The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

The Charge of the Light Brigadecharge of the light brigade poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Written by Michael Jacoby and Rowland Leigh inspired by the poem by Tennyson
1936/USA
Warner Bros.

First viewing

 

When can their glory fade?/ O the wild charge they made!/ All the world wonder’d./ Honor the charge they made!/ Honor the Light Brigade,/ Noble six hundred! — Alfred Lord Tennyson “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

The war film is not a favorite genre of mine, but there is no question that this is an expertly made film of some power.  I don’t know if I could have watched it, however, if I had known ahead of time about the number of horses killed in filming the Charge.

This movie does not make any pretense of historical accuracy.  The regiment, characters, and incidents are all fictional.  The only thing that actually happened was the Charge itself, though not for the reasons or with the results claimed.

It is India, 1856.  As the movie begins, officials are telling war lord Surat Kahn that the stipend the British had been paying his father will cease.  Kahn nevertheless continues to entertain the party with a tiger hunt during which Major Geoffrey Vickers (Eroll Flynn) saves Kahn’s life.  We learn that the Russians would be only to glad to fill the gap left by the British.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey is engaged to his Colonel’s daughter Elsa Campbell (Olivia de Havilland).  Unfortunately, Elsa has fallen in love with Geoffrey’s brother Perry (Patric Knowles) while Geoffrey was away on duty.  When Perry tells Geoffrey about their love, he refuses to believe it.  For one reason or another, Geoffrey is always dragged elsewhere just as Elsa tries to talk to him.

Charge of the Light Brigade 2

Kahn waits until most of the men at the British garrison are away at manuevers and strikes the hopelessly undermanned fortress.  He offers surrender terms which the British are forced to accept and then massacres all the survivors of the initial attack except Elsa who is saved by Geoffrey.  Later, Geoffrey’s regiment is sent to the Crimea because it is there that they will find Kahn and, with luck, exact vengeance.   With David Niven as an officer, Donald Crisp as Elsa’s father, and just about every middle-aged British character actor in Hollywood at the time.

Charge of the Light Brigade 1

I liked this quite a bit.  All the acting was excellent and Michael Curtiz kept the action rolling along at a good pace.  The story picks up a lot when the focus shifts away from the love triangle to the fighting.  Unfortunately, Warner Bros. resorted to very cruel measures to get realistic battle footage.

Charge of the Light Brigade 3

Dozens of horses were killed during the making of this picture due to the use of trip wires in the Charge sequence.  This led to action by Congress to ensure the safety of animals in filmaking and the ASPCA to ban trip wires in its guidelines. Because of the public outcry about the scene, the film was never re-released by Warner Brothers.

After I read about this, I kept thinking about how awful it was to take an animal who had been trained to trust and obey its rider knowingly into harm’s way.  So sad.

Trailer

 

4 thoughts on “The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936)

  1. I love this film………it is quite exciting even though it certainly isn’t a true history of the Charge. So much is left out about the total incompetence of Lords Cardigan, Lucan, and Raglan but nobody wanted to make the British mad so it just added to the myth of the glorious charge. And who better than the beautiful Errol Flynn to be out front. A funny aside about the Charge……Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his famous poem a week after the Charge and was told that there were 600 British involved. Immediately after the poem was released to national acclaim, he found out that there were really almost 700 men but was relieved since 600 scanned better than 700. This huge military mistake has become mythical and glorious and even though I know the film is incorrect, I love it anyway.

    • I agree that this is an exciting film. I beginning to think that Eroll Flynn, for all his wicked ways, was one of the most classicly handsome Hollywood stars in his prime.

      • Bea, I agree about Flynn. In Robin Hood, Captain Blood, this film, and a couple more, he truly was what you could call beautiful outside of the feminine context. People rave about the looks of Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor but they were not for me. But alas, his wicked way caught up with him and he looked 20 years older than his age at the time of his death. It is sad to see him all bloated and pouchy eyed and then think of the man who was Robin Hood.

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