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USA 1941
Directed by
Raoul Walsh
138 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

They Died With Their Boots On

Errol Flynn is at his dashing best in this entertaining but from even a superficial point of view, historically dubious cavalry Western.

The film opens with Flynn’s youthfully exuberant George Armstrong Custer arriving at West Point eager to taste the glories of war.  According to the script by Wally Kline and Aeneas Mackenzie Custer was a charming maverick who translated his vigorous  individualism into a brilliant career during the Civil War before his self-sacrificing demise at Little Big Horn in 1876.

Even of all you know of the Custer story is John Ford’s Fort Apache (1948) Walsh’s film seems immoderately indulgent if not outright hagiographic. Indeed so much is this the case that it is better to bracket history altogether and treat the film as a fiction. In this respect, even if the handling of the action is technically dated one can still appreciate how good it would have appeared back in the day. Flynn demonstrates why he was a top draw with this kind of tosh although scenes when he is call upon to act with some dramatic conviction also demonstrate that he wasn’t much of an actor.  As his love interest and eventual wife Olivia de Havilland is an incongruously refined presence while the support cast including John Litel, Sidney Greenstreet, Charlie Grapewin and  George P. Huntley Jr. all add colour to the proceedings. Of Anthony Quinn's Chief Crazy Horse the less said the better.

Nostalgia buffs will enjoy the film but if historical inaccuracy gets under your skin, stay away from it.




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