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They Died with Their Boots On

(1941 b 140')

En: 6 Ed: 5

Brash Custer attends West Point, seeks glory in the cavalry, and marries before being killed in the Indian war.

In 1857 George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) arrives at West Point as a cadet in a fancy uniform with dogs. Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy) puts him in the quarters of Romulus Taipe (Stanley Ridges). Custer knocks down Sharp and is sent to General Phil Sheridan (John Litel). In 1861 southerners decline the loyalty oath and march off. Custer has the worst record ever and meets Elizabeth Bacon (Olivia de Havilland) while walking punishment. Sheridan gives Custer a diploma because of the war and sends him to Washington, where Custer starts a fire to see Taipe, who makes him wait. Custer meets General Winfield Scott (Sydney Greenstreet) eating onions for lunch and gets into the 2nd cavalry, taking Taipe's horse.

Custer is under Sharp but fights eagerly, refusing to retreat. Custer is wounded and is commended by Sheridan. Custer goes to find Elizabeth, but her father, Samuel Bacon (Gene Lockhart), sees him in a saloon singing with Lt. Butler (G. P. Huntley). Callie (Hattie McDaniel) reads tea leaves for Elizabeth, and Custer comes in. Bacon sees him and angrily ejects him. Custer climbs up to Elizabeth's balcony and kisses her. Custer is made a brigadier general and leads a charge that causes Stuart to retreat. Custer wins battles, and after the war weds Elizabeth.

Years later Custer drinks. Sharp and his father (Walter Hampden) ask Custer to be president of the railroad for his name, but he declines. Elizabeth calls on Gen. Scott, and Custer is called back to Ft. Lincoln as a captain. On the wagon train they meet California Joe (Charley Grapewin). Indians take horses, and Custer makes Chief Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn) give them back. Custer disciplines the soldiers and shows the captured Crazy Horse. Custer finds Sharp selling rifles to Indians and orders his bar closed. An Indian helps Crazy Horse escape. Custer sees Butler and has the men sing. The 7th cavalry fights Indians. Crazy Horse tells Custer they will not give up the Black Hills, and they make a treaty with the Sioux. Commissioner Taipe tells Sharp that gold will bring people. When they visit Custer, he finds the men drunk. Custer knocks down Sharp, destroys bottles, and chokes Taipe. On the train to Washington Custer tells Elizabeth that the gold strike is phony. Custer testifies against Taipe and warns them about the Sioux. Custer asks Sheridan to reinstate him and barges in on President Grant to get his command back.

Custer asks Sharp for several drinks, saying glory lasts longer than money. Custer says goodbye to Elizabeth, who senses disaster. Joe tells Custer that Crazy Horse is massacring men. Custer plans to attack to gain time so that Sheridan can arrive. Butler declines to take a letter, and Custer brought Sharp. At the Little Big Horn the cavalry charges and rides into a trap. Indians kill all the whites. Sheridan tells Taipe that Custer was right, and Elizabeth brings his dying declaration. Taipe resigns, and Sheridan says that Crazy Horse will be protected.

This entertaining mixture of fact and fiction needs some clarity. Custer was suspended for visiting his wife without leave and actually confirmed the discovery of gold, which caused the whites to abrogate their treaty with the Sioux. Yet part of his fanaticism may have been because of his having given up alcohol. So we can ask why the story was distorted to make it look like it was a few greedy railroad "bad apples" rather than avaricious government policy that caused the disastrous Indian war.

Copyright © 2002 by Sanderson Beck

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