Based on an original screenplay by Robert Buckner, SANTA FE TRAIL was shot by Michael Curtiz in 1940. There are two ways to get onto this movie nowadays, more than 65 years after its release. You could enjoy, like I did, its rthym, the actors or the strange idea, in a film made in Hollywood, to depict the abolitionists as fanatics and the unionists as sensible people.
You could also take the time to think about the message conveyed by SANTA FE TRAIL through the actions of its main character Errol Flynn. Jeb - Errol Flynn - Stuart is a man who doesn't take sides, who just obeys orders and waits for the happy ending History will certainly provide to the American nation. The description of this passive demeanor shocked me a lot and, while I was watching SANTA FE TRAIL, I couldn't but think that, the same year, another American director, Charles S. Chaplin, was desperately trying to alert the world about what was going on in Europe with The Great Dictator
Many people are no doubt thrown off by the odd politics of this film. This never actually bothered me. Today we have become so mired in political correctness outlook that we can't view a film like this objectively anymore. Sure some of the views are a bit dated. But this is a hollywood 1930s film, made around the same time as Gone With the Wind. The views in that film are also strange, but its considered a classic none the less.
The main premise of this film is to show the looming storm clouds of Civil War. The historical facts here are certainly off the mark in many places. The film enjoysgiving us a popular image of West Point in the Ante-Bellum days before the war. Many famous cadet names are bandied about that we know would be come famous just a few years later. The point here is not how accurate the data is, but to show that all these men did attend the same institution and that many would become famous adversaries on the battlefied. The film does a nice job of showing this even if it does get a lot of details wrong in the process. The bit with John Brown is amusing. Again, its a difference of perspective here. Hollywood was in love with the old South back then. Today we are in love with polotical correctness which is offended by the fanatical views expressed by the character of John Brown, who is beautifully played by Raymond Massey.
Its amusing to see Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan playing off each other here. I think the best thing to do is forget their so-called historical roles in the film, and just view them as two newly commissioned officers of the period sent to police Kansas. This way you can forget the JEB Staurt /Custer comparisons! The funny thing about seeing Reagan in a film like this is to compare him with what he would later become. We have just eulogized his recent passing in this country. The fact remains if Reagan had been a better actor he might never have become our president! This film was one of the best roles he ever had in movies! He and Flynn go round and round, and its amusing to see Reagan try and hold his own. He actually does better than one would expect next to the powerhouse Flynn with all his sex appeal back then Still, the best actor in the film is Raymond Massey by far. His portrayal of the fanatic Brown may offend some, but Brown was not unlike this. In fact its easy to compare this religious zeal to that of Bin Laden and other fanatics of his ilk. For the 1850s, Brown was seen as a fanatic by many. Abolitionism was a minority view even in the North. No one was too keen to shed blood over freeing slaves, sorry PC people, but this was so!
The final battle scene at Harpers Ferry is exciting, but wildly inaccurate. Colonel Lee actually stormed the place with a company of US Marines, not dis-mounted cavalry! And Brown had only a dozen or so mis-guided followers by that time. The whole event was quite small compared to what the movie shows us here. Again, try to view this film from the context of both when it was made and the times it is attempting to show. By doing so you can sit back and enjoy a classic adventure romp with a little history thrown in for color.