Review: ‘Santa Fe Trail’

This is a thrilling saga of hard bitten US army officers' fight to wipe out John Brown's marauding crew of Kansas abolition days.

This is a thrilling saga of hard bitten US army officers’ fight to wipe out John Brown’s marauding crew of Kansas abolition days.

Newly-made army officers learn on their way to the Leavenworth post why John Brown’s operations have resulted in the region being known as ‘bloody’ Kansas territory. There’s a gun fight, a killing and escape of an abolitionist from the train. The West Pointers find their job cut out for them, two newcomers, Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan), being assigned to guard a freight caravan. From the bloody encounter they have with Brown and his renegade crew, the whole army troop finally is assigned the task of capturing him, ‘alive if possible’.

Some historians may find fault with the way John Brown is pictured as a fanatic, religious zealot. However, this is tempered, with references to his basic ideas on slavery in US being sound. Often made a villainous character, presence of Rader, his aide, who was kicked out of West Point, softens this because the ex-cadet always is more despicable. Scene where Brown frees the slaves through ‘the underground railroad’ also modifies the character. Picture shrewdly does not take sides on the slave issue.

Flynn measures up to his heroic assignment. Olivia de Havilland forsakes pretty clothes for most of this film, sporting cowgirl garb in the scenes about Ft Leavenworth. Raymond Massey makes the John Brown role the film’s outstanding characterization.

Santa Fe Trail

Production

Warner. Director Michael Curtiz; Producer Hal B. Wallis (exec); Screenplay Robert Buckner; Camera Sol Polito; Editor George Amy; Music Max Steiner; Art Director John Hughes

Crew

(B&W) Available on VHS, DVD. Extract of a review from 1940. Running time: 110 MIN.

With

Errol Flynn Olivia de Havilland Raymond Massey Ronald Reagan Alan Hale Van Heflin

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