Saturday, July 01, 2017

"Santa Fe Trail" (1940)

This is the first movie I ever saw Errol Flynn or Ronald Reagan in!  Possibly the first Van Heflin movie I saw too, though I'm not entirely sure -- I might have seen 3:10 to Yuma (1957) before this.  My first Olivia de Havilland movie was Gone With the Wind (1939) though, as I saw that when I was just a kid.

But anyway, I saw Santa Fe Trail for the first time when I was a teenager, and I didn't care much for it.  I was expecting a cowboy movie, for one thing, and this isn't really a cowboy movie.  It's actually a pre-Civil War story about newly minted cavalry officers with famous names fighting to subdue Bloody Kansas.  So it's a western, but a cavalry picture, not a cowboy movie.  I didn't really start appreciating cavalry pictures until I was an adult, with the exception of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), so I'm not surprised that I didn't like this when I was younger.

Best pals Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) get into trouble for fighting with a fellow student named Rader (Van Heflin) just before they graduate from West Point.  Rader was spreading abolitionist literature, and all politics have been banned at West Point, so while Stuart and Custer are reprimanded, Rader is dishonorably discharged from the Army and West Point.

At their graduation, Stuart, Custer, and some of their pals get sent west to Fort Leavenworth to help keep the peace in Kansas Territory, which is filled with violence between abolitionists and anyone they don't like.  One of their pals has a sister named Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland), a pretty girl who is prone to shouting "Yippee!" at improper intervals.


Custer and Stuart do their best to get to know Miss Kit better on the train ride west.  She's returning home after a few years at a "finishing school" back East.


Kit's also the sort of girl who tells vaguely inappropriate stories involving bathtubs that shock her father and make Jeb Stuart look at her like this:


Yeah, there's really no question as to where this is going, is there? After all, this is de Havilland and Flynn's seventh movie together, and as they generally end up together, we all can be pretty sure that Kit's going to end up with Jeb Stuart, not George Custer.

Interestingly, de Havilland and Flynn would make only one more movie together, They Died with Their Boots On the year after this.  In it, they play George Custer and his wife.  

Anyway!  When they arrive in Kansas, we quickly learn that Kit has a good head for business, as she sets about fixing up her father's freighting company.  It's gotten all disorganized while she was back East, so she sets about scolding everyone and putting things in order.


Even so, she still has time to look pretty and have a good time.  She IS played by Olivia de Havilland, after all.  Even with smudges of dirt on her face, she's still radiant.


Naturally, Custer and Stuart both want to woo Kit.  Stuart suggests drawing straws for who gets to go say goodbye to her first before they head out to guard her dad's freight shipment to Texas.  They take this extremely seriously, as you can see.


Let's all just admit that this review is an excuse to post a bunch of screencaps of Olivia and Errol, shall we?




Okay, but back to the plot.  Chief among those trouble-causing abolitionists is John Brown (Raymond Massey), who is leading a kind of guerrilla campaign with the help of his sons and a bunch of followers.  And guess who's come to join his band?  Their ex-classmate Rader, of course.  And also Ward Bond, because a little Ward Bond makes every movie better, right?  Even when he's a Bad Guy.


So then a bunch of exciting things happen, like John Brown's men trying to rob Kit's dad's freight wagons that Stuart and Custer are guarding.  Custer and Stuart ride around looking nice in their uniforms.


We get an exciting chase scene, too.


And basically, that's the whole movie -- excitement interspersed with buddy comedy (especially from Alan Hale and Guinn Williams as two bumbling cowpoke types) and romance.

When I watched this movie in preparation for writing this review, I let my kids watch it with me because they all like Olivia and Errol so much in Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).  They watched it companionably enough, but afterward, they mostly talked about how much they liked "the silly guys," aka Hale and Williams, and how funny John Brown's fake beard looked.


Eventually, Stuart changes out of his uniform into a cowboy outfit so he can go spy on John Brown's bunch, and he looks so wonderful there that I have to include a couple of screencaps.



Goodness, he should have worn that hat much more in this movie.

Also, he almost gets lynched.  And if there's one thing I love, it's a good averted lynching.


So I kind of figured this movie would end with them driving John Brown out of Kansas.  But nope!  It went on through the attack on Harper's Ferry and Brown's capture and execution.  While the acting is all perfectly fine, I have to admit that the story drags.  This is one to watch if you're a fan of the people in it, or of semi-factual retellings of things that led up to the American Civil war.  But if you want a really good cavalry picture starring Flynn and de Havilland, watch They Died with Their Boots On instead -- it's way better.

Is this movie family friendly?  Mostly.  I was rather shocked to find it had two mild cuss words in it toward the beginning, actually.  There's also a lot of old-movie shooting and fighting.  Like I said earlier, I let my own kids (ages 5, 7, and 9) watch it with me.  You can watch this for free on Amazon Prime Instant Video if you have Amazon Prime, and there's usually a copy floating around YouTube too.  I watched on Amazon, but the picture quality wasn't great, as you can tell from my screencaps.  There's a restored version available on DVD that you can also pay to watch on APIV if you want to.


This has been my contribution to the Second Annual Olivia de Havilland Blogathon (+Errol Flynn!) hosted by Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood.  Olivia de Havilland turns 101 today!  So amazing that she is still with us.  Happy birthday, Ms. de Havilland!

