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Sunday, 22 July 2012

They Died With Their Boots On (1941) - Star of the month... Olivia de Havilland

They Died With Their Boots On is a 1941 western directed by Raoul Walsh, and starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland in their eighth and last film together. The supporting cast features Arthur Kennedy, Sydney Greenstreet, Charley Grapewin, Gene Lockhart, Anthony Quinn, John Litel, Regis Toomey and Hattie McDaniel.

Hattie McDaniel with Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
The film tells the historically inaccurate story of George Armstrong Cutler (played by Flynn), beginning with his time spent at West Point Military Academy, meeting and wooing his future wife, Elizabeth Bacon (played by de Havilland), his time in the American Civil War and the Battle of Little Big Horn against native Americans of the Black Hills of Dakota.

Although the film is not a comedy, the first half is staged as a comedy, with lots of humour and laughs. The second half of the film is much darker and dramatic. This can be seen as representative of the maturity of George Cutler.  As he misbehaves immaturely at West Point, the film is comic; when he goes off to war and becomes an inspiring leader, the film becoems more serious.

Did you know...

  • This film is sometimes shown on TV in a computer coloured version
  • The film was originally meant to be directed by Michael Curtiz, however Errol Flynn had enough of his direction after their previous film 'Dive Bomber'
  • Two extras were killed during the filming of Cutler's Last Stand - one untrained rider, George Murphy, died in a fall from a horse; and another Jack Budlong, fell of a horse and was wounded by a prop sword
  • The song "Garryowen" played throughout the film was a real favourite song of the real George Cutler
  • This was the last of eight films Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn starred together - although they would both later appear in the musical film 'Thank Your Lucky Stars', they did not appear together

Closing remarks

When I first heard this film was a war/western and runs almost 2.5 hours, I was expecting it to be very slow and a little boring. However I was pleasantly surprised to find 'They Died With Their Boots On' a very enjoyable spectator experience.  Playing the first half of the film as a comedy gives the relief the story needs before the war climax picks up. As always, Olivia de Havilland is lovely as Mrs. Cutler and the film features one of Max Steiner's best musical scores. Another actress I would like to mention is the great Hattie McDaniel, who steals every scene she's in as the Bacon's maid.

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