They Died with Their Boots On [1941]

Bert Glennon, who shot Stagecoach and seven other John Ford classics, has given this Raoul Walsh biopic of George Armstrong Custer a burnished glow--an evocative interplay of raw sunlight and elegiac shadow like no other vintage Warner Bros. Western. Glennon's artistry and Walsh's trademark gusto sustain enthusiasm even as the screenplay beggars belief. The flamboyant Custer (Errol Flynn), rushed into Civil War service straight from West Point, did get promoted overnight to general and establish a spectacular record for "ride to the guns" leadership. However, Custer as defender of Indians' rights--to the point of willing his own Last Stand so he could accuse corrupt Indian Commissioners from the grave--is historical rewrite of such sweeping chutzpah as to shame DeMille. Flynn and Olivia de Havilland make an even more appealing couple than usual, and the big supporting cast is unflaggingly energetic above and beyond the call of duty. --Richard T. Jameson

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