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Old 02-19-2019, 02:36 PM
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Default A random War Movie thought ...

This somewhat random thought is inspired by the ongoing “Best War Movies” thread, and by the fact that I finally got around to watching “Dunkirk” last night (great movie in every way, but it does require that you understand the historical and military context beforehand).

Has anyone else ever wondered why nobody so far has produced the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a real war movie?

As somewhat of an amateur student of the battle, I find most movie treatments over the past century (and there are a lot) to be more or less Custer-centered character studies, with the battle just providing the dramatic finale. “Son of the Morning Star” (TV rather than big screen) typifies the approach, even though it did try to add an Indian point-of-view.

I think a good director with an ensemble cast could create a terrific war movie.

Just like “Dunkirk” ignored Churchill, Gort, Dowding, Guderian, Hitler, Göring, in fact any decision makers except the fictional Kenneth Branagh navy officer, and just told the story from the ground up, one could largely ignore Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

Instead pick a few characters among Custer’s battalion, the tribes, Reno’s and Benteen’s commands and in a 2-hour movie you can run with the battle almost in real time.

Anyway, just random musings. Considering how iconic the battle is, it’s surprising how crappy its film treatments have been.
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Old 02-19-2019, 03:06 PM
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Agree! Matter of fact I just started reading the book " A Terrible Glory" by James Donovan. Reviews praise the book and am finding it hard to put down. Might want to check it out for those interested in his life and the battle itself.
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Old 02-19-2019, 03:47 PM
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Has anyone else ever wondered why nobody so far has produced the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a real war movie?

I think a good director with an ensemble cast could create a terrific war movie.

Just like “Dunkirk” ignored Churchill, Gort, Dowding, Guderian, Hitler, Göring, in fact any decision makers except the fictional Kenneth Branagh navy officer, and just told the story from the ground up, one could largely ignore Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

Instead pick a few characters among Custer’s battalion, the tribes, Reno’s and Benteen’s commands and in a 2-hour movie you can run with the battle almost in real time.
That isn't a bad idea, but I'm not sure a film could be made the way you would like. A full length "war movie" about the Little Bighorn would almost have to center around George Custer since the entire debacle was almost wholly due to his own ego and an underlying inferiority complex (my opinion). There are things about Custer that would have to be shown in the film in order for it to make narrative sense. Showing 7th Cavalry trooper gossip, or Major Reno's insinuations about Custer wouldn't get the point across. The film would have to show the architect of the disaster.

Matter of fact, considering Custer's life as a whole, a Custer bio-film might be a better idea for a film instead of one just about the Little Bighorn.

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Old 02-19-2019, 05:30 PM
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The closest thing to a Custer biopic film is the 1941 Errol Flynn movie, "They Died With Their Boots On." While it's entertaining, it's not too heavy on facts and details.
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Old 02-19-2019, 05:32 PM
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.... A full length "war movie" about the Little Bighorn would almost have to center around George Custer since the entire debacle was almost wholly due to his own ego and an underlying inferiority complex (my opinion). There are things about Custer that would have to be shown in the film in order for it to make narrative sense ....
I think that’s exactly what pretty much every LBH movie so far has attempted to do, with varying degrees of success.

I don’t know whether you’ve seen “Dunkirk”, but the film explains nothing. Not why all those armed soldiers are standing around on the beach, and why they’re escaping instead of fighting, not why there are so few ships initially and why pleasure boats needed to be recruited, not why so few RAF planes were over the beachhead, not why there were no Germans actually attacking except some bombers, really no context at all. Just the individual experiences from a soldier, a pilot, a guy running a boat and such.

“Saving Private Ryan” and “Fury” were not much different in that respect.

Why Custer did what he did and made the decisions he made is still subject to debate among historians. Just like Von Rundstedt’s and Hitler’s hold order that made the Dunkirk evacuation possible. And the RAF’s decision to save most of their planes for the defense of Britain.

But I think it’s still possible to make a movie based on what happened, not why and whose fault it was.
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Old 02-19-2019, 05:48 PM
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I'm not sure the American populace would accept the true story of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Or maybe even care at this juncture.

If the Indians were smart and joined together and produced the "true" story of the battle they could market it as their first salvo in getting all land west of the Mississippi given back to them excepting of course what goes to the Mexicans.
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Old 02-19-2019, 07:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Absalom View Post
This somewhat random thought is inspired by the ongoing “Best War Movies” thread, and by the fact that I finally got around to watching “Dunkirk” last night (great movie in every way, but it does require that you understand the historical and military context beforehand).

Has anyone else ever wondered why nobody so far has produced the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a real war movie?

As somewhat of an amateur student of the battle, I find most movie treatments over the past century (and there are a lot) to be more or less Custer-centered character studies, with the battle just providing the dramatic finale. “Son of the Morning Star” (TV rather than big screen) typifies the approach, even though it did try to add an Indian point-of-view.

I think a good director with an ensemble cast could create a terrific war movie.

Just like “Dunkirk” ignored Churchill, Gort, Dowding, Guderian, Hitler, Göring, in fact any decision makers except the fictional Kenneth Branagh navy officer, and just told the story from the ground up, one could largely ignore Custer, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

Instead pick a few characters among Custer’s battalion, the tribes, Reno’s and Benteen’s commands and in a 2-hour movie you can run with the battle almost in real time.

