Custer of the West (1967)

Custer of the West (1967)
 
 

Custer of the Somewhere

Robert Shaw and Mary Ure in Custer of the West (1967)

I'm no historian but as a fan of westerns I have learnt a few things over the years especially when it comes to George Armstrong Custer as he has been the focus of a fair few movies. Now all the movies which I have watched which have focussed on or mentioned Custer have varied when it comes to detail and "Custer of the West" is by no means any different in fact "Custer of the West" may be the one which alters history the most. Now this sort of splits me in two because majorly altering history isn't good although you accept some tinkering to make a story work as a movie and that is what seems to the point of "Custer of the West" making it an entertaining movie rather than a factual biography. Unfortunately even then it isn't entertaining and plods through various moments in Custer's career, portraying him as a determined and dangerous man and then throwing in some seriously out of place action scenes.

So as already mentioned "Custer of the West" is basically a potted history of Custer's career roughly from 1865 when he headed West to fight in the Indian Wars on to his legendary and disastrous battle at Little Big Horn. Along the way whilst picking out moments of his career Custer is portrayed as a determined and dangerous man who expected to be the best and demanded it off his troops. To highlight this we get a variety of scenes including the one where he decides to have malingerers in the camp do drills with himself leading it till he ran them all into the ground, well almost all. And this sense of being determined and dangerous when he leads a platoon across a desert after a group of Cheyenne despite it being a suicidal thing to do on them and their horses.

Robert Ryan as Sgt. Patrick Mulligan in Custer of the West (1967)

Now whilst some of what we see is based upon fact there are other elements which most certainly aren't and whilst I never profess to knowing my history I am pretty confident that the Battle of the Little Bighorn didn't play out as it was shown. It is one of those moments of poetic licence which goes too far such as a scene in a theatre where Custer and his wife end up watching an embarrassing show about him, maybe that was the case but it borders on the corny.

Those are not the only embellishments which stick out like the proverbial sore thumb and a moment of action which sees 2 men tied to a wagon and left to career down a hill is ridiculous. Not only is it visually ridiculous but I am pretty sure the well made road which is carved into a hill on Indian territory would have never existed or at least not that well made and smooth. And then there is the action involving a log fume, an over long and outrageous piece of action which had no point at all other than to show off some camera work.

As for the acting well it is kind of forgettable with Robert Shaw being pretty dull as Custer and that is when you are ignoring the fact the accent is wrong. Talking of which the accent which Robert Ryan gives us as Sgt. Patrick Mulligan is confusing as if he was trying to play a typical Irish soldier from a John Ford western but can't keep it going. Basically there isn't a great performance in the movie and most are not even good with a lot of over acting going on.

What this all boils down to is that if you have never watched a movie about Custer and "Custer of the West" is your first it maybe entertaining but in comparison to others it is barely average with too much poetic licence in trying to make it different to those other Custer movies.

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