Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1940. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Robert Buckner. Cinematography by Sol Polito. Produced by Hal B. Wallis. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by Errol Flynn, John Hughes. Costume Design by Milo Anderson. Film Editing by George Amy.
Although its historical accuracy is more than questionable, this mixed up western does offer up the opportunity to see a part of the American past that is rarely dealt with in films: the years leading up to the Civil War. After graduating from West Point, young Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) are stationed at the country’s most dangerous outpost, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. These guys are far too conceited to let ‘Bloody Kansas’ get them down and so enjoy their jobs while also competing for the affections of a beautiful young woman (Olivia de Havilland). Trouble comes in the form of slavery abolitionist John Brown (Raymond Massey), a lawless fanatic who is intent on killing every last man in the country to prove that he is right about freeing the slaves of the south. In reality, Stuart actually graduated West Point years earlier than Custer, and the other men they’re seen graduating with were also not the same age as either of them, while the business with Brown didn’t actually happen at the time that the film takes place. Aside from these glaring, intentional errors, not to mention the fact that the anti-slavery guy is seen as a villain, this film manages some great action scenes and further mines the terrific chemistry that Flynn always had with de Havilland. Her character is one of the most interesting aspects of the film, particularly her being the one to feel the oncoming dread of war in the face of the rowdiness that the men around her seem to be enjoying. On-set bickering between Flynn and director Michael Curtiz also made this film, a curious combination of light-hearted romance, slapstick comedy (in the forms of Alan Hale and William Lundigan) and deeply felt political drama, the legendary filmmaker’s last production with his Tasmanian star.