Movie Reviews - Featured Films » Epic Films - Adventure

The Charge of the Light Brigade Movie Review

vickers british film flynn

1936 – Michael Curtiz –

Think of directors who are especially associated with epics and you will probably name David Lean, D.W. Griffith, Cecil B. De Mille, and perhaps even Michael Curtiz, that reliable hand at Warner Bros. who directed nine of Errol Flynn's adventure films, including this one. Practically nobody, however, would name B. Reeves Eason, yet Eason directed some of the most famous and effective epic scenes in film history. Eason was primarily a second-unit director who was in charge of filming the chariot race in the silent version of Ben-Hur, the tournament scene in Douglas Fairbanks' 1922 film Robin Hood, the land rush in Cimarron, the burning of Atlanta in Gone with the Wind, the battle sequences in Sergeant York, and The Charge of the Light Brigade's final cavalry charge. Eason knew how to capture the sweep of an action scene by contrasting closer shots with longer ones and by alternating camera angles.

“You can have a small army of people charging across the screen and it won't matter much to the audience,” said Eason. “But if you show details of the action, like guns going off, individual men fighting or a fist hitting someone in the eye, then you will have more feeling of action than if all the extras of Hollywood are running about. That is why real catastrophes often look tame in newsreels. You need detail work and close shots in a movie. Only then does it come to life.” Many of the most effective directors in film history have taken his advice.

This practice of assigning the action scenes to second-unit directors while the primary director handles the rest of the picture seems especially odd in a film like Light Brigade where the main plot of a love triangle among two brothers (Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles) in the 27th British Lancers and Olivia de Havilland is the most ordinary aspect of the movie. The film was only the second (of eight) teaming Flynn and de Havilland, and the skills Flynn later developed for light comedy (his self-deprecation and cheerful impudence) are not much on display here. Neither are David Niven's talents put to much use.

The project came about when Warners wanted a British imperial movie of its own to capitalize on the popularity of Paramount's recent hit The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. Warners decided that Tennyson's famous poem about the fatal charge of the light brigade at Balaklava in 1854 during the Crimean War would serve their purpose. The studio then asked its scriptwriters to invent a new reason for the calvary charge to avoid having to dramatize the unheroic military incompetence of the real historical account. What they came up with is the romantic plot with Geoffrey Vickers (Flynn), his brother Perry (Knowles), and the woman they both love, Elsa Campbell (de Havilland).

The first half charts a growing conflict in India between the British forces and Surat Khan (Henry Gordon), an Indian potentate. This former British ally changes his allegiance to Russia. In the sequence that gives Geoffrey Vickers his motive to retaliate, Surat Khan besieges a British garrison at Chukoti, betrays his offer of safe conduct, and orders his forces to kill the British survivors of Chukoti, mostly women and children. Now that Vickers realizes Perry and Elsa do love each other, he forges his superior's signature on an order for the 27th Lancers to attack in the Crimea, a suicidal charge that will nevertheless occupy the Russians and give the British a likely victory at Sebastopol. During the charge, Vickers comes upon his old nemesis Surat Khan among the Russians, and the final scenes allow Vickers the nobility of a sacrifice (he has already sent Perry back to Elsa) and the satisfactions of revenge for the Chukoti massacre.

An interesting if uneven film, Light Brigade did have one lasting impact on movie production. During the filming, trip wires were used to bring down the horses, injuring many and resulting in new rules for animal safety during filmmaking.

Cast: Errol Flynn (Major Geoffrey Vickers), Olivia de Havilland (Elsa Campbell), Patric Knowles (Captain Perry Vickers), Henry Stephenson (Sir Charles Macefield), Nigel Bruce (Sir Benjamin Warrenton), Donald Crisp (Colonel Campbell), David Niven (Capt. James Randall), C. Henry Gordon (Surat Khan), G.P. Huntley (Major Jowett), Robert Barrat (Count Igor Volonoff), Spring Byington (Lady Octavia Warrenton), E.E. Clive (Sir Humphrey Harcourt), J. Carrol Naish (Subahdar-Major Puran Singh), Walter Holbrook (Cornet Barclay), Princess Baigum (Prema's mother), Charles Sedgwick (Cornet Pearson), Scotty Beckett (Prema Singh), George Regas (Wazir), Helen Sanborn (Mrs. Jowett), Holmes Herbert (General O'Neill) Screenwriter: Michael Jacoby, Rowland Leigh Cinematographer: Sol Polito Composer: Max Steiner Producer: Samuel Bischoff and Hal B. Wallis for Warner Bros. Running Time: 115 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1936, Nominations: Sound, Original Score Budget: $1.2M.

Contact Movie Review [next] [back] Braveheart Movie Review

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or