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The Horse Soldiers (1959) Poster

Trivia

The film marked the beginning of mega-deals for Hollywood stars. John Wayne and William Holden received $775,000 each, plus 20% of the overall profits, an unheard-of sum for that time. The final contract involved six companies and numbered twice the pages of the movie's script. The film, however, was a financial failure, with no profits to be shared in the end.
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A long-time alcoholic, John Ford was ordered by his doctor to abstain from drinking or he would surely die from its effects. Even though he was notorious for his stubbornness, Ford obeyed the physician's orders. Still, the absence of drink caused him to treat his cast and crew rougher than usual. The one who usually got the worst treatment, drink or no drink, was John Wayne, and he got it good on set. Ford demanded that Wayne also abstain from drink, even though he had no such orders from his physician. Wayne begged producer Martin Rackin to get him away from Ford's omnipresent gaze, if only for a brief moment. Rackin obliged and lied to Ford, telling him that Wayne's teeth were beginning to show up yellow on film and that he needed to take both Wayne and William Holden to New Orleans to have their teeth cleaned. So the drunken trio spent a roaring night in the Crescent City, returning to a furious Ford, who knew through his spies exactly how many bars they had visited. Despite the incident, Ford stayed away from drink until just after the shoot.
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John Ford made sure to pay the black extras in Louisiana and Mississippi the same pay as the white extras, raising a few eyebrows in the Southern communities.
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Dr. Erastus Dean Yule, the real-life Union surgeon on whom William Holden's character Maj. Hank Kendall was based, actually did volunteer as depicted to stay behind and be taken prisoner by the Confederates along with the Union soldiers who were too seriously wounded to ride. However, this took place before the notorious Andersonville POWcamp existed; prisoner exchanges were still routine, and he was exchanged in due course after a few months.
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During filming of the climactic battle scene, veteran stuntman Fred Kennedy executed a fall from a horse improperly, broke his neck and died. According to fellow stuntmen, Kennedy had broken his neck two years earlier, but it had healed. He had appeared in several films directed by John Ford and the director was greatly affected by Kennedy's death. After the incident Ford halted filming and immediately moved the production back to Hollywood. The film was scripted to end with the triumphant arrival of Marlowe's forces in Baton Rouge, but Ford "simply lost interest" after Kennedy's death. He ended the film with Marlowe's farewell to Hannah Hunter before crossing and blowing up the bridge.
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John Ford cast Olympic medal-winner Althea Gibson as Lukey partly to attract African-American viewers. Gibson was a racial-barrier-breaking athlete, the female Jackie Robinson of tennis, who--just prior to being featured in this film--had won both the Wimbledon and US Open tennis championships in 1957 and 1958.
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The film is based on the true-life raid by Col. Benjamin Grierson, who, as shown in the movie, began his expedition, known as Grierson's Raid, from LeGrange, TN, in April of 1863.
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Lukey's dialogue was originally written in a stereotypic "Negro" dialect that Althea Gibson found offensive. She informed John Ford that she would not deliver her lines as written. Though Ford was notorious for his intolerance of actors' demands, he agreed to modify the script.
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One of the more historically accurate scenes is the destruction of the railroad property at Newton Station. Some of the rails were heated, then bent (sometimes twisted) around telegraph poles. This produced what many soldiers would call "Sherman's neckties". Other soldiers took heated rails and threw them into water. Both actions were designed to render the rails--then made of iron, not steel--unusable. The iron rails would for the most part be too brittle to use again.
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John Wayne was having personal problems at home. His wife, Pilar Wayne, had become addicted to barbiturates but Wayne refused to admit her to a private sanitarium. He felt they could conquer her addiction together and brought her along on location in Louisiana. During the filming, however, she began hallucinating and slashed her wrists with a razor, at which point Wayne realized the seriousness of the situation and had her admitted to a hospital back in Encino, CA. The incident was kept out of the newspapers and the public never suspected that the most popular box-office star in America, which Wayne was at the time, was experiencing a personal crisis at home.
