The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936 film)
|The Charge of the Light Brigade|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Michael Curtiz|
|Based on||"The Charge of the Light Brigade"
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Edited by||George Amy|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
The Charge of the Light Brigade is a 1936 American historical adventure film made by Warner Bros. It was directed by Michael Curtiz and produced by Samuel Bischoff, with Hal B. Wallis as executive producer, from a screenplay by Michael Jacoby and Rowland Leigh, from a story by Michael Jacoby based on the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson. The music score was by Max Steiner and the cinematography by Sol Polito. Scenes were shot at the following California locations: Lone Pine, Sherwood Lake, Lasky Mesa, Chatsworth and Sonora. The Sierra Nevada mountains were used for the Khyber Pass scenes.
The film starred Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland. The story is very loosely based on the famous Charge of the Light Brigade that took place during the Crimean War (1853–56). Additionally, the story line seems to include the Siege of Cawnpore during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
This was the second of nine films that Errol Flynn and Olivia de Havilland starred together.
In 1854, Major Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn) and his brother, Captain Perry Vickers (Patric Knowles), are stationed at the fictional city of Chukoti in India, with the 27th Lancers of the British Army during the period of East India Company dominance over the Indian subcontinent. Perry has secretly betrayed Geoffrey by stealing the love of his fiancee Elsa (Olivia de Havilland).
During an official visit to local tributary rajah, Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon), Geoffrey saves the rajah's life. Later, Surat Khan massacres the inhabitants of Chukoti (mainly the dependents of the lancers), and allies himself with the Russians, whom the British are fighting in the Crimean War. He spares Elsa and Geoffrey as they flee the slaughter to repay his debt to Geoffrey.
The love triangle and the quest for vengeance are both resolved at the Battle of Balaclava. Aware that Surat Khan is inspecting the Russian position opposite the 27th Lancers, Geoffrey Vickers secretly replaces the written orders of Sir Charles Macefield (Henry Stephenson) to the commander of the Light Brigade, Sir Benjamin Warrenton (Nigel Bruce). Vickers then orders the famous suicidal attack so the lancers can avenge the Chukoti massacre. He writes a note to Macefield explaining his actions and forces his brother Perry to deliver it, sparing him from almost certain death. Just as in real life, the attack succeeds in reaching the Russian artillery positions. There, Vickers finds and kills Surat Khan, at the cost of his own life.
After receiving Vickers' note, Macefield takes responsibility for the charge and burns the note to protect Vickers' good name.
- Errol Flynn as Major Geoffrey Vickers
- Olivia de Havilland as Elsa Campbell
- Patric Knowles as Captain Perry Vickers
- C. Henry Gordon as Surat Khan
- David Niven as Captain James Randall
- Nigel Bruce as Sir Benjamin Warrenton
- Spring Byington as Lady Warrenton
- Donald Crisp as Colonel Campbell
- Henry Stephenson as Sir Charles Macefield
- G. P. Huntley, Jr. as Major Jowett
- E. E. Clive as Sir Humphrey Harcourt
- Robert Barrat as Count Igor Volonoff
- J. Carrol Naish as Subahdar-Major Puran Singh
- Walter Holbrook as Cornet Barclay
- Princess Baigum as Prema's Mother
- Charles Sedgwick as Cornet Pearson
- Scotty Beckett as Prema Singh
- George Regas as Wazir
- Helen Sanborn as Mrs. Jowett
Warner Bros were inspired to make the film after Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935) had been released to great popularity, ushering in a series of British Empire adventure tales. Michel Jacoby had developed a story based on the famous charge but although Warners bought it the final script was closer to Lives of a Bengal Lancer.
The Charge sequence
The film comes to a climax at the Battle of Balaclava, subject of Lord Tennyson's poem The Charge of the Light Brigade. The lancers charge into the valley and brave the Russian cannons, and many are killed. Text from Tennyson's poem is superimposed on the screen, coupled with Max Steiner's musical score. Director Michael Curtiz, who did not have an excellent command of English, shouted "Bring on the empty horses", meaning "riderless horses". David Niven used this as the title of his book about the Golden Age of Hollywood.
The battlefield set was lined with trip wires to trip the cavalry horses. Dozens were killed during filming, forcing U.S. Congress to ensure the safety of animals in motion pictures. The ASPCA banned trip wires from films in its guidelines as well. Unlike the rest of Flynn's blockbuster films, because of the use of trip wires and the number of horses killed, it was never re-released by Warner Brothers.
The film originally featured the Siege of Cawnpore during the Sepoy Rebellion. When someone pointed out that the Sepoy Rebellion took place three years after the Battle of Balaclava, the name of Cawnpore was hastily changed to Chukoti, and the rebellion was turned into a fictional uprising led by the fictional Surat Khan, the leader of the fictional country of Suristan, a vaguely Turkish country. Suristan is in fact an ancient Persian name for Syria. Niven comments on the change in his autobiography.
The reason for the Charge of the Light Brigade was shown in the film as being because the 27th Lancers changed the direction of the manoeuvre so as to invade the Russian camp to kill Surat Khan. It was actually as a result of a dispute between Lord Cardigan and Lord Raglan. Moreover, the Battle of Balaclava did not result in the fall of Sebastopol, as is erroneously stated in the film.
Finally, the 27th Lancers are fictional as well. The 17th Lancers, 8th and 11th Hussars, and the 4th and 13th Light Dragoons made the real charge. A "27th Lancers" were not a part of the British Army until 1941.
The filmmakers were well aware of the historical inaccuracy of the film and were very open about it. In fact, at the very beginning of the film there is a disclaimer about the historical veracity of the film.
Jack Sullivan won the Academy Award for Best Assistant Director for his work on the film, and the film was also nominated for the Academy Award for Sound (Nathan Levinson) and the Academy Award for Original Music Score.
- Variety film review; November 4, 1936, page 18.
- Harrison's Reports film review; November 7, 1936, page 178.
- Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer * Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn, Citadel Press, 1969 p 45-50
- "The 9th Academy Awards (1936) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2011-08-08.
- The Charge of the Light Brigade at the Internet Movie Database
- The Charge of the Light Brigade at the TCM Movie Database
- The Charge of the Light Brigade at AllMovie
- The Charge of the Light Brigade at the American Film Institute Catalog
- A historical assessment from CrimeanTexts.org.uk at the Wayback Machine (archived April 5, 2003)