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They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

Approved | | Biography, Drama, Romance | 1 January 1942 (USA)
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A highly fictionalized account of the life of George Armstrong Custer from his arrival at West Point in 1857 to his death at the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Director:

Raoul Walsh

Writers:

Wally Kline (original screenplay), Æneas MacKenzie (original screenplay)
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Cast

Cast overview, first billed only:
Errol Flynn ... George Armstrong Custer
Olivia de Havilland ... Elizabeth Bacon
Arthur Kennedy ... Ned Sharp
Charley Grapewin ... California Joe
Gene Lockhart ... Samuel Bacon, Esq.
Anthony Quinn ... Crazy Horse
Stanley Ridges ... Major Romulus Taipe
John Litel ... General Phil Sheridan
Walter Hampden ... William Sharp
Sydney Greenstreet ... Lt. General Winfield Scott
Regis Toomey ... Fitzhugh Lee
Hattie McDaniel ... Callie
G.P. Huntley G.P. Huntley ... Lt. 'Queen's Own' Butler (as George P. Huntley Jr.)
Frank Wilcox ... Captain Webb
Joe Sawyer ... Sergeant Doolittle (as Joseph Sawyer)
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Storyline

A highly fictionalized account of the life of George Armstrong Custer from his arrival at West Point in 1857 to his death at the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. He has little discipline at the academy but is prepared to stand up to the senior cadet, Ned Sharp, who makes his life miserable. While there he catches the eye of the commandant, Col. (later General) Phil Sheridan and also meets his future bride, Elizabeth Bacon. Graduating early due to the Civil War, it is only through a chance meeting with General Winfield Scott that he finally gets assigned to a cavalry regiment. He served with distinction during the war and when he is promoted to Brigadier General in error, he leads his troops in a decisive victory. He has little to do after the war turning down lucrative positions in private industry and it's his wife who arranges with Gen. Scott for him to be appointed a Lt. Colonel and given command of the 7th Cavalry. He is depicted as a friend of the Indians who will fight for... Written by garykmcd

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Taglines:

The heroic saga of Custer's Last Stand! See more »


Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

View content advisory »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

1 January 1942 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

To the Last Man See more »

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Box Office

Budget:

$2,200,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Warner Bros. See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

| (DVD)

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound System)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Film debut of Patrick McVey. See more »

Goofs

During the final battle a trooper struggling with an Indian is shot in the back with an arrow by another Indian. The outline of the square block under his clothes into which the arrow was fired can be clearly seen. See more »

Quotes

[California Joe is driving the wagon in which Libby is riding on the trek to Fort Lincoln]
California Joe: [to one of the horses] Move over there, sweetheart, 'fore I cut the rest of your tail off!
Elizabeth Bacon: [she looks at him, shocked] I beg your pardon.
California Joe: I said move over, you dirty Ethiopian son of a blue-bellied Mohawk!
Elizabeth Bacon: You mean the horse.
See more »

Alternate Versions

When the film was released in West Germany in 1952, the local distributor chose to cut ca. 58 minutes, as the theme of the film was deemed 'too american'. The first time the film could be seen in its complete form was in the 90s when a newly redubbed version was shown on TV. See more »

Connections

Featured in Raoul Walsh and Errol Flynn (2002) See more »

Soundtracks

Battle Hymn of the Republic
(uncredited)
Music by William Steffe (circa 1856)
Lyrics by Julia Ward Howe (1861)
Played as part of the score during Civil War scenes
See more »

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User Reviews

Flynn in Inaccurate but Spectacular Custer Bio...
4 October 2003 | by cariartSee all my reviews

You've heard the mantra against THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON...That the only facts they got right were that there WAS a George Armstrong Custer, he DID serve in the Civil War, and he DID die at the Little Big Horn. This is all true, but what of it? Hollywood has never been obsessed with making historically accurate epics (particularly concerning the West), and, at the time of filming, with America recently plunged into WWII, the WB knew that escapism was essential for film audiences. What better way to take an audiences mind off the depressing war news for a couple of hours than with a grand adventure starring their biggest action star?

Errol Flynn, coming off two minor 1941 releases (the blandly pleasant comedy FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK, and his first war-related title, DIVE BOMBER) was due for a more 'swashbuckling' role, but the actor flatly refused to work with Michael Curtiz, again. While the Hungarian-born director had guided the actor to stardom, he was a very hard taskmaster, and a mutual hatred between the pair had developed, fueled by Flynn's carousing and lazy work habits. Veteran director Raoul Walsh was called in, and the hard-living director and star would develop an immediate rapport, both on and off-camera (Walsh would go on to direct Flynn in eight films, and drink and ride motorcycles with him between projects).

Another milestone of THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON was that this would be Flynn's last teaming with long-time co-star Olivia de Havilland. Although the pair were friends, de Havilland had become a major star in her own right, and she demanded more important roles than just being Flynn's 'love interest', a decision Flynn supported, wholeheartedly. The fact that the stars knew this during the shooting gave their scenes, particularly the final one, a poignancy that is unmatched in any of their other films.

Flynn's Custer was a larger-than-life cavalier, prone to getting in trouble with his superiors, but so charismatic that one enlisted man remarks, "We'd follow him to hell." Barely allowed to leave West Point to serve in the Civil War (his academic record is the worst in West Point's history, "even worse than Ulysses S. Grant" one instructor laments), the new lieutenant is accidentally promoted to Brigadier General, and uses his rank to lead his command in a series of charges at Gettysburg, ultimately saving the day, and the Union, in the process.

Mustered out at the conclusion of the war, inactivity leads the soldier to drinking and despondency, so wife Libby pulls some strings, and gets him a new command, in the Black Hills, leading the Seventh Cavalry. Finding them an undisciplined lot, he closes the bar, introduces discipline, and a new unit song (the immortal 'Garry Owen'). In no time, his unit is a crack outfit.

Custer also befriends Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn), and promises to keep the sacred Black Hills free of white settlers. Unfortunately, greedy land speculators fake reports of a gold strike there, creating a 'rush', and Custer discovers that the corruption runs all the way to Washington. Unable to prevent the impending slaughter (Congress will only accept his charges if presented as a 'dying declaration'), and facing court martial, Custer bullies President Grant into allowing him to return to his command...and leads the Seventh to the Little Big Horn...

The final charge at the Little Big Horn, concluding with 'Custer's Last Stand' is truly spectacular (Iron Eyes Cody, one of the Indians participating in the sequence, told a great story of an inebriated Flynn, surrounded by his dwindling forces, enthusiastically cussing and firing away, even after director Walsh yelled "Cut!"), and, aided by Max Steiner's decisive music, is one of the most rousing scenes in film history.

Accurate? Are you kidding? But THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, flaws and all, is still cherished as one of Errol Flynn's finest films, during his years as a top star for the WB.


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