The Charge of the Light Brigade is a 1936 film directed by Michael Curtiz.
It takes place in The Raj and in the Crimean Peninsula. Major Geoffrey Vickers (Errol Flynn) is a British cavalry officer. He returns after a long period of detached duty, eager to see his fiancee, Elsa (Olivia de Havilland). What Geoffrey doesn't know is that during the time he was away, Elsa has fallen in love with his younger brother, Perry (Patrick Knowles), also a cavalry officer. Elsa's father, Col. Campbell (Donald Crisp) is not at all thrilled to hear this news and punishes Perry by sending him to non-combat duty in the rear. The brothers become estranged.
Meanwhile, one Surat Khan, an Afghan warlord on the fringes of the Raj, has become disenchanted with the British Empire. He declares open war on the British, capturing a British fort and massacring the entire garrison and their civilian relatives/families. He spares only Geoffrey and Elsa because once, years ago, Geoffrey saved his life during a leopard hunt.
Transition to The Crimean War, with the British and French allied against the Russians, and the Russians allied with Surat Khan. At the Battle of Balaclava Geoffrey, serving with the British light cavalry—the "Light Brigade"—discovers that Surat Khan is with the Russian enemy. He then arranges for the regiment to attack, bringing about the infamous "Charge of the Light Brigade".
The charge of the Light Brigade as filmed in the movie involved the use of tripwires to trip the horses to make things look more dramatic. This caused the deaths of 25 horses and one stuntman. Nobody worried too much about the stuntman but 25 horses being killed outright or put down after filming caused a wave of popular outrage that led to the banning of tripwires, and was an important event leading to the No Animals Were Harmed disclaimers in movie credits.
Max Steiner composed the score. David Niven, then just getting started in Hollywood, has a supporting role as Captain Randall. No connection to 1968 film The Charge of the Light Brigade, which has nothing in common with this movie other than also having the charge as the climax.
- Artistic License History:
- A lot. All the characters are fictional, of course. But even beyond that, there was no connection between events in the British Raj and the Crimean War. The Surat Khan story is rather uncomfortably added to the battle of Balaclava because Warner Bros. was trying to copy Paramount's success with Raj story The Lives of a Bengal Lancer. There's a disclaimer which says that the story has a historical basis, but "The historical basis, however, has been fictionalized for the purpose of this picture...", essentially stating the whole story is made up.
- The film says that the charge of the Light Brigade resulted in the capture of Sevastopol. It did not; the battle of Balaclava and the infamous charge were bloody disasters for the British, shattering the Light Brigade for no gain, and Sevastopol didn't fall for nearly a year.
- Been There, Shaped History: In this version of the story, the extremely ill-advised "Charge of the Light Brigade" is caused by Geoffrey fiddling with the orders in order to get his regiment to attack Surat Khan.
- Brownface: C. Henry Gordon, a white American actor, playing Surat Khan, an Afghan.
- The Big Board: The British on the frontier have a 3-D relief map showing the garrisons and border towns adjoining Suristan.
- I Owe You My Life: "My gratitude will be eternal", says Surat Khan after Geoffrey shoots a leopard that was about to kill Surat during a hunt. This is why he spares Geoffrey and Elsa while killing everyone else at Chukoti.
- Lecture as Exposition: Col. Campbell's explanation to a visiting dignitary also tells the audience about the strategic situation.
- Match Cut: From a guy beating on drums at Surat Khan's palace as part of a performance to a different guy beating drums as Surat's party and his British guests go out on a hunt.
- Motor Mouth: Noisy, extremely talkative Lady Warrenton, who won't stop sticking her nose into the Sibling Triangle. When she claims an old beau once said "Lady Warrenton, you have the power to drive men mad," Col. Campbell ruefully replies "I believe that."
- Mutual Kill: Surat Khan shoots Geoffrey; Geoffrey then flings a lance into Surat Khan's chest. They both die.
- Mythology Gag: Sir Charles describes the approach to Balaclava Heights as a "valley of death". That, of course, is a line from Tennyson's poem.
- Qurac: "Suristan", the fictional kingdom on the border of British India, which goes to war against the British.
- Reassigned to Antarctica: Perry is punished with an assignment to the town of Lohora in the rear, rather than getting the chance of glory and career advancement by fighting with the regiment. This ends up saving his life when the garrison at Chukoti is annihilated.
- Sibling Triangle: All in all, it's pretty awkward when Geoffrey gets back and finds out that his girlfriend and his brother have fallen in love.
- Tempting Fate: As the regiment is marching on what seems to be an uneventful trip to obtain horses, Capt. Randall says "I'd rather hoped for some action." This is immediately followed by the first zip of a bullet as Surat Khan's men open fire on the regiment.