They Died with Their Boots On (1941) is a rollicking good western film directed by Raoul Walsh starring Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland
Mixing fact with a big helping of fiction the movie is an entertaining--but not historically accurate--account of George Armstrong Custer's (Errol Flynn) life beginning with his time at West Point in 1857 to his death at Little Big Horn in 1876.
In my opinion the movie is a bit lengthy (2 hours 21 minutes), and spends too much time examining Custer's flamboyant dress and outrageous behavior at West Point.
During the Civil War at the Battle of Bull Run (July 1861) Custer disobeys orders and leads a charge into enemy lines where he is wounded in battle, but receives a medal for his valor.
Sent home to recover his battle wounds, Custer again finds Elizabeth 'Libby' Bacon (Olivia de Havilland)--who he had met at West Point--and proposes to her. After the war concludes Custer marries Libby.
The second half of the film sets the stage for Custer's 'last stand' with the Indians.
Custer learns his old enemy from West Point--Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy-left in the photo above)--is trying to start a gold rush in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory. A gold rush would increase business for Sharp's shipping line, but would cause a stampede of settlement into Native American sacred land.
Portrayed as an Indian sympathizer--Custer is outraged by the news of an invasion into Indian territory, and goes to Congress seeking their support. Congress ridicules and ignores him, but later when the presence of gold miners leads to open conflict with Native Americans President Grant restores him to command of the 7th Cavalry.
The film suggests that a hand-full of corrupt politicians provoked Indians into a war that threatened the survival of all settlers moving West.
In the end Custer's "Last Stand" follows through on his promise to teach his men "to endure and die with their boots on."
Errol Flynn as George Armstrong Custer
Olivia de Havilland as Elizabeth Bacon Custer
Arthur Kennedy as Ned Sharp
Charley Grapewin as California Joe
Gene Lockhart as Samuel Bacon
Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse
Stanley Ridges as Maj. Romulus Taipe
John Litel as Gen. Phil Sheridan
Walter Hampden as William Sharp
Sydney Greenstreet as Lt. Gen. Winfield Scott
Regis Toomey as Fitzhugh Lee
Hattie McDaniel as Callie
Minor Watson as Senator Smith
Joseph Crehan as President Ulysses S. Grant
Iverson Ranch scenes
From an Iverson Ranch movie historian's point of view I can't help but wonder if Raoul Walsh wasn't trying to upstage John Ford's use of Iverson scenes from Stagecoach (1939)? Walsh carefully lensed scenes that took full advantage of the best landscape formations the ranch had to offer…
Sioux scouts on Boots Rock near the Garden of the Gods.
7th Cavalry troops moving through the Iverson gorge.
Custer with Nyoka Cliff as a backdrop.
7th Cavalry troops moving past Hook Rock.
The famous Custer and Crazy Horse fight scene at the Garden of the Gods.
Gathering of Sioux chiefs at Overlook Point.
Sioux Indians amassing in front of Devil's Doorway.
7th Cavalry troops passing Rock Island.
And, finally 7th Cavalry troops in Indian Hills coming onto Sheep Flats from the Mushroom Rock trail.
If you are an Iverson Location Ranch aficionado this movie is a must see. And, it's a darn good tall tale to boot!
This film grossed $2.55 million in 1941 making it the second biggest hit of the year for Warner Bros.
For more information about the Chatsworth filming locations visit http://www.cowboyup.com/ and learn about my books: Rendezvous at Boulder Pass: Hollywood's Fantasyland © 2010 (ISBN: 978-0-615-21522-8) and Reel Cowboys of the Santa Susanas © 2008 (ISBN: 978-0-615-21499-3)