They Died With Their Boots On – 1941 – English
Synopsis: 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…
Review: All in all, an excellent movie from that time and source (coming from Warner Brothers as it was peaking in craftsmanship and style just before WWII), provided you don’t take it at all seriously. The movie really makes no claim to being historically accurate, and is certainly no more or less accurate or believable than say, JFK. (This one may actually be more honest about it, though, as it essentially admits along the way that it’s not to be taken as particularly fact-based, but more of a stylishly semi-heroic portrayal.) It’s worth noting that audiences of the time were no more naive about the story than we are today; the NY Times review conceded that audiences would “dismiss factual inaccuracies sprinkled throughout the film,” described the biographical account of Custer’s life as “fanciful,” and pointed out that the presentation of Custer’s motivations regarding the final events were at odds with various historical accounts. They could have really gone overboard in building up Custer, one supposes, but they succeed admirably in depicting him as not necessarily the sharpest or most diligent guy around, but appropriately determined, principled and inspirational.
Flynn and DeHavilland, doing their 8th movie together in 7 years (and their last), are so comfortable together, and play off each other so easily at this point, that it’s not too difficult to overlook how thinly their courtship is written here. With a first-time pairing, it would be hard to imagine what could really draw Elizabeth to Custer, but these two make it work. The movie is also missing their director from their previous seven films together (the greatly underrated Michael Curtiz), but given that he had worked with them on the previous year’s similar-themed Santa Fe Trail, it’s understandable if he chose to opt out of this one. (They all started together with Captain Blood and The Charge of the Light Brigade – both terrific – so we can’t really blame them if they started having a tough time keeping it all fresh.)
Raoul Walsh, the director here, is certainly more comfortable with the action sequences – which are outstanding – and everything else outdoors. The interior scenes are a little more uneven, but the studio craftsmen succeed in compensating for that very well, as does Warner Bros’ outstanding cast of “usual suspects” and new faces (Greenstreet, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn, Arthur Kennedy, etc). I would have liked it better if Kennedy’s character had been a bit less standard (I generally like his work), but here he seems to be hitting roughly the same notes in every scene; the part could have been better written – and I suppose they might have been unsure of what he could handle, as he’d only been in films for one year (Walsh probably took him for this after doing High Sierra together).
Various highlights include the depiction (probably imagined) of the genesis of “Garryowen” as the cavalry theme. The last half hour is particularly outstanding, especially with the parting of the leads echoing the end of their screen partnership, followed by the final battle scenes. A thoroughly rousing adventure.
Varios puntos destacados incluyen la representación (probablemente imaginada) de la génesis de “Garryowen” como el tema de la caballería. La última media hora es particularmente sobresaliente, especialmente con la separación de los protagonistas haciendo eco del final de su asociación en la pantalla, seguida de las escenas de batalla finales. Una aventura completamente emocionante.