22 January 2007 | Doylenf
Custer deserves a more colorful script...and a better Custer...
Handsome but dull western (courtesy of Spanish landscapes) to depict Custer on a mission to steal land from the Indians. A blond ROBERT SHAW looks convincing enough on horseback but something about his accent seems wrong and charisma is lacking. The Indians look more European than like American Indians and too many of the action scenes are slow paced and repetitive as Custer and his men go on various missions.
MARY URE as his wife, Libby, has little to do but register impatience with being kept in the background between battles with long waits before she shares the screen with real-life hubby, ROBERT SHAW. A more mature looking JEFFREY HUNTER (sporting gray hairs) is Will Benteen, one of Custer's more loyal officers.
The mountainous plains in Spain are no substitute for our standard glimpses of John Ford territory with not a single shot looking as though photographed in the American West. But it's the dull storyline that defeats the movie from ever becoming anything more than a series of handsomely photographed outdoor sequences. A surprise Indian attack by the Cheyennes on an Indepdence Day Celebration is one of the more colorful moments and triggers Custer's determination to fight the redskins, no matter that they greatly outnumber his men.
Nothing in Shaw's performance suggests the color and vigor of Custer's bigger than life personality nor does the screenplay do any real justice to the man or the myth. As storytelling goes, the first half of the film manages to be just plain dull and the film only picks up speed as it nears the climactic fight at Little Big Horn.
Battle skirmishes with Indians are, on the whole, well staged and full of furious gunsmoke and flying arrows--but the big set piece is saved, of course, for the finale which comes too late to save the first half of the film from the doldrums. One is left with the impression that some inventive fictionalizing would have helped (as it did with THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON).
Summing up: A very miscast Shaw plays Custer as a snarling villain who barks orders and the story has a plodding script. Could have been much more impressive if filmed in the U.S. on more realistic locales with more accurate casting. A cameo by ROBERT RYAN is no help at all.