The Flaming Frontier (1926)

Run Time - 101 min.  |  
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Marking the 50th anniversary of General George Armstrong Custer's famous defeat at Little Big Horn, Universal re-created the battle in their biggest production ($400,000) of the year, The Flaming Frontier. Veteran screen actor Dustin Farnum came out of semi-retirement to play Custer -- to overwhelmingly positive notices -- and according to studio publicity, the film employed several thousand extras, including many Native Americans. Universal re-created Fort Hays, Custer's outpost, on the back lot in the San Fernando Valley and a duplicate of Crane City was erected at great expense near Pendleton, Oregon. Unfortunately, the studio also cast their resident cowboy star, the lackadaisical Hoot Gibson, in the starring role, and the entire production was thus geared to Gibson's familiar shtick rather than faithfully re-telling the story of one of the great blunders in military history. In the hands of Edward Sedgwick, Gibson's usual director, the slaughter at Little Big Horn proved little more than a plot contrivance. Gibson played a Pony Express rider admitted to West Point due to the influence of a powerful senator (George Fawcett), whose daughter (Anne Cornwall) he loves. In return, Gibson assumes the blame when the senator's wastrel son (Harold Goodwin) gets in trouble with the daughter (Kathleen Key) of a crooked Indian agent (Ward Crane). Gibson is expelled and returns West to join Custer's forces. To get even with Gibson, whom he still accuses of defiling his daughter, the Indian agent conspires with Sitting Bull (African-American actor Noble Johnson) to lure Custer and his troops into an ambush. Misinformed about the strength of the enemy, Custer and his 400 men are slaughtered by Indian warriors numbering in the thousands. Gibson, meanwhile, has been sent for reinforcements, thus surviving the massacre. He later leads an uprising among the settlers against the nefarious Indian agent, who has taken the senator's daughter prisoner. Most reviewers were appreciative of Universal's great expenditure, but Variety's scribe saw the film as little more than an ordinary Gibson Western. Sadly, modern audiences are prevented from forming an opinion, as no prints now survive. However, many of the more spectacular sequences later found their way into The Indians Are Coming (1930), a Universal serial released in both silent and sound versions.

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Keywords

cadet, dishonorable-discharge, guilt, honor [recognition], love, scandal, sister