George Armstrong Custer, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON is a wholly entertaining movie, fueled by Raoul Walsh's direction and Errol Flynn's energetic performance. The film follows Custer (Flynn) from his youth as a West Point cadet to his service in the Civil War and finally to his days with the Seventh Cavalry, which ended with the massacre at Little Big Horn on June 25, 1876. Walsh creates a rousing film, its pace as fast as the many cavalry charges the dashing Custer leads. Unfortunately, the picture does not adhere to the facts and, in many instances, strays far afield to keep Custer's legend intact, going so far as to invest the cavalry commander with impassioned sympathy for the plight of the Indians! Though historically inaccurate, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON still provides sprawling, exciting epic action, with huge masses of men moved in the Civil War scenes, and particularly in the final battle against the Indians, with great skill by Walsh. Walsh used more than 1,000 extras, with mostly Filipinos doubling for the Sioux because, not surprisingly, only 16 real Sioux from the reservation at South Dakota's Fort Yates answered the casting call (the rest, presumably, refusing to insult the memories of their ancestors). Dozens of stuntmen were injured in horse falls, so many that the studio had to set up a field hospital at the location site to handle the daily injuries, with doctors and nurses--and veterinarians--attending the scores of riders and horses hobbling in for treatment after battle scenes. Indeed, three stuntmen died during the filming of this wild actioner: one from a broken neck, another from a heart attack, and, in the most bizarre and gruesome death, one impaled on his own sword--which was real at his own insistence. Despite the film's wanton distortion of history, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON did paint a fairly sympathetic portrait of the Indians. Director Walsh later stated: "Most westerns had depicted the Indian as a painted, vicious savage. In THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON I tried to show him as an individual who only turned violent when his rights as defined by treaty were violated by white men."
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