Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
USA, 1936. Warner Bros.. Original story by Michael Jacoby, Screenplay by Michael Jacoby, Rowland Leigh, based on the poem by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Cinematography by Sol Polito. Produced by Hal B. Wallis, Harry M. Warner, Jack L. Warner. Music by Max Steiner. Production Design by John Hughes. Costume Design by Milo Anderson. Film Editing by George Amy. Academy Awards 1936.
Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem regarding the famous, unexplained suicide mission of 600 British cavalrymen attacking Russian troops numbering past twenty-five thousand provides the basis for this fictionalized adventure film. Errol Flynn is the dashing soldier in mid-nineteenth century British India who is engaged to beautiful Olivia de Havilland, devastated to learn that while he’s been away playing with his rifle she’s been getting to know his brother and the two of them are genuinely in love. Meanwhile, a dangerous situation develops and bursts open on the battlefield: Indian Chieftain Surat Khan who owes Flynn his life tricks the British into leaving an outpost populated by women and children vulnerable to attack, then massacres its inhabitants without the slightest ounce of mercy. Flynn, desperately in need of vengeance, decides to set his men against this villainy when Khan takes refuge in Russia and the British get involved in the Crimean war. The film sacrifices historical accuracy in the name of entertainment, but the energy is up the entire time, kept afloat by Michael Curtiz’s typically strong direction, a sterling lead performance by the incredibly handsome and charismatic Flynn, and a bombastic musical score by Max Steiner that seems to never want to quit. Gunga Din and Lives Of A Bengal Lancer are more fun, but this one isn’t too far behind either of them. Even the love triangle manages to have effective weight (though de Havilland looks like she knows how incredibly silly her role is compared to her later performances in films like Gone With The Wind and The Heiress).