No Fanfare Required
Whilst "Bugles in the Afternoon" is based upon a novel by Ernest Haycox what it ends up is a routine western, a Cavalry movie which uses the lead up to Custer's last stand as a setting. But whilst we are taken into the world of the army this movie is about issues, historic issues between two men who find themselves at the same Fort and having to deal with new issues as they both like the same girl. So yes that basically means that "Bugles in the Afternoon" is really a love triangle set in the West and whilst it stars Ray Milland, Helena Carter and Hugh Marlowe it is unfortunately forgettable.
Sometime after being dishonourably discharged for attacking Officer Garnett (Hugh Marlowe - The Day the Earth Stood Still), Kern Shafter (Ray Milland - Love Story) makes his way to Fort Lincoln where he plans to re-enlist, becoming acquainted with the pretty Josephine Russell (Helena Carter) on his journey. But at Fort Lincoln Shafter is in for a shock when he discovers that Garnett is there and now a Captain and neither men have put behind the issues which lead to the attack. To make matters worse Garnett is also close to Russell leading to him using his position to try and put Shafter in danger in the hope he will be killed.
So "Bugles in the Afternoon" is a very simple movie where we have two men, Shafter and Garnett being enemies and also rivals but with Garnett being Shafter's superior he uses his rank to try and get Shafter killed. That is pretty much it so we watch as time and again Shafter is forced to follow orders despite knowing that each time he is likely to die. The point of this is partly to see which one ends up winning when they inevitably end up locking horns but also the mystery, what caused Shafter to attack Garnett in he first place leading to his dishonourable discharge. Sadly it's not that exciting or clever and so all in all things play out pretty much as you expect as the beautiful Josephine Russell finds herself confused by why they hate each other so much.
Now of course "Bugles in the Afternoon" is set in the lead up to Custer's last stand, in fact the ending of the movie takes place during Custer's last stand but this movie has little to do with Custer's last stand. In fact "Bugles in the Afternoon" is one of the most routine western/ Cavalry movies you will come across with countless cliches from Indian trouble to the obligatory Irish soldier who likes a fist fight. As such if you've watched a few westerns "Bugles in the Afternoon" plays out in front of your eyes and delivers nothing visually that you won't have seen before.
As for the acting well Helena Carter is pretty as Russell and both Milland and Marlowe are angry as Shafter and Garnett. There is no depth to their characters, nothing interesting to make them memorable and to be honest a waste of all 3 actors' skills. In the end it is Forrest Tucker who makes the biggest impression purely because as Irish soldier Donovan he is larger than life.
What this all boils down to is that "Bugles in the Afternoon" is as routine as westerns come. There is nothing stand out about it and to be honest it is less western and more romantic drama.