can do without the romantic triangle. The history is trash. Otherwise, this is a very good action war movie. The siege of Chukoti is very good. The titular Charge is big and action pack. There is good action. Errol Flynn is the dashing hero. There is something sacrilegious about rewriting the historic charge to fit a fictitious narrative. Oh and did I say I do not care for the love triangle. It would have been much more powerful for the Vickers to lose wives and children during the massacre. Those minor characters finding their murdered family is more powerful than any of the leads' character development.
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Ahhh, How Very British!
diana-210 May 2002
Well, I love this movie! Errol Flynn was never more dashing, handsome, and so veddy veddy British! He plays Major Vickers as the absolute best of British sentiment, gentlemanliness, diplomacy, heroism and gallantry. This movie is a gem for all admirers of Errol Flynn. The movie follows Kipling's poem rather than real history..."Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred!" And as was Kipling, the movie is absolutely wonderful propaganda for British values. As such, it works very, very well. As history, it fails miserably, so don't look here for truth. The truth is that the whole episode was apparently a mistake of transcription of orders, and a TREMENDOUS screw up by the military. Soldiers were apparently treated just like the sailors of HMS Bounty (of mutiny fame); that is, MISERABLY. More often than not they died of exposure, disease and hunger than of military exploits.

BUT, not in THIS movie! In this movie they are knights in shining armor fighting against "savagery". The final charge scene is absolutely breath-taking, but don't think about the cruelty that was shown to both the animals and the actors. This is the movie that led to the ASPCA getting involved in the movies.

All in all, I can't take my eyes off Errol Flynn...that's how good he is in this movie!
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