30 comments:

  1. I watched this one when I was running through Van Heflin movies, but I don't remember as much of it now, other than I really liked him in it. And my memories of this movie fail to include Olivia de Haviland at all! I'm looking at those screenshots going... nope, just don't remember her in this. Which just means it's time to watch it again!! Raymond Massey's beard on the other hand... I remember that quite vividly. LOL!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DKoren, I also rewatched it when I was going through my Van Heflin phase a few years back, and I only vaguely remembered it still! Kind of an elusive movie, I guess. I actually had forgotten Van was even in it until the opening credits, and then I was like, "Oh, yeah! He's a bad guy, I think?" So funny.

      My kids insist that Raymond Massey's beard looks like a dead octopus. I'm not disagreeing.

      Delete
  2. I think everyone who watches this movie goes into it thinking it's going to be different. I think it needed a different title...

    Poor Reagan. You know he doesn't have a chance :)

    Thanks for contributing to the Blogathon with this great post and all of those lovely screenshots of some mighty fine looking people :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Phyl, yes, if it had a title like "Bleeding Kansas," it would probably find the audience it deserves.

      Poor Reagan. Too bad Olivia doesn't have a sweet sidekick herself that he could've fallen for.

      You're welcome!

      Delete
  3. Who thinks young Ronald Reagan is more handsome than young Errol Flynn?

    *shoots hand in the air*

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jessica, you're not going to have any competition from me, that's for sure :-o

      Delete
    2. Heehee!

      I've always had a thing for young Ronald Reagan. To me, he's very, very, VERY attractive--much more so than most old Hollywood actors. It might be that vaguely Irish look he's got going, I don't know; all I know is I think he's incredibly handsome.

      Delete
    3. Jessica, I won't deny he's not a good-looking chap. But for the first 8 years of my life, he was the President, and it's always been hard for me to think of him in any other way.

      Delete
    4. That makes sense. I don't remember him as the President at all--I was born 6 years after he left office, if I'm doing the math right--so for me, he's kind of Old History. Which makes it (paradoxically) easier for me to think of him as a young man, I guess?

      Delete
    5. Jessica, when I was 8 and learned that we were going to elect a *new* president, I was very shocked. I thought Ronald Reagan had always been president, and would always be president! Hee :-)

      Have you seen The Hasty Heart yet? My favorite Reagan movie, no contest.

      Delete
    6. Haha! When I was 6 and learned we were going to elect a new president (to replace Clinton), I think my reaction was basically, WELL IT'S ABOUT TIME. I was very tired of hearing about Clinton . . .

      I have not! In fact, I don't think I've ever seen an actual Reagan movie, just clips. But I remember reading in his autobiography that he was very proud of The Hasty Heart, so that would be a great place to start.

      Delete
    7. Jessica, I hope you can find The Hasty Heart, then!

      Delete
  4. I think Errol did a really good job in this film. I liked the film a bit more than you do, but I mainly like it so much because of Errol and Olivia's performances. Maddy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Maddy, I do really like Errol and Olivia in this, and Alan Hale too -- he was so amusing. My kids were loathe to believe he was really the guy who played Little John, though. That cracked me up.

      This isn't a movie I dislike, but it's one that I have a hard time remembering very well. This is my third time seeing it, and now that I've blogged about it, maybe I'll remember it better!

      Delete
  5. Great review! That was a fine way for me to remember the film as I've only seen it once and like 2 years ago so I didn't remember much of it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Virginie! Glad you enjoyed it :-)

      Delete
  6. Gotta love a woman who yells "Yippee!' at the most inappropriate moments... And she tells bathtub jokes, too? Sounds like my kind of woman.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Quiggy, yeah, I think you and Kit would get along fine :-)

      Delete
  7. I have not yet seen this. The Reagan factor is rather a minus!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. John Smith, well, there are a lot of other movies in the world -- can't see 'em all.

      Delete
  8. Never seen this movie.

    I am not actually the person who watch black and white movies. A shame, I know. But I have seen a lot of black and white movies who are very lovely, and I want to see them one day, who knows.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rachel, I can understand that black-and-white could take some getting used to. I know quite a few people who say they have a hard time learning to like them. Maybe try finding a fun b&w tv show like "I Love Lucy" or "The Dick van Dyke Show" and watching a whole bunch of eps to get yourself used to the idea?

      Delete
  9. Not one of Flynn's best, but by no means a waste of time. Nice looking B/W with more than enough action to keep one entertained. A nice looking cast of course never hurts.

    Gord

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gord, I agree it's not one of his best, but an enjoyable thing to watch now and then :-) A nice-looking cast is always a plus!

      Delete
  10. Ronald Reagan is in this movie!? I didn't know that. Oh, Olivia and Errol, you can't really go wrong with a movie with them.

    Happy Birthday Olivia!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. MC, yup, he is! I believe this is the movie he was referencing when, during his political career, he said that he had long ago learned to be humble, because he'd starred as second-fiddle to Errol Flynn :-)

      Delete
    2. About 6 months ago I caught the Flynn and Reagan WW two flag waver, DESPERATE JOURNEY from 1942. A watchable bit of entertainment from director Raoul Walsh.

      Gord

      Delete
    3. Gord, I haven't seen that one yet, but I've got it on my wishlist! The combo of WWII, Flynn, Reagan, and Raoul Walsh has me intrigued.

      Delete
  11. Santa Fe Trail is the Olivia/Errol movie I always forget about, maybe because I haven't seen it yet. I didn't even realize my beloved Van Heflin is in it! I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for it now. Especially after seeing those shots of Errol. Swoon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Michaela, it's definitely worth a watch. Van is young and having a lot of fun being menacing -- and he gets a nice character arc, too!

      Delete

Agree or disagree? That is the question...

(Rudeness and vulgar language will not be tolerated.)