They Died With Their Boots On (1941) was directed by Raoul Walsh and stars Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn.
The film is filled with historical inaccuracies, but all in all in is a very good film, provided you don't take it at all seriously as a historical representation. It is an enjoyable film designed to entertain not educate.
The film follows the supposed life of General George Armstrong Custer (Errol Flynn) from his attending West Point to his final stand at the Battle of Little Big Horn.
At West Point, Custer is compared to Ulysess Grant and not in a good way. They are both said to be the most undisclipined cadets ever to attend West Point. One historical accuracy is both in real life and in the movie, Custer graduates last in his class.
Custer graduates West Point early (his class was graduated early to fight in the Civil War) and hopes to get into active battle in the Civil War. However, the person in charge of assigning soldiers to units, is Custer's old superior at West Point, Maj. Romulus Taipe (Stanley Ridges). One day while at a restraurant Custer eyes Lt. General Winfield Scott (Sydney Greenstreet) and uses his charm and art of persuasion to get Scott to have him assigned to active duty. While assigned to his first unit, Custer encounters his old nemis from West Point, Ned Sharp (Arthur Kennedy). Custer ignoring all rules and the chain of command, slugs Sharp and takes over the men and lead them further into battle. Later, a goof promotes Custer to General and he is in charge of the Michigan cavalry and once again Custer ignores orders and leads the men further into battle.
After the Civil War, Custer is assigned to Fort Lincoln. Prior to his assignment, he turned down a job offer by Ned Sharp's father to head up trading posts in the new frontier. Custer turned down the position with the Sharps because he did not want his good name to be used to make money. At Fort Lincoln, Custer once again encounters his old nemis Ned Sharp. Ned Sharp is selling firearms to the Indians and selling booze to the soliders at Fort Lincoln. To the dismay of Ned Sharp, Custer closes the bar and basically shuts down Sharp's business.
Sharp and Major Taipe enter into a plan to make the public believe their is gold in the Black Hills and break the treaty. But first, they have to get Custer out of the way. Taipe orders the bar at the Fort reopened and Custer has a bunch of drunk soldiers on his hands. Custer slugs Taipe and a court maritial proceeding is initiated. Custer true to his word and his men, asks for the proceedings to be put on hold until he can return to Fort Lincoln and help the soliders fight the Indians. Custer knows the infantry is not suited to fight the Indians, it must be the cavalry, only the cavalry is trained properly to deal with Indians. Custer knows the mission is most likely a suicide mission. The white settlers must be protected and as Custer states he and his men must endure and die with their boots on. Knowing it is a suicide mission, Custer writes a letter as a dying declaration exposing the corruption and absolving the Indians of all responsibility.
Flynn is excellent as the fun loving, dashing Custer. Olivia de Havilland is delightful as Custer's sweetheart and then wife, Elizabeth Bacon. This is the final movie together for de Havilland and Flynn and they are so comfortable together and play off each other so easily, it is easy to over look how thinly their courtship is written into the movie.
The movie also has delightful characters as Elizabeth's maid, Callie (Hattie McDaniel) and California Joe (Charley Grapewin), Custer's right hand man at Fort Lincoln. California Joe is not a solidier but a settler who is determined one day to get to California, never mind the fact he has been trying for 27 years.
This is a wonderful movie, entertaining with an excellent cast.