They Died With Their Boots On (1941)
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They Died With Their Boots On, the story of General Custer, is one of the greatest action adventure movies ever to be created. Action is the focus in this movie released just at America's entry in WWII, in fact, it could be said to be a recruiting flick, which despite the rather messy ending stirred patriotism like few other films. General Custer was rightly thought to be just the tonic to stir American fighting spirit.
Everybody knows that Hollywood has great difficulty sticking to the story when it comes to portraying history, however, there is such a thing as capturing the flavor of history, if not the exact factual sequence. You might consider any large undertakings you have been a part of, or known of; most of the time was spent doing anything but the grandstand play. There was a lot of waiting, shuffling around, and various tedious activities or inactivities before the actual "great event." If this were strictly portrayed on the screen you would end up with a very boring movie. In Hollywood's defense, I think it is often necessary to use artistic license to make a tellable story.
Still, historical inaccuracies aside, the purpose of a movie to me, is first and foremost, to be entertaining. Therefore, I will concede that They Died With Their Boots On does not portray strict history. But I will say I was entertained; absolutely and completely.
Errol Flynn, the greatest swashbuckler of all time, plays George Armstrong Custer, with absolute credibility. Flynn's Custer has all the derring do of Robin Hood, or any other great national hero, whatever the country. He appears magnificent in uniform and mounted on his fire breathing stallion, like a knight of old aboard his destrier. His men worship him and will follow him into the jaws of hell itself.
The film is crafted with an expert's eye, by Director Raoul Walsh. The script, the cast, the cinematography, the editing, and the score all combine to make a film of superlative quality.
The characters walk and breathe, brought to life by fine veteran actors so well chosen for their roles, like Sydney Greenstreet, Charley Grapewin, Stanley Ridges, and Olivia DeHavilland. The characters they drew will live on in your memory long after the movie is over. "Queens Own" Butler taught Custer the rollicking song "Garry Owen" that he liked so well he adopted it as the marching song of the Seventh Cavalry. California Joe, an historical character who led Custer and his regiment on many expeditions through hostile territory. General Winfield Scott, who was an historical character but served a fictitious purpose in the movie. Sydney Greenstreet, who had made such a splash in The Maltese Falcon, did yeoman service as the rotund general who gave Custer his first command and promoted him to brigadier general at the age of 22 or 23. The despicable character, Sharp, played so well by Arthur Kennedy was the heavy and provided just the right contrast with the boyish Custer who craved glory more than life itself. A young Anthony Quinn did a great job as Chief Crazy Horse and was only one of the many inspired casting decisions.
They Died With Their Boots On is pure escapist entertainment, and sometimes that is just what the doctor ordered.
The British have their legendary national hero, Robin Hood, and we Americans have our national hero, General Custer! And both happen to be played by none other than Errol Flynn, my pick for the finest swashbuckler in Hollywood history!
With all this emphasis on CGI, it's nice to watch Errol Flynn bound around as if mounted atop springs doing a far more energetic performance than anybody else, either in his day or since.
The Warner Bros DVD is presented in 1.33:1 theatrical format, in Black and White, and lasting 140 minutes. Most highly recommended!
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