Sunday evening I spent at home watching Errol Flynn in ‘They Died With Their Boots On’. Among the many American films made on the opening of the West, this was among the finest.
I had seen the film before, in the early 1940s, before a majority of the present world population was born, and, of course, everybody knows about General Custer’s last stand, or should know, even if it is American history, but that was a long time ago.
Now TNT is reviving a lot of my old memories, Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra at the ball game, Fred Astaire at the shoeshine stand, Deborah Kerr as a nun in the Himalayas, Tyrone Power as Jesse James, James Cangey in Alcatraz, Bette Davis in a Somerset Maugham story set in a Malay rubber plantation, Van Johnson and June Allyson in good old summer time, and Errol Flynn as General Custer.
Much of the film’s success is because of Flynn, Hollywood's greatest swashbuckler of all times. And to this character, over here, is added history, two glorious chapters of it, the Civil War, and the conquest of the West.
It was a long film, lasted three of Sunday’s peak hours. But fortune favours those who have done their quota of good deeds during the week, there was nobody at home and I could watch it in peace and total concentration, without Channel V’s interruptions of gyrating ladies in sairs. Not that I have got anything against Channel V, please note. I spend many hours a week perking my spirits over its music, song and dance. And, I believe, in this department, there is no cinema on earth to touch the Indian cinema. Also, in the fight scenes, the Chinese martial art nothing near our fight directors.
The fights in yesterday’s movie were different, they were battles. Guns, bows and arrows, swords. As few fisticuffs, no doubts, you can’t have Errol Flynn for three hours and not put up your fists occasionally. And mostly it was cavalry, the US cavalry, bugles sounding as it rides into battle, and once, at West Point, the Nationalist forces playing Dixieland.
And there were old friends to see and recongnise again, which is one of the great delights of seeing old black-and-white films. Sidbey Greenstreet as a general, his jowls covered with wishskers, but sill, unmistakably, Greenstreet. And a young Anthony Quinn as an Indian. Plus, of course, Olivia de Haviland. It was still earlu days for her, one day soon she whould be winning the Oscar for ‘The Heiress’ (“I want to thank Mom, dad, sister, neighbour, my husband/wife”).
But it is the final scene that made the film. The Indian tribes, joined in war under Sitting Bull, circling and shooting like clay pigeons a handful of the US Cavalry’s most gallant. All the cavalrymen died at Big Little Horn, and they died with their boots on.