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Now is the time for all good cellulords to rally their material and dress up Patriotism in the garb of history for the consumption of wide-eyed school children. Some of these attempts--"Night Train," "The Mortal Storm,"--have been powerfully done. But "They Died With Their Boots On" is in the same class with "Sergeant York": confused in its theme; rambling in its plot; corny in its characterizations.
The plot introduces Errol "Custer's-Last-Stand" Flynn as he enters West Point. Here we see that he is a bad (really good) boy with a rebellious spirit, great imagination, and native fighting ability. After this, we see Errol the Civil War hero, Errol the Indian saviour, and Errol the "last stander," before the movie ends on a note of gaudy patriotism.
The action varies between immediate scenes and synoptic flashes, consisting of a rambling variety of inconsequential climaxes. Hollywood's peculiar views on human nature still try to convince us that, in every noble man's life, there is a good friend; a bad enemy (who suffers in the end); and a woman who loves him in varying degrees on the surface, but always deeply underneath. Flynn, the noble, is not interesting because he never changes, never gets in a tough spot for very long, and is never wrong. It doesn't really matter when he dies in the end with his boots on.
The sub-themes which blast at the conservatism of West Point, and at the corruption of the government, are hasty and unconvincing. The main theme, which claims that imperialism is bad when it is for money, good when it is for the glory of the country, confuses the film rather than unifies it.
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