Friday, May 16, 2008


Movie buffs will certainly recognize the above title as the name of David Niven's second book of reminiscences about Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s. Niven had a great friendship with swashbuckler Errol Flynn and they even shared a house in Hollywood called "Cirrhosis by the Sea". Furthermore, the two actors appeared together in several movies of the period. Probably the best of them were "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and "The Dawn Patrol". In the former movie, the factual accuracy of the charge is thrown out the window in favor of an all action plot that traverses both India and the Crimea. However, the story itself takes a back seat to the special effects. "What?" you might ask: "Special effects in 1936?" Yes. Certainly. Of course, they were not anaemically computer generated as is usually the case today. No. Warner Brothers action director, Michael Curtiz,* set up lots of mines and trip wires on the field of the charge and you can watch both horses and men going down like nine pins in what must still be the most effective cavalry charge in movie history. For a few moments, I will ask you to view the film's spectacular charge in the clip from You Tube below.

Several stunt men died during the filming of the charge and, apparently, dozens of horses were killed or had to be put down as well--all for the sake of an accurate depiction! Needless to say, it wouldn't be allowed today--and quite right too! Times change and what may be acceptable in one era becomes anathema in another. Nevertheless, though the film might show its age in some ways (in the simplistic jingoism for example), the charge is quite simply magnificent and completely different from the sanitized computer graphics to which we are becoming accustomed. It is clear that these are real men and horses falling in combat: there is something almost uncannily UNREAL about the kind of CGG that seem to be in the process of taking over all depictions of wild nature and men at war.

Errol Flynn starred in at least 4 movies which ended with magnificent sword fights--two of them against Basil Rathbone, the best swordsman in Hollywood at the time. All of these fights were "real" and carefully choreographed by fencing experts. Certainly I have never seen a modern movie with such accurate, ferocious and extended sword fights. No doubt a modern movie would do it all on the computer--and that would dilute and trivialize what should have been a life and death struggle. For your entertainment and consideration, I have put below the two sword fights from "Captain Blood" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" (both between Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone). Such care was taken over the filming of the latter movie that from its "look" it could have been filmed just ten years ago rather than 70. Is it possible that in 50 years time students of film will look back on these old movies as being more veracious in their action sequences than the computer generated antics of today's film world?

* Curtiz, who was Hungarian and famous for his picturesque English, is credited by Niven as speaking the now famous line "Bring on the empty horses" at the end of the charge.


Anonymous Rocky said...

Wow, great action from 70 years ago!

10:27 AM  
Blogger ely said...

mi piace, xchè è bello

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love Errol!

1:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the clip from COTLB, you can see the rubber lance bend at one point when the rider falls off his horse!

2:08 PM  
Anonymous animallover said...

What about the horses?

5:46 AM  

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