Favorite things about… They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

Note: This month, the classic film community celebrates 100 years of Olivia de Havilland, who had this very special birthday on July 1. I made a post for her birthday, but thought it would also be fitting to dedicate this month’s “Favorite Things Friday” to one of her wonderful films! (I could have covered any one of her films, as I consider many of them to be favorites; this one happened to be available through WatchTCM at just the right time.) Happy birthday, Livvie!

(Image via Film Affinity)
(Image via Film Affinity)

The favorite film:
They Died With Their Boots On, a 1941 dramatization of the life of General George Custer, directed by Raoul Walsh

The synopsis:
A man from Monroe, Michigan enters the West Point military academy with the intention of someday leaving behind a great legacy. He is George Custer, who will become one of the Civil War’s most prominent generals.

The cast:
Errol Flynn as General George Armstrong Custer
Olivia de Havilland as Elizabeth Bacon
Arthur Kennedy as Ned Sharp
Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse

Fun facts:

  • This was the final film to co-star Olivia de Havilland and Errol Flynn. They made eight films together, in total. The film also reunites Olivia de Havilland with her Gone With the Wind cast mate Hattie McDaniel. (McDaniel also appeared in The Male Animal and In This Our Life, both featuring de Havilland.)
  • In the portrayal of the “last stand,” in typical Hollywood fashion, few Native American actors were used to portray the warriors. TCM notes that Raoul Walsh wanted to use actual Sioux extras, but only sixteen people showed up to the casting call. Over 1,000 extras were needed, so these sixteen were used for closer shots, while hundreds of Filipino and white extras filled in the background.
  • TCM notes that the role of Elizabeth Bacon was first offered to Olivia de Havilland’s sister, Joan Fontaine, but she had turned it down.
  • Three men died during the film’s production — two in accidents and one from a heart attack.
  • The film was scored by Max Steiner.
(Image via Doctor Macro)
(Image via Doctor Macro)

Favorite things/quotes:

  • Gotta give a shout out to the adorable pups that appear about two minutes into the film (Custer’s hounds). This wouldn’t be TMP if we didn’t mention the dogs!
  • Custer’s list of delinquencies
  • “He has no regard for discipline, organization, or tactics. And as for his record, George Armstrong Custer has the lowest marks and the highest demerits of any cadet who ever attended this academy. INCLUDING Ulysses S. Grant.”
  • Custer being forced to ignore Lizzie when she asks him for directions… and her utterly offended reaction
  • Custer trying to explain why he can’t catch the train, and blaming it on the fact that his laundry has just been sent out rather than ‘fessing up about his date with Libby.
  • “A West Point cadet is supposed to be an officer AND a gentleman!”
  • The lamp explosion, and Custer shouting “SABOTAGE!” even though he’s the one who threw it in the fire
  • Custer punched a man or two at West Point, and didn’t lose his knack for fighting with his fellow Army men on the battlefield. Sometimes you have to violently disobey your orders to get things done in war, according to this flick.
  • The Hollywood version of Monroe — always funny to see portrayals of my home state on film, especially of places I’m very familiar with!
  • Callie: “A little late? 3:00? On a bright, shiny afternoon? Now don’t you go getting uppity, Miss Libby. ‘Cause the tea leaves never forget, and they never forgive.”
  • Custer: “I can’t imagine anything worse, ma’am, than walking through life without you.”
  • Custer: “You see, I had to report to Washington. I barely had time to catch the train.”
    Libby: “And a train won’t wait, but a woman will.”
  • Custer and Libby realizing they actually knew each other as children
  • Callie: “I know what you love, honey, and it ain’t onions.”
  • Libby crying as she eats the onions
  • Flynn calling on those old swashbuckler skills, flying Custer from Libby’s balcony to a nearby tree
  • “He’s got more gold braid on him than a French admiral.”
  • “Aren’t you happy here, Mr. Custer?” *glamorous Hollywood smooch*
  • Custer’s bar-closing speech (so dramatic!)
  • Attack of the drunken horsemen
  • Custer being referred to as “Goldilocks”
  • “You’ve caused plenty of trouble, Custer. Sticking your nose into politics!”
  • “And what does glory get ya? A two-bit job, and a court-martial.”
  • Libby’s “premonition of disaster”
  • Libby and George’s heartbreaking goodbye (and the powerful score during that scene)
  • “The only real Americans in this merry old parish are on the other side of the hill, with feathers in their hair.”
  • The film may not be accurate, but it does have strong performances and is a good watch all the way through. Don’t watch it for the history, but watch it for Errol and Olivia!


7 thoughts on “Favorite things about… They Died With Their Boots On (1941)

  1. This post is perfectly timed, as I plan on catching TCM’s airing of it tonight! It’s the only film I haven’t seen starring Errol and Olivia, and your post has made me more excited to see it. :)


    1. Oh, that’s wonderful, I didn’t realize they were airing it tonight! (I knew they were airing it this month but hadn’t made note of date/time.) Hope you do enjoy it! Will you be reviewing it?


  2. I’m planning on doing an overview of the Olivia films I’ve discovered from TCM’s spotlight on her this month, so I’ll review it a bit there. I’m hoping to catch all the films I haven’t seen (which is a little over a dozen) so we’ll see how it goes!


    1. Cool! I look forward to reading it! :) I haven’t been able to tune in live this month, but have been taping a lot of Olivia’s films. I’d love to review her whole filmography eventually, like I’ve (very slowly) been doing with Stanwyck.


      1. Yeah I’ll be watching most of her movies off of the TCM app, but I hope to catch a couple of the ones airing in primetime (like They Died With Their Boots On). And I love following your Stanwyck project, so I’d love to read a series on Olivia’s films. Her career progression is especially interesting with the films she made under Warner Bros. and the ones she made post lawsuit.


  3. […] July was a special month in the classic movie fandom as we celebrated the 100th birthday of Olivia de Havilland! I contributed to the Olivia Centenary Blogathon with a list of a few of my favorite performances from her filmography, and also dedicated the month’s “Favorite things about…” post to Livvie, covering They Died With Their Boots On. […]


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