This thunderous cavalry charge of a film takes a look at events leading up to Custer’s last stand, when 251 US troops were slaughtered at Little Big Horn. Philip Carey plays the doomed Colonel whose political ambition proved so costly, in a movie driven through with kinetic action sequences and engaging characterisation.
For most of his illustrious military life, Custer had been sympathetic to the Indians and disgusted at their exploitation by government and ruthless land agents. Indeed, he even travels to Washington to complain, and his outburst against the criminal treatment of the tribes is so forthright that his career is severely damaged.
But conniving Senator Blaine (Don Haggerty) spots a gilt-edged political opportunity in the striking Custer. He persuades the embittered Colonel to get his own back by running for the Presidency himself. In order to gain popularity, however, he must first go back West and start oppressing the Indians, an opinion shared by ambitious wife Libbie (Nancy Kovack). Surprisingly, Custer agrees, and despite the disapproval of his officers, leads a cavalry unit on a murderous mission, the dramatic tales of which are to be extolled in the press by his personal reporter (House Peters Jr). But the Indians, led by Crazy Horse (Iron Eyes Cody) and Sitting Bull (Michael Pate), are up for the fight, and Custer eventually meets his match at Little Big Horn.
The film provides interest as an early effort by Hollywood to reclaim the truth about the shameful motivations behind Custer’s last stand from the traditionally white-washed, history-book legend. The Indian struggle is dealt with sympathetically (especially in Pate’s stoic performance), while attention to detail in the film’s depiction of the Sioux is impressive (thanks largely to Iron Eyes Cody who doubled up as technical adviser).
US | 91 minutes | 1965
Director: Sidney Salkow
Writer: Fred C Dobbs
Joseph Cotten as Major Marcus A. Reno
Darren McGavin as Captain Frederick William Benton
Philip Carey as Colonel George Armstrong Custer
Julie Sommars as Caroline Reno
Nancy Kovack as Libbie Custer
John Matthews as Dakota
Michael Pate as Sitting Bull
Don Haggerty as Senator Blaine
Frank Ferguson as General Alfred Howe Terry
Stacy Harris as Mr. Turner
Iron Eyes Cody as Crazy Horse
House Peters Jr. as Mark Cambridge, a reporter