Custer of the West
Custer of the West is a 1966 American Western film directed by Robert Siodmak. It tells a highly fictionalised version of the life and death of George Armstrong Custer. It starred Robert Shaw as Custer, Robert Ryan, Ty Hardin, Jeffrey Hunter, and Mary Ure. The film was shot entirely in Spain.
|Custer of the West|
|Directed by||Robert Siodmak|
|Produced by||Philip Yordan|
|Written by||Bernard Gordon|
|Music by||Bernardo Segall|
|Edited by||Peter Parasheles|
|Distributed by||Cinerama Releasing Corporation|
With no better offers to be had, famous American Civil War upstart officer George Armstrong Custer takes over the Western Cavalry maintaining the peace in the Dakotas. He soon learns that the U.S. treaties are a sham, that Indian lands are being stolen and every excuse for driving them off their hunting grounds is being encouraged. With his wife Elizabeth (Mary Ure) Custer goes in and out of favor in Washington, while failing to keep wildcatting miners like his own deserting Sergeant Mulligan (Robert Ryan) from running off to prospect for gold in Indian country. After trying to humble the prideful Indian warrior Dull Knife (Kieron Moore), Custer leads the 7th Cavalry into defeat.
- Robert Shaw as General George Armstrong Custer
- Mary Ure as Elizabeth Custer
- Ty Hardin as Major Marcus Reno
- Jeffrey Hunter as Captain Frederick Benteen
- Lawrence Tierney as General Philip Sheridan
- Marc Lawrence as the gold miner
- Kieron Moore as Chief Dull Knife
- Charles Stalmaker as Lt. Howells
- Robert Hall as Sgt. Buckley
- Robert Ryan as Sgt. Mulligan
In the mid 1960s 20th Century Fox announced plans to make a film about Custer called The Day Custer Fell, directed by Fred Zinnemann, with Robert Shaw among the actors considered to play the title role. It was cancelled on grounds of cost.
Producer Philip Yordan decided to make his own Custer movie and hired Bernard Gordon and Julian Zimet to write a script. According to Zimet, “The original brief was to turn out a typical Western sainted hero martyr script, which Gordon and I duly delivered. But Robert Shaw figured he would make it over to suit himself. Which he did. He turned Custer into a sadist of Shakespearean depth.”
According to Bernard Gordon, "Production stumbled along on Custer as Julian and I tried to give the Indians a fair shake. Robert Shaw was helpful. A bright man and a fine writer, he approved of our point of view of that the Indians were victims right to the end. He even wrote one speech for Custer… that made this point sharply.”
Yordan said he needed a known star (Shaw) and director (Siodmak) to raise the funds to make the movie.
Julian Zimet later elaborated:
Shaw took care of the battle scenes himself. Siodmak preferred directing ballroom scenes, which he had done so often in his long career they required no invention. What he didn’t anticipate, as he choreographed fifty couples, was that the actor—whose intervention was designed to give coherence to the scene—would go crazy, punch him in the chops, and walk off the set. I was already working on another project, but Yordan insisted that I write some lines for a minor actor, which would account for the miscreant’s absence. This would allow the ballroom scene to continue, save having to locate the crazy or drunk actor, and save having to reshoot. While Siodmak kept the dancers in motion, I rehearsed the new actor in his role, and tailors stitched together a bespoke uniform. Within minutes he burst upon the scene, apologised on behalf of the government minister for his absence—due to a crisis in Washington—and announced an impending honour for Custer. It was a weak solution, but it saved a lot of money. That’s show business for you.
The film was originally known as Custer's West. It was one of two big screen epics made by Security Pictures (a company of Louis Dolivet and Philip Yordan) in the Cinerama process, the other being Krakatoa, East of Java. Security borrowed $6 million from the First National Bank to make the films in collaboration with Pacific Theatres. Pacific and Security Pictures gave distribution rights to Cinerama. Cinerama bought out most of the rights of Pacific and Security Pictures then sold 50% of the movie to ABC Films.
Most of the film was shot within 30 miles of Madrid except for the Battle of Little Big Horn which was filmed in Costa del Sol near Almira.
The film met with a largely negative reaction from critics. At Rotten Tomatoes, the film received only a 25% "rotten" rating. It holds average rating of 4.1/10. Many were unimpressed by the attempt to shoehorn two different viewpoints into the same film – the mistreatment of the native Americans by American troops, and the portrayal of Custer as an American hero who was not to blame for the disaster. The general inaccuracies of the film were also questioned, particularly the portrayal of the Battle of the Little Bighorn.
VHS & DVDEdit
Custer of the West was released to VHS by Anchor Bay Entertainment on July 14, 1998 and on DVD by MGM Home Video on May 25, 2004, as a Region 1 widescreen DVD.
- Joseph, Robert (15 Jan 1967). "Custer in Castillia? They Went Thataway". Los Angeles Times. p. o12.
- Niemi, Robert (2006). History in the Media: Film And Television. ABC-CLIO. p. 28. ISBN 1-57607-952-X.
- Custer of the West on IMDb
- Sinclair, Clive (4 May 2015). "Writers at the Movies: 'Custer of the West'". Contrapasso.
- Canby, Vincent (16 Aug 1967). "Cinerama Is Widening Its Operations". The New York Times. p. 36.
- Penn, Stanley (16 January 1968). "Spurt in Cinerama Stock Price Spotlights Options for Over 1 Million Shares at About $4". Wall Street Journal. p. 14.
- Custer of the West at Rotten Tomatoes