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Listen carefully during the first scene and you can hear Gen. Hurlburt say "Hello Cump" as he shakes hands with Gen. Sherman. William Tecumseh Sherman was named Tecumseh after the Shawnee chief, but the minister who later baptized him refused to do so with a "heathen" name, so he minister added "William" to Sherman's name, as he was baptized in St. William's Church. Sherman was called Cump by his closest friends--including Gen. Ulysses S. Grant--his entire life, and was never referred to as William or Bill.
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The part of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at the beginning of the movie is played by Stan Jones, who also wrote the movie's musical theme, "I Left My Love" as well as the classic country-western song "Ghost Riders in the Sky."
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Because of racial segregation laws in Louisiana, Althea Gibson would have been forced to stay in separate housing during the shoot, so all her scenes were shot in Hollywood, with doubles used in long shots filmed on location.
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The producers originally wanted Clark Gable to play Col. Marlowe, with James Stewart as Maj. Kendall. However, it was felt that the younger John Wayne and William Holden would be better suited to the characters.
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A Union soldier refers to a group of black children outside a cabin as "contrabands". This was an authentic slang term used by the Union army and refers to the fact that under Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation the slaves in the Confederate states were declared as "contrabands of war" and were considered free persons. Wherever the Union army went, slaves were taken from their owners and freed as "contraband". Later in the movie Lukey (Althea Gibson) hears the word "contraband" and asks Hannah, "That ain't me, is it?". In fact, in the entire movie, while the word "colored" is used to describe those once enslaved, then saved, the word "slave" is only uttered once.
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Director John Ford suggested the scene with the boys' military academy, and according to the producers, he ad-libbed it.
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Director John Ford's only feature film set during the Civil War, although he did direct a segment of How the West Was Won (1962) that was set during that period.
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The scene with the boys from the military academy was based on the actual Battle of New Market, in Virginia, where students from the Virginia Military Institute fought with Confederate troops led by Gen. John C. Breckenridge.
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The term "contraband" used early in the movie (when black children tell Maj. Kendall they need a doctor), comes from a May 1861 incident in Virginia when Union Gen. Benjamin Butler justified refusing to return a group of escaped slaves by classifying them as "contraband of war." The slaves had been used by Confederate forces to build their fortifications. Butler was justified under usages of war that authorized the seizure of enemy "property" that was being used against the federal army.
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John Wayne viewed this as a film that would allow him to funnel some of the profits into his own pet project, The Alamo (1960), which he was already in the process of casting and producing.
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Grierson's Raid was a strategic success. Once he linked up with Union forces in Baton Rouge, he and his unit were attached to the forces of Gen. Nathaniel Banks. Banks had orders to capture the Confederate stronghold of Port Hudson, some 30 miles north of Baton Rouge, to open the Mississippi River. Grierson, now a Brigadier General, had an affinity for the bottle and was reportedly drunk during most of the Port Hudson Campaign (his service was recorded as "spotty"). Port Hudson surrendered, after the longest military siege in North America, to the Union forces only after learning that Vicksburg had fallen on July 4th.
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When John Wayne (Col. Marlowe) first meets William Holden (Maj. Kendall), he accuses him of being out of uniform because he is not wearing his sidearms. In that particular scene, Marlowe is wearing a cavalry sword. However, throughout the rest of the film Marlowe does not wear any sidearms. Even when the Confederate forces are charging through the street and one of his junior officers offers him a pistol, he waves it off.
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The Confederate army was short of artillery pieces during the entire war. The cannons on display outside the boy's military school would have been taken for use by the army long before the events of this picture.
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William Holden was ill with flu for part of the shoot.
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First and only acting role for tennis star Althea Gibson.
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Although there are several battle scenes, John Wayne's character does not fire a single shot on screen in the entire film.
