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The Charge of the Light Brigade

At the Brattle

By Walter E. Wilson

"Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volleyed and Thundered," as gallant Errol Flynn led the revengeful six hundred forward against Indja's infamous Surat Khan, murderer of Chukoti. Ahah, caught you that time; you probably thought the Light Brigade charged the Russians in the fated attack at Balaclava.

Actually you're partly correct, but for the whole story we must go back one or two years to 1856, in "Indja," where Flynn, as noble, good-hearted, brave and true, in a word, English, Major Geoffrey Vicars, skirmishes baggy-trousered local rebels, goes panther shooting, or was it cheetahs, with the treacherous Surat Khan, and loses the love of Olivia DeHaviland, whose lower lip quivers almost continuously in the role of some English general's tender-sweet daughter. The charge, rung in as a sort of last resort in the last ten minutes of the film, climaxes an hour and a half of historical rance, during which the heroine says, "Perry (Geoff's younger brother), I've tried so hard not to; oh, but I do love you." The various generals, officers, and English ambassadors fill their alloted time with lots of solid "Good shows," "old lads," and "quite so's," maintaining all the while unbelievably stiff upper lips.

"'Forward, the Light Brigade!', Was there a man dismayed? Not though the soldier knew Someone had Blundered," runs on Tennyson's stirring tribute. But in the movie, it is Flynn who takes matters into his own hands by forging an order to attack; you see, he wants to give Her Majesty's 27th Lancers their chance to pay back Surat Khan, who has fled with his men to the Crimea to join the Russians after massacring the six hundred's women and children in an unsportsmanlike raid on the English outpost of Chukoti. So it is with murderous hearts that the decimated Brigade finally overruns the cannon at the Valley's end, to drive lance after lance into the Khan's body. Nearly everybody is killed, as countless Britishers, horses, "Indjians," and Russians are speared, shot, and blown apart in the film's most satisfying scene.

Almost without exception, the actors do injustice to their already ineffectual lines. Only David Niven, in an unrewarding bit part, shows any knowledge of acting. Early movies don't have to be bad movies.

"Honor the charge they made! Honor the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!" Honor them if you wish, but for entertainment comparable to this "greatest historical romance ever filmed," stay home and watch a Bulldog Drummond film on the late, late show; but that could be the wrong thing to do, because they might broadcast The Charge of the Light Brigade.

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