Despite its misleading title, this roaring, action-packed film, directed with great vigor by Curtiz, is not a western and has little to do with the Santa Fe Trail. And though it purports to deal with a serious segment of American history, even that is inaccurate.
Flynn is his ever-dashing self as he appears at West Point, playing the southern-born J.E.B. Stuart, who later became the South's greatest cavalryman during the Civil War. He arrives, along with mule and dog, wearing an outlandish uniform of his own design which so confuses the sentinels at the
post that they mistakenly call out an honor guard to salute what appears to be a high-ranking officer of a foreign power. This auspicious arrival is soon ended when it is learned that Flynn is nothing more than a new cadet reporting to the Point for training. Other than his academic studies,
Flynn's real enemy at the Point is Heflin, a wild-eyed radical abolitionist who is out to change the class and caste system of America. He is a secret follower of the fanatic John Brown, and his political activities finally get Heflin cashiered from the Point. Flynn and his friends (Reagan,
playing George Armstrong Custer; David Bruce, essaying Phil Sheridan; Wilcox, playing Longstreet; William Marshall, enacting the role of George Pickett; and George Haywood, playing John Hood) all graduate from the Point in 1854 and are assigned to a western post in Kansas where they must combat
the illegal activities of the dreaded Brown, played by Massey. A travesty of history, SANTA FE TRAIL is nonetheless a rousing adventure yarn, offering a great romp for Flynn and providing a bevy of colorful characterizations. De Havilland is at her feisty, attractive best, while Reagan has the
"best friend" role, losing her to the handsome Flynn. Massey, who overacts frantically as Brown, would play him again in SEVEN ANGRY MEN in 1955. The film's gratuitous patriotism is countered by the tentative sympathies Reagan and a few others utter on behalf of Massey, stating that he may be
misdirected but that his ambition to free the slaves is a worthy one.
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