The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)
Set against the real-life story of 19th century British Lancers who led a suicide raid in India during the Crimean war and based on Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem/testament to their bravery Michael Curtiz's The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) is a fairly successful attempt to translate their story into a full fledged narrative. And to do so you need characters and conflict, and as such you get Errol Flynn as Maj. Geoffrey Vickers, a cunning and funny soldier whose blind spot is his love of Elsa Campbell (Olivia De Havilland). He's been out fighting with his boys in India and making friends with the enemy, while she has unintentionally fallen in love with Capt. Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles), Geoffery's brother. This gives the film a fun and adventurous first half, where Geoffrey shoots a leopard and saves the life of Surat Kahn (C. Henry Gordon), only to return home unaware of the drama that unfolded without him. He's also got his best friend Captain James Randall (David Niven) at his side. And though Elsa keeps it a secret while Geoffrey is enjoying a break from his battles, once Geoffrey returns to India, Elsa follows, hoping to straighten the situation out. But the situation becomes complicated as India is looking to revolt with the British Army spread thin. Geoffrey suggests a preemptive assault, but that is rejected, and such leads him and Elsa to be at the (completely fictional) Chukoti fort when Surat and his clan descend on it and spending a night in a fairly tight and effective siege sequence. In the morning, Surat's clan has mysteriously departed, until they send over a white-flag message offering Geoffrey and the survivors a passage out. But they're lied to, and Surat's men open fire on the men, women, and children evacuating. Such leads Geoffrey to a place where he circumvents orders to set up 600 men to lead a charge against the Indians, with impossible odds stacked against any hope of success. Essentially, Curtiz's Light Brigade can be dived into two halves. Once the siege takes over (masterfully staged at that), the love story falls into the background from there on out, the adventure aspects take over, and more's the better. Perhaps the first half was mere lip service the studio played to their female audience, although it's funny to see Flynn on the losing end of the De Havilland battle, especially when their best known work together is as Robin Hood and Maid Marian in Adventures of Robin Hood, which ranks as one of the great achievements of Hollywood cinema. This is not that, but as an afternoon's entertainment, it does the job. Warner Home Video does a splendid job presenting The Charge of the Light Brigade in a solid full frame transfer (1.33:1) with the original monaural soundtrack (DD 1.0). The movie can be watched normally or in Warner's "Night at the Movies" option, which puts the special features into a "play all" function that includes a bonus trailer, a newsreel, the short films "Give Me Liberty" (21 min.) and Bob Hope's "Shop Talk" (21 min.), and the Looney Tunes short "Boom Boom" (8 min.). Theatrical trailer. Keep-case, or slimcase in "The Errol Flynn Collection, Vol. 2."
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