Anyway, just random musings. Considering how iconic the battle is, it’s surprising how crappy its film treatments have been.
To quote George C. Scott "Americans love a winner... "
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Old 02-19-2019, 10:38 PM
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Has anyone else ever wondered why nobody so far has produced the Battle of the Little Bighorn as a real war movie?
Because no one really knows what happened.
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Old 02-19-2019, 11:20 PM
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Because no one really knows what happened.
Now THAT has never stopped anyone.

Especially since we know a lot more about what happened, in terms of the sequence of actual events on the battlefield, than we know about Custer's motivations, decision-making, and actions during the battle, and nobody's been shy about producing movie interpretations of that.
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Old 02-19-2019, 11:53 PM
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I don't know. It might be a good candidate for a movie showing both sides, sort of like "Letters from Iwo Jima" or "They Were Soldiers". You could trace the movements of the 7th along with the preparations of the Sioux and their allies.
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Old 02-20-2019, 12:55 AM
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Screenplay writers are pretty good at filling story gaps.

My wife hated Dunkirk (she's not high on war movies anyway) but she is in no way knowledgeable about WWII other than "We won, they lost." I thought it was seriously flawed as most of those who saw it had no idea what was going on or why. I did, but I still didn't like it much more than my wife. Ask anyone under, say, 60 about Dunkirk, and about all you will see on their faces is puzzlement.
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Old 02-20-2019, 01:09 AM
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Most war movies can't even get the ribbons correct. Never mind the "real" story about the war.
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Old 02-20-2019, 02:28 AM
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The only battle that Custer got right was at Gettysburg where he kept the
south's cavalry from coming behind the north's lines for Picket's charge...
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Old 02-20-2019, 11:17 AM
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Just my take on it. I believe that a movie based on the Indian perspective of the battle would be problematic to make in a realistic manner. The lifestyle of the plains Indians is somewhat alien to modern audiences, and would either require glossing over, or be totally ignored. The relationships between the disparate Indian tribes, and personalities therein, would also make it somewhat difficult to follow.

I believe Custer was killed very early in the battle, and the resultant loss of leadership lead to a slaughter. That wouldn't make for a blockbuster movie IMHO.
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Old 02-20-2019, 01:28 PM
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One of the Indian participants described the length of the actual fighting as “the time it takes a hungry man to eat a meal”. I think it was all over pretty quick.

I loved “Dunkirk”, but I think many people didn’t get that it took place in three timelines - a week on the beach, a day on the boats, and an hour in the Spitfire. Classic Christopher Nolan, who loves to play with time - Memento, Inception, Interstellar. He’s not going to spoonfeed you - either keep up or get left behind.

I’d love to see his take on the Little Bighorn, along the lines you suggested. Otherwise it would just turn into another Custer bash-fest.
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Old 02-20-2019, 01:40 PM
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I always found this dialogue humorous,

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Old 02-20-2019, 05:27 PM
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I always liked "They Died With Their Boots On." Errol Flynn was at his dashing best. It was great Hollywood entertainment, but not much as a history lesson. No surprise there, but then I don't look to Hollywood for verisimilitude.



The treatment of Custer in "Little Big Man" starring Dustin Hoffman was perhaps closer to the truth. Absurd, to be sure. Custer was portrayed with more than a touch of megalomania. Here is a clip of the climactic battle:

YouTube

I did not like "Dunkirk". It was neither entertaining nor a good history lesson, in my armchair critic opinion. Having failed on both counts I don't think I will bother to watch it again.
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Old 02-20-2019, 05:57 PM
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A random musing of mine about war movies is about the 1942 release of the movie Wake Island. The Japanese were using 1903 Springfield Rifles and Tommy Guns. Why didn't they get it right? Ya, sure. I have learned to forgive story tellers that mean well.
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Old 02-20-2019, 06:51 PM
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.... It was great Hollywood entertainment, but not much as a history lesson. No surprise there, but then I don't look to Hollywood for verisimilitude.
...
That may well apply to you, but that’s not the way it works in popular culture. This sort of story-telling does shape the historical perceptions of the majority of folks not qualified for our level of nitpicking

It is sometimes said, only half-jokingly, that the South finally won the Civil War in 1939/40 when “Gone with the Wind” won ten Oscars.

But getting back to Custer, I think the all-time hall-of-famer for most ridiculous staging of the Last Stand can be found in “Custer of the West” (1967) with Robert Shaw as Custer.

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Old 02-20-2019, 07:07 PM
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I always found this dialogue humorous,

Never was a soldier. But once I was young ;-)
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Old 02-20-2019, 07:10 PM
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Try watching Dunkirk without sound. If you know the story. It is a pretty (from a cinematic point of view) movie.
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Old 02-20-2019, 09:18 PM
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I found Dunkirk to be myopic, disjointed, and hard to sit through.
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Old 02-20-2019, 09:55 PM
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I think it would be difficult to fully examine in 2 hours, maybe better suited to a mini series
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Old 02-20-2019, 11:05 PM
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So did I, and I never saw it.


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I found Dunkirk to be myopic, disjointed, and hard to sit through.
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