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They Died with Their Boots On
IMDB Rating: 7.3/10 from 4,225 votes
Release: 1 January 1942 (USA) /

They Died with Their Boots On

Genre: Biography, Drama, Romance
Director: Raoul Walsh,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: Highly fictionalized account (see 'goofs' for examples) of the life of George Armstrong Custer from his arrival at West Point in 1857 to his death at the battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876. He has little discipline at the academy but is prepared to stand up to the senior cadet, Ned Sharp, who makes his life miserable. While there he catches the eye of the commandant, Col. (later General) Phil Sheridan and also meets his future bride, Elizabeth Bacon. Graduating early due to the Civil War, it is only through a chance meeting with General Winfield Scott that he finally gets assigned to a cavalry regiment. He served with distinction during the war and when he is promoted to Brigadier General in error, he leads his troops in a decisive victory. He has little to do after the war turning down lucrative positions in private industry and it's his wife who arranges with Gen. Scott for him to be appointed a Lt. Colonel and given command of the 7th Cavalry. He is depicted as a friend of the ... Written by garykmcd

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Critic Reviews

You've heard the mantra against THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON...That the only facts they got right were that there WAS a George Armstrong Custer, he DID serve in the Civil War, and he DID die at the Little Big Horn. This is all true, but what of it? Hollywood has never been obsessed with making historically accurate epics (particularly concerning the West), and, at the time of filming, with America recently plunged into WWII, the WB knew that escapism was essential for film audiences. What better way to take an audiences mind off the depressing war news for a couple of hours than with a grand adventure starring their biggest action star?

Errol Flynn, coming off two minor 1941 releases (the blandly pleasant comedy FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK, and his first war-related title, DIVE BOMBER) was due for a more 'swashbuckling' role, but the actor flatly refused to work with Michael Curtiz, again. While the Hungarian-born director had guided the actor to stardom, he was a very hard taskmaster, and a mutual hatred between the pair had developed, fueled by Flynn's carousing and lazy work habits. Veteran director Raoul Walsh was called in, and the hard-living director and star would develop an immediate rapport, both on and off-camera (Walsh would go on to direct Flynn in eight films, and drink and ride motorcycles with him between projects).

Another milestone of THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON was that this would be Flynn's last teaming with long-time co-star Olivia de Havilland. Although the pair were friends, de Havilland had become a major star in her own right, and she demanded more important roles than just being Flynn's 'love interest', a decision Flynn supported, wholeheartedly. The fact that the stars knew this during the shooting gave their scenes, particularly the final one, a poignancy that is unmatched in any of their other films.

Flynn's Custer was a larger-than-life cavalier, prone to getting in trouble with his superiors, but so charismatic that one enlisted man remarks, "We'd follow him to hell." Barely allowed to leave West Point to serve in the Civil War (his academic record is the worst in West Point's history, "even worse than Ulysses S. Grant" one instructor laments), the new lieutenant is accidentally promoted to Brigadier General, and uses his rank to lead his command in a series of charges at Gettysburg, ultimately saving the day, and the Union, in the process.

Mustered out at the conclusion of the war, inactivity leads the soldier to drinking and despondency, so wife Libby pulls some strings, and gets him a new command, in the Black Hills, leading the Seventh Cavalry. Finding them an undisciplined lot, he closes the bar, introduces discipline, and a new unit song (the immortal 'Garry Owen'). In no time, his unit is a crack outfit.

Custer also befriends Crazy Horse (Anthony Quinn), and promises to keep the sacred Black Hills free of white settlers. Unfortunately, greedy land speculators fake reports of a gold strike there, creating a 'rush', and Custer discovers that the corruption runs all the way to Washington. Unable to prevent the impending slaughter (Congress will only accept his charges if presented as a 'dying declaration'), and facing court martial, Custer bullies President Grant into allowing him to return to his command...and leads the Seventh to the Little Big Horn...

The final charge at the Little Big Horn, concluding with 'Custer's Last Stand' is truly spectacular (Iron Eyes Cody, one of the Indians participating in the sequence, told a great story of an inebriated Flynn, surrounded by his dwindling forces, enthusiastically cussing and firing away, even after director Walsh yelled "Cut!"), and, aided by Max Steiner's decisive music, is one of the most rousing scenes in film history.

Accurate? Are you kidding? But THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, flaws and all, is still cherished as one of Errol Flynn's finest films, during his years as a top star for the WB.

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