Santa Fe Trail (film)
|Santa Fe Trail|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Produced by||Hal B. Wallis|
|Screenplay by||Robert Buckner|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Editing by||George Amy|
|Studio||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Running time||110 minutes|
Santa Fe Trail is a 1940 American western film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey and Ronald Reagan. Written by Robert Buckner, the film is the abolitionist John Brown and his fanatical attacks on slavery as a prelude to the Civil War. Subthemes include J.E.B. Stuart and George Armstrong Custer as they duel for the hand of Kit Carson Holliday.
The film was one of the top-grossing films of the year, being the seventh Flynn–de Havilland collaboration. The film also has almost nothing to do with its namesake, the famed Santa Fe Trail, except that the trail started in Missouri and the railroad could be built only after the Army drove Brown out of Kansas.
The outdoor scenes were filmed at the Lasky Movie Ranch in the Lasky Mesa area of the Simi Hills in the western San Fernando Valley. One can visit the film location site, now in the very large Upper Las Virgenes Canyon Open Space Preserve (a.k.a. Ahmanson Ranch), with various trails to the Lasky Mesa locale.
At the West Point Military Academy in 1854, the villain Cadet Carl Rader (Van Heflin), a disciple of the fanatic abolitionist John Brown, is dishonorably discharged for spreading anti-slavery pamphlets. His classmates Jeb Stuart (Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) become second lieutenants and are posted to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory, the most dangerous duty in the army--an assignment they relish. On the way to Kansas, Custer and Stuart meet Cyrus K. Holliday, in charge of building the railroad to Santa Fe, New Mexico, and his daughter Kit (de Havilland), with whom both officers fall in love.
The Kansas Territory is bloodstained and war-torn, a victim of John Brown's relentless crusade against slavery. Meanwhile, Rader has enlisted as a mercenary in Brown's army, which has been terrorizing the countryside with bloody raids. During Brown's attack on a freight wagon under the protection of the U.S. Army, Stuart and Custer capture Brown's injured son Jason, and before dying, the troubled boy informs them about his father's hideout at Shubel Morgan's ranch in Palmyra. In disguise, Stuart rides into Palmyra, the center of the underground railroad, but is recognized by Rader, who takes him at gunpoint to Brown (Raymond Massey). While trying to escape, Stuart is trapped in a burning barn but is saved as Custer leads the cavalry to the rescue and drives Brown into seclusion.
Believing that Brown's force has been broken, Stuart and Custer are sent back to Washington, D.C., where Stuart proposes to Kit. However, far from being defeated, Brown is planning to ignite war by raiding the arsenal at Harper's Ferry, Virginia. When Brown refuses to pay Rader for his services, Rader rides to Washington to alert Stuart of Brown's plans, and the troops arrive just in time to crush the rebellion and hang Brown.
- Errol Flynn as James "Jeb" Stuart
- Olivia de Havilland as Kit Carson Holliday
- Raymond Massey as John Brown
- Ronald Reagan as George Armstrong Custer
- Alan Hale as Tex Bell
- William Lundigan as Bob Holliday
- Van Heflin as Carl Rader
- Gene Reynolds as Jason Brown
- Henry O'Neill as Cyrus K. Holliday
- Guinn Williams as Windy Brody
- Alan Baxter as Oliver Brown
- Moroni Olsen as Robert E. Lee
- Erville Alderson as Jefferson Davis
Massey's John Brown eagerly endorses breaking apart the union of the United States. The movie was made on the eve of the United States' entry into World War II, and its tone and political subtext express a desire to reconcile the nation's dispute over slavery which brought about the American Civil War and appeal to moviegoers in both the southern and northern United States. The American Civil War and abolition of slavery are presented as an unnecessary tragedy caused by an anarchic madman. The heroic protagonists such as Flynn's Jeb Stuart and Reagan's Custer seem unable to conceive how the issue of slavery could place them at odds in the near future, even though by 1859 hostility between the pro/anti-slavery states had reached a boiling point.
The film is frequently confused with the Raoul Walsh movie They Died with Their Boots On, released the following year, in which Flynn replaces Reagan in the role of Custer and also features de Havilland as Flynn's leading lady.
In its initial release, Warner Brothers premiered this film in some large cities with an experimental sound system called Vitasound. Not a stereophonic system as sometimes reported, Vitasound was intended to create a greater dynamic range in the reproduced sound in the theatre for battlefield scenes etc., or for dramatic music.
Vitasound employed a second, control, track along the line of the sprocket holes on the soundtrack side of the film. This control track consisted of a clear line on a black background that varied in width. If the width was greater than 0.04" then the soundtrack played as normal. At a width of 0.04" a relay operated connecting left and right speakers in parallel with the normal center speaker. As the control track width reduced further playback volume would be increased up to a maximum of 10dB at a zero control track width.
Santa Fe Trail entered the public domain in 1968, after United Artists Television – then the owners of the pre-1950 WB library (inherited from Associated Artists Productions [a.a.p.]) – failed to renew the copyright. As a result, the film has been widely available on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD, with picture and sound quality varying. A colorized version was produced in the 1980s, which was released on VHS. In the 1990s, Turner Entertainment through MGM/UA Home Video released an authorized VHS version (of higher quality than most other releases, but not utilizing the original negative); no other official release has been available on DVD or Blu-ray Disc (today, Turner's library is part of the television division of Warner Bros., the original distributor). The film is also free to watch and download on YouTube and the Internet Archive.
See also 
- Errol Flynn filmography
- Olivia de Havilland filmography
- Ronald Reagan filmography
- List of films in the public domain
- Glancy, H. Mark. "Warner Bros film grosses, 1921–51." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television. March 1995.
- oxy.edu. access date:5/15/2010. 'Lasky Movie Ranch' set photos
- http://www.lamountains.com/pdf/Ahmanson_History_movies.pdf www.lamountains. "Ahmanson: filming location history." access date: 5/11/2010.
- Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer * Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn, Citadel Press, 1969 p 99
Further reading 
- Robert E. Morsberger, "Slavery and 'The Santa Fe Trail,' or, John Brown on Hollywood's Sour Apple Tree," American Studies (1977) 18#2 pp 87-98. online, full-scale scholarly analysis of John Brown & other distorted historical themes
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Santa Fe Trail (film)|
- Santa Fe Trail at the Internet Movie Database
- Santa Fe Trail is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more] (alternative link)
- Santa Fe Trail at the TCM Movie Database
- Complete film at Google video