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Series / The Rough Riders

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The Rough Riders is a 1997 three hour television miniseries about future President Theodore Roosevelt and the regiment (the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry; aka the Rough Riders). The series prominently shows the bravery of the volunteers at the Battle of San Juan Hill, part of the Spanish-American War of 1898. It was released on DVD in 2006. The series originally aired on TNT.

The movie opens with Lieutenant Coronel Theodore Roosevelt (Tom Berenger) giving an impassioned speech.

This is the second movie about Theodore Roosevelt's life directed by John Milius (the other being The Wind and the Lion), part of a planned but probably never to be completed trilogy.

This includes examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: A group scene set the night before the assault on Kettle Hill has the soldiers discussing why they're at war.
  • Badass Native: The Rough Riders enlist several American Indians, most notably the young Sioux warrior known as "Indian Bob." Also notable is Delchaney, an Apache friend of O’Neil who assists with training and can tell with a single Death Glare whether a man has killed someone or not.
  • Blood Knight: Roosevelt early on, though he soon sours on the idea. General Wheeler arguably qualifies, as well.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: General Wheeler.
  • The Cameo:
  • The Good Captain: Captain O'Neil, who also fits the Sergeant Rock role.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The French Ambassador's wife and Roosevelt's wife have their moments.
    Mr. Roosevelt: "My wife's letting me go see the elephant in Cuba."
    Mademoiselle Adler: "I can see why."
    Colonel Wood: "Theodore, do you know that you're mad?"
    Mrs. Roosevelt: "It's never stopped him before."
  • Dirty Coward: Nash starts out this way, then becomes more heroic throughout the story.
    • A soldier loses it when one of his officers is shot. He runs all the way back from the front line to Shafter and Wheeler exclaiming the war is lost. Wheeler has to be talked out of shooting him on sight.
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: One shows up at the training camp and is run out of town by Captain O'Neil.
    • An Apache warrior named Delchaney fills this role for the Rough Riders at O'Neil's request. Notably, he pulls it off without speaking a single word until he thinks the recruits are ready. When O’Neil asks who among them has killed before, Delchaney picks out the liars with a brief silent Death Glare.
    • O'Neil to a degree. He's appointed as a Captain, but carries out most of the unit's training himself.
  • Fish out of Water: Oddly enough, the commanding general of the Cuba campaign. He's overwhelmed by the complexities of getting an army to a battlefield.
    GEN Shafter: [exasperated at the logistical mess] I've never seen anything like this before in my life!
    GEN Wheeler" [civil war vet] That's because nothing like this has ever happened in your lifetime.
  • Foe-Tossing Charge: Theodore charges across a crowded ballroom, knocking innocent waiters out of the way.
  • Former Regime Personnel: General Wheeler was a cavalry officer in the Confederate army during the Civil War. When the Spanish are pushed off of San Juan and Kettle Hills, the malaria-stricken General exuberantly shouts, "We've got the damn Yankees on the run!"
    Lt. Wheeler: "Spaniards, sir, Spaniards, and they're falling back to prepared positions."
    General Wheeler: "Don't spoil it, son!"
  • General Failure: General Shafter, the American commander, is fat, lazy and earns little respect from his officers.
  • "Get Out of Jail Free" Card: Henry Nash and George Neville enlist to escape what they think is a pursuing posse.
  • Gilligan Cut: One scene cuts from a young man explaining to his fiancee that he is going to stand up to his father and refuse to go to war... to the same young man, with a resigned look on his face, saddling up to leave.
  • How We Got Here: The opening scene is an older Nash paying his respects to his comrades' memorial, and then flashing back to his outlaw days.
  • Incoming Ham:
    Senator: "Ladies, brace yourselves!"
  • Intrepid Reporter: William Marshall and Stephen Crane.
  • Large Ham: Both Roosevelt and Wheeler.
  • Military Moonshiner:
    Captain Pershing: "Sergeant, would you care to refresh yourself?"
    Sergeant: "No, sir, I've had some water earlier on today."
    Pershing: "Sergeant, would you care to refresh yourself?"
    Sergeant: "Refresh myself? [beat] Yes, sir!"
  • Noble Savage: Deconstructed and averted.
