The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936 film)

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The Charge of the Light Brigade
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by
Screenplay by
Based on "The Charge of the Light Brigade"
1854 poem 
by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by George Amy
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • October 20, 1936 (1936-10-20) (USA)
Running time
115 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,076,000
Box office $2,736,000

The Charge of the Light Brigade is a 1936 American historical adventure film made by Warner Bros.[1][2] 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.[3]

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 in which 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.




The charge had been portrayed in a British movie, The Jaws of Death, in 1930.

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 Jacoby's script, the final script was closer to Lives of a Bengal Lancer.[4]

An original working title was The Charge of the 600.[5]

Warners wanted an all-British cast. Errol Flynn (Australian, but considered Irish) had made such a strong impression in Captain Blood he was removed from supporting Frederic March in Anthony Adverse to play the lead in Charge of the Light Brigade.[6] Ian Hunter was connected to the film early on..[7] Anita Louise was announced as the female lead.[8]

Patric Knowles had just joined Warner Bros at the recommendation of Irving Asher in London, the same man who recommended Errol Flynn. He was given the crucial support part of Flynn's brother.[9] The movie gave an early important role for David Niven.[10]

Edward G. Robinson tested for the role of the lead villain Surat Khan. Basil Rathbone was also considered before C Henry Gordon was cast.[11]


Shooting started April 1936.[12]

During filming on location at Lone Pine California the unit helped put out a fire which started at a restaurant across the road from where the actors were staying.[13]

There was some shooting done in Mexico where there were fewer restrictions on hurting animals.[14]

The Charge sequence[edit]

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. For the filming of the climactic charge, 125 horses were trip-wired. Of those, 25 were killed outright or had to be put down afterward. Errol Flynn, an accomplished horseman, was so outraged by the number of horses injured and killed during the charge, and by director Michael Curtiz's seeming indifference to the carnage, that at one point as he was arguing with Curtiz about it, he couldn't contain himself and actually physically attacked him. They were pulled apart before any serious damage was done. The Charge sequence of the film itself forced the 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. No "27th Lancers" regiment was 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.

The filmmakers were also careless in the depiction of the Union Flag, which appears several times flying upside down.[15]


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.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Variety film review; November 4, 1936, page 18.
  2. ^ Harrison's Reports film review; November 7, 1936, page 178.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Tony Thomas, Rudy Behlmer * Clifford McCarty, The Films of Errol Flynn, Citadel Press, 1969 p 45-50
  5. ^ Tennyson 's Celebrated "Charge of the Light Brigade " Inspiration for New Film: Miss Colbert Will Be Star of 'Frenchy' Moroni Olsen Given Musketeer Role; Jones to Sing Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 13 June 1935: 13.
  6. ^ Chaplin's Big Business: Goldwyn's Leading Lady: A New Romantic Hero Bain, Greville. The Times of India (1861-current) [New Delhi, India] 07 Mar 1936: 9.
  7. ^ Irvin S Cobb, Famous Humorist, Signs to Star at Twentieth Century-Fox: Zanuck Picks Story for Writer-Player Francine Larrimore Arriving October 20 to Do Picture Work for M.-G.-M.; Featured Roles Awarded Melvyn Douglas Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 18 Sep 1935: 9.
  8. ^ SCREEN NOTES New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 20 Mar 1936: 28.
  9. ^ Irvin Cobb, Film Future Secure, to Star in "Gentleman From Mississippi": Writer's Thespianic Adventure Proceeds Claude Rains and Charles Boyer Both Will Have Fling at Napoleon Interpretation; Choir Singer in "Stagestruck" Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 09 Mar 1936: 15.
  10. ^ Bette Davis, Academy Winner, Will Break Up Film Duties With Vacation: Star Going to Palm Springs, Honolulu Randolph Scott Will Portray Scout Hawkeye in "Last of Mohicans;" Sol Lesser Plans Films for Twentieth-Century Release Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 07 Mar 1936: 5.
  11. ^ Franchot Tone Selected to Appear Opposite Jean Harlow in "Suzy" Film: George Fitzmaurice Will Direct Feature Harriet Hilliard's Next Picture Will Be "Make a Wish;" Capra Seeking Tibetans; Beverly Roberts Wins Leading Part Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 20 Mar 1936: 15.
  12. ^ Jungle Scene Gives Actors Extra Thrill Shaffer, George. Chicago Daily Tribune (1923-1963) [Chicago, Ill] 15 Apr 1936: 22.
  13. ^ Movie Crew Aids Firemen New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 02 Apr 1936: 29.
  14. ^ NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Forward the Light Brigade, to Mexico -- More Costumes for Hepburn -- Trivial Matters. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 15 June 1936: 24.
  15. ^
  16. ^ "The 9th Academy Awards (1937) Nominees and Winners". Retrieved 2011-08-08. 

External links[edit]