I feel sorry for those people (no names, please) who see no value in old movies, very old movies. On these dark, endlessly rainy afternoons, I search mightily for a golden oldie, perhaps a war movie, perhaps a cowboy movie.
Last week, I hit paydirt with “Santa Fe Trail” starring Errol Flynn, one of my faves. Flynn was no great actor, but he had that great screen presence. I notice that the ladies seem to like him, too. If you are going to be a cowboy star, you better be able to ride a horse well. Flynn was great, and graceful.
This movie tried to jam it all in with future Civil War heroes, John Brown and assorted West Point graduates, along with the railroad west, of course. It was made in 1940, the year I was born. I was hooked instantly.
Along with Flynn, who is Jeb Stuart, we have his perennial girlfriend Olivia de Havilland. Vying for her affection, if you can believe it, was an actor named Ronald Reagan, playing George Custer. (I don’t know what happened to him). You can just guess who won the lady fair.
In between romancing Olivia, Flynn and the Army tries to corral John Brown, played by Raymond Massey in what could be his finest role. I believed he was John Brown.
In the Army unit at the same time with Stuart and Custer were officers George Pickett and James Longstreet on the cusp of the Civil War. Robert E. Lee was in there, somewhere for some reason. Historically it was a joke, but as a movie plot, it was intriguing.
You know what happened to John Brown, so there was little intrigue there. The east-west railroad was being completed, but no one in this movie paid much attention. We have no idea why the movie was called the “Santa Fe Trail” since it has nothing to do with the trail and everything to do with Harper’s Ferry. Slavery is sort of questioned, but hardly condemned. Hey, it was 1940.
As usual, western movies hold my attention for the gunplay. Since I was 10 years old, I have been asking how the last guy in the posse could possibly shoot ahead without killing (or at least “winging”) his pals in the front of the posse. I also question the technique of snapping the pistol forward while firing, as if that would make the bullet go faster or farther. It certainly would not increase accuracy.
I also question the practice of jamming that pistol down the front of the pants. That is just asking for trouble.
Flynn is captured by the Brown forces, natch. But he manages to escape when he snatches a gun from his hangman, natch. This was a fabulous “six gun” to have since I counted at least 40 shots with no recorded reloading.
I have also questioned the use of wagons (especially wagons loaded with rifles) in high-speed gallop-chases, since they invariably roll over and spill their cargo.
When the plot bogs down, we have Alan Hale and “Big Boy” Williams for alleged comic relief.
Go ahead and laugh. For a rainy afternoon in a summerless summer, “Santa Fe Trail” is great entertainment. It sure beats “The View” and one more Red Sox loss. Our man Flynn somehow makes it worthwhile.
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.