  • Old Media Are Evil: Hearst and company.
  • Outlaw: Nash and Eli, the main heroes.
  • Pet the Dog: When Hearst comes across a badly-wounded Marshall, who’s been struck down by artillery fire, he immediately orders that the man be taken aboard his yacht and given the finest medical treatment, and personally thanks him for his work for the paper.
  • Ragtag Band of Misfits: New York aristocrats, Western cowboys, Native Americans, Mexicans, assorted roughnecks and adventurers... if ever a military outfit deserved this appellation, it's the Rough Riders.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Roosevelt sending Admiral Dewey's fleet to attack the Philippines without orders. It works, but Colonel Wood warns him that he won't tolerate recklessness in the field.
    • This is subverted with the Battle of Las Guasimas, where General Wheeler launches an attack without orders and leads his troops into a well-laid Spanish ambush. The Americans manage to win, but it's a near-run fight and Wheeler himself admits afterward it was a mistake.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • To the public, the war is this for the sinking of USS Maine. Nobody with any real knowledge of the incident really believes that it was the result of any hostile action by the Spanish.
    • Invoked at Kettle Hill after Captain O'Neil is killed. Indian Bob, who has already marked his face with traditional Lakota war paint, uses his blood mixed with dirt to paint his forehead black. Among the Plains Tribes, this facial marking in battle signifies that a warrior seeks revenge for a member of his family.
  • Rule of Symbolism: This shot near the end of the film.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Subverted in an opening sequence that is a near point-by-point parody of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid — the "posse" Nash and Neville are desperately fleeing just happens to be going in the same direction as them and don’t want to miss the train.
  • Sedgwick Speech: O'Neil, which is Truth in Television.
    • O'Niel specifically said they hadn’t made the Spanish bullet that could kill him. He evidently missed the memo about the Spanish buying all their stuff from the Germans.
  • Sheltered Aristocrat: Examined and ultimately subverted: Craig Wadsworth, William Tiffany, B.F. Goodrich and Hamilton Fish are intelligent and extremely capable. Roosevelt himself practically punches this trope in the face.
    Wadsworth: [Talking about Roosevelt] He thrashed a man nearly to death in the Dakota territory for calling him "four-eyes."
    • Roosevelt shows up to the camp in a tailored uniform with suitcases in both hands and remarks that he has more baggage on the way. He's eager to soldier, but needs a lot of training first.
  • Shout-Out to Shakespeare: The New York characters recite the St. Crispin's Day speech from Henry V during the final battle. Their less-well-educated colleagues are somewhat baffled, concluding "They're educated men."
  • Sergeant Rock
  • Still Wearing the Old Colors: Some officers express concern about facing hostility as they travel through the Deep South on their way to board a troopship in Florida, as the Civil War had ended only 33 years earlier. Sure enough, plenty of old Confederate veterans turn out in their Rebel gray, but it turns out they’re there to salute the Rough Riders on their way to war.
  • True Companions: As Manhattan aristocrat Sergeant Hamilton Fish is dying of a bullet wound, his only concern is for the safety of similarly-wounded Arizona ex-outlaw George Neville. For his part, Neville tells Fish not to worry about him.
  • Underestimating Badassery: When Nash and Indian Bob try to sucker one of those fancy rich boys into riding an untamed bronco who has just bucked off half the squad. Said rich boy happens to be a polo champion.
  • War Crime Subverts Heroism:
    • Executing a captured German military adviser. This is despite him posing no threat and him helpfully explaining how to operate the Maxim machine gun. By all accounts, this scene was invented entirely for the miniseries. The presence of any German military personnel in the depicted battle is disputed in real life, so the German officer they kill is most likely wholly fictional.
    • The second is when a Spanish soldier tries to surrender and is promptly shot dead. It's worth noting he himself killed a Rough Rider prior to his attempt to give up, though.
      "Those who live by the sword shall die by the sword."
  • War Is Glorious
  • War Is Hell
  • Young Future Famous People: John J. "Blackjack" Pershing, then a lieutenant in the all-black 10th US Cavalry, features as a supporting character.