Charge of the Light Brigade, The (1936): Curtiz’s Oscar Nominated Version of Tennyson, Strarring Errol Flynn

Alfred Lord Tennyson’s narrative poem, The Charge of the Late Brigade, has received many screen versions, and while the Errol Flynn vehicle is far from being historically accurate, it is still the most enjoyable and technically superior to later versions.

Michael Curtiz’s fanciful tale relates the famous British military blunderis in the Crimean War in the nineteenth century.

Influenced by the popularity of 1935’s “Lives of A Bengal Lancer,” which was Oscar-nominated and stars Gary Cooper, the film uses the charge as the climax of events, which began in British India.

Errol Flynn and Patric Knowles are cast as cavalry officers, Major Geoffrey Vickers and Capt. Perry Vickers, repsectively. They are brothers, who are both in love with Elsa Campbell (Olivia De Havilland, Flynn’s frequent co-star in the 1930s).

The Indian potentate Surat Khan, (C. Henry Gordon), angered that the British government has cut off his subsidy, stages a revolt against the English settlements. Ordered on maneuvers, Vickers is unable to bring rescue troops to the besieged fort commanded by Elsa’s father.

Khan supervises the slaughter of men, women, and children at the fort, then leaves India in the company of his Russian advisors. Vickers and his fellow Light Brigade lancers are then transferred to the Crimea, where Khan is now ensconced with the Russians.

Bent on revenge, Vickers falsifies an official order so that he and the Light Brigade can battle Khan and his allies at Balaclava.
Passages of Tennyson’s poem are superimposed on the action, while Vickers leads a suicidal charge against the Russians, during which he kills the treacherous Khan before being slain himself.

Second unit director Jack Sullivan staged several stirring action set-pieces, which explains his win of the Oscar Award for Assistant Director, a category that existed for a few years but was dicontinued in 1937.

Despite historical inaccuracies, “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is rousing, actionful entertainment.

End Note:

Several horses were killed during the climactic charge, a fact that compelled Hollywood (under the auspices of the ASPCA) to install stricter standards concerning the use of animals.

Oscar Nominations: 3

Sound Recording: Nathan Levinson
Score: Leo Forbstein (Max Steiner, head of department)
Assistant Director: Jack Sullivan

Oscar Awards: 1

Assistant Director
Oscar Context:
Leo Forbstein won the Oscar for another film he oversaw that year, “Anthony Adverse,” which was actually composed by Erich Wolfgang.
Running time: 116 Minutes.
Directed by Michael Curtiz

Errol Flynn as Major Geoffrey Vickers
Olivia de Havilland as Elsa Campbell
Patric Knowles as Capt. Perry Vickers
Henry Stephenson as Sir Charles Macefield
Donald Crisp as Col. Campbell
Nigel Bruce as Sir Benjamin Warrenton
David Niven as Capt. James Randall
Robert H. Barrat as Count Igor Volonoff
Spring Byington as Octavia Warrenton
E.E. Clive as Sir Humphrey Harcourt
Lumsden Hare as Col. Woodward
J. Carrol Naish as Subahdar Major Puran