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Jack Pennick trained the 150 cadets from Jefferson Military College, who appeared in the sequence of the Confederate boy soldiers, based on real events.
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The real Col. Grierson, like the screen's Col. Marlowe, used special scouts dressed as civilians, known as "Grierson's Guerillas."
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When Hannah Hunter suggestively offers Col. Marlowe "a leg, or a breast?", she is repeating dialogue by Grace Kelly to Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief (1955).
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Three people on the film, including John Ford's son Patrick Ford, suffered broken legs.
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This is the second time in a John Ford western that Ken Curtis used his hillbilly accent. The first time was in The Searchers (1956). He would later perfect the accent on TV as Festus in Gunsmoke (1955).
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The story was based on a real-life cavalry operation led by Col. Benjamin Grierson, not a regular soldier but a schoolteacher who was frightened of horses. It played an important part in the capture of Vicksburg, by distracting the attention of the Confederate commander. It represented the first successful cavalry operation by the Union, which had been outclassed by the Confederates in the first half of the war, as Southern boys were more accustomed to the riding and shooting life.
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Col. Phil Secord, an aspiring politician who declares at one point that he hopes to become the Governor of Michigan after the war, is portrayed by veteran character actor Willis Bouchey who was born in Michigan.
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Just prior to the start of production, Paramount Pictures filed an injunction against William Holden in an attempt to prevent the actor, under contract to the studio, from appearing in the Mirisch Company production, a United Artists release. A district court denied Paramount's request, clearing the way for Holden to appear in the film.
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The quote at the Greenbriar dinner, "And yet your fair discourse hath been as sweet as sugar making the hard way sweet and delectable" is from "Richard II", Act II Scene 3 by William Shakespeare.
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A tag closing of Marlowe and his troops riding into Baton Rouge was dropped, but John Ford never intended to shoot it, as it too closely mirrored the end of Battleground (1949) with the old, exhausted troops marching in as new, fresh troops march out.
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Soundtrack: "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is credited to composer and band director Patrick Gilmore, of Boston. Gilmore' s band served as a Union brigade band during the Civil War.
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Ken Curtis was married to his first wife--director John Ford's daughter, Barbara Ford--when he appeared in both this film and Ford's The Searchers (1956).
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Hoot Gibson, appearing here in a cameo as Sgt. Brown as a reported "favor" for friend John Ford, had once been a box-office sensation, second only to Tom Mix in silent and then early sound-film Westerns. His career had all but disappeared by the time this film was made, and he had tried to make a living in real estate, eventually even working as a Las Vegas casino greeter. He died in 1962, at age 70.
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Just under six feet tall, Althea Gibson was taller than any of the other principal actors except John Wayne. Fittingly, John Ford had her stand at her full height during her scenes without bending or standing in the background. In the scene where she is taking brandy to Hannah Hunter she is slightly, but visibly, taller than either William Holden or Judson Pratt.
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Final film of Hoot Gibson.
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Although set in April, the film was actually made in the winter of 1958-59.
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The much anticipated fight between Col. Marlowe and Maj. Kendall consists of only three punches; Kendall lands two and Marlowe one, before artillery fire breaks it up.
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Bing Russell, who plays Dunker--the scout whose leg Maj. Kendall is forced to take off because it's become infected--is the father of Kurt Russell.
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Although described in one regard as a "financial failure" and also as a project that John Ford remained very unhappy with, the film still ended up ranking among 1959's top 20 box-office hits, grossing $3.6 million in its first year and earning Ford his highest-ever fee--$375,000, plus 10% of the gross.
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The response of audiences and critics was "lackluster".
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The film was widely derided for the scene in which Hannah and Lukey are caught listening to Col. Marlowe and his staff planning their route out of the area after the attack on Newton Station. In the film, the two are forced to accompany the soldiers on their journey. In real life, they would have been shot as spies.
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The character Col. Secord was a congressman from Michigan. Willis Bouchey, who played him, was born in Michigan.
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