Cinema: The New Pictures: Nov. 2, 1936

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The Charge of the Light Brigade

(Warner). On Oct. 25, 1854, the suicidal advance of 673 British cavalrymen into the teeth of Russian cannon fire through a valley at Balaklava, in the Crimean war, proved to be a maneuver less beneficial to England's military than to its literary history. Caused by a mistake in orders, the sole practical significance of the charge was to give the glamour of a spectacular British victory to what was really a minor British defeat. Its significance in literature, as the inspiration of Tennyson's famed ballad, will be considerably enhanced by this picture. The Charge of the Light Brigade explains the confusion in the Crimea as romantically as possible. If the result is untrustworthy as research, it is superlatively valid as entertainment, with an honest emotional ring that makes it one of the outstanding cinemas of the season.

To get at the cause behind the mysterious blunder at Balaklava, Screenwriters Michael Jacoby and Rowland Leigh have arbitrarily chosen for their stage the tried & true terrain of Northern India. Here, in 1850, Captain Geoffrey Vickers saves the life of Surat Khan in a leopard hunt the day before the Khan learns that the British Government has discontinued his fat subsidy. Months later, Geoffrey reaps the reward of his good turn. When the Khan's tribesmen have surrounded the military outpost at Chukoti, Geoffrey and the girl (Olivia de Havilland) who loves his brother are the only members of the garrison who survive cold-blooded massacre. To avenge the slaughter at Chukoti becomes the sole purpose of Vickers' 27th Lancers. Its chance comes at the siege of Sebastopol where Surat Khan, now allied with Russia, is holding the heights of Balaklava opposite the Lancers, stationed in the valley. When Headquarters gives him the orders for his regiment to retreat, Geoffrey rewrites them as a command to attack. The brigade moves forward, under withering fire, to simultaneous vindication and destruction.

Combining in fresh and spontaneous form the kinetic appeal of Lives of a Bengal Lancer with the patriotic fervor of Cavalcade, The Charge of the Light Brigade will be important to cinema students less for the solution it offers as to the riddles of the Light Brigade than for the mystery it deepens as to why the U. S. cinema industry can wave the British flag so much more effectively than its own. In this case, the specific credit for so doing goes, in addition to its authors, to Irish Actor Errol Flynn, Hungarian Director Michael Curtiz and U. S. Producer Hal Wallis, for whom The Charge of the Light Brigade represents the $1,000,000 climax of the busiest executive year in Hollywood.

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