Designed as a western "special" in the tradition of Covered Wagon and The Pony Express, The Rough Riders unfortunately proved a box office disappointment, causing Paramount Pictures to rethink its policy regarding epic films. Storywise, the film is a respectable if highly romanticized account of the exploits of Colonel Teddy Roosevelt (Frank Hopper) during the brief Spanish American War. The climax is of course the charge up San Juan Hill, which is restaged on a scale worthy of Moses' exodus from Egypt. The traditionally sappy romantic subplot concerns wealthy draftee Stewart Van Brunt (Charles Farrell) and the lovely Dolly (Mary Astor). Noah Beery steals the show as a swarthy reprobate named Hell's Bells. Incidentally, Frank Hopper, who played Roosevelt, was not a professional actor but instead a Los Angeles literary agent who bore an astonishing resemblance to the late President.
by Hal Erickson synopsis