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BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON (director: Roy Rowland; screenwriters: Harry Brown/Geoffrey Homes/from the novel by Ernest Haycox; cinematographer: Wilfrid M. Cline; editor: Thomas Reilly; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Ray Milland (Kern Shafter), Forrest Tucker (Donovan), Barton MacLaine (Capt. Myles Moylan), Hugh Marlowe (Capt. Edward Garnett), George Reeves (Lt. Smith), Helena Carter (Josephine Russell), Sheb Wooley (Gen. George Armstrong Custer), Pepe Hern (Scout), Stuart Randall (Bannack Bill), James Millican (Sgt. Hines), Gertrude Micheal (May), John War Eagle (Red Owl); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Cagney; Warner Bros.; 1952)
“The acting is as dry as the desert.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A disappointing routine Calvary flick with a slightly fictionalized variation on the Custer story. It’s vigorously directed by Roy Rowland(“The Moonlighter”/”Hit The Deck”/”Witness to Murder”). But is poorly written by Harry Brown and Geoffrey Homes, and the acting is as dry as the desert. It’s based on the novel by Ernest Haycox. If you like stunning photography of wide open spaces in Technicolor, plenty of action on horseback and could care less how miscast are the leading man and lady, then you might find this western to be modestly acceptable–I did.

The urbane disgraced army officer Kern Shafter (Ray Milland), discharged for insubordination, re-enlists as a sergeant after drifting for awhile and is newly arrived at a remote Dakota army post in Sioux territory–Fort Lincoln. The commander, Captain Edward Garnett (Hugh Marlowe), is an old nemesis, in fact the officer he previously attacked with a saber for dissing his then sweetheart.

Josephine Russell (Helena Carter) is a beautiful lady who takes the train to the post, and will be the only eligible woman there. Both rivals take a fancy to her. To get rid of his rival, the jealous captain sends Kern on a dangerous scouting mission in support of General Custer, just a few miles away, in the hopes he never returns. Nevertheless Kern returns to Fort Lincoln before the massacre at Little Big Horn, and since he carried off his mission with dignity he wins Josephine’s heart.

No one in the love triangle gives a true performance. The only character who is even mildly interesting, even if a stereotype, is Forrest Tucker. He plays a brave Irish soldier who is dying in battle, but goes down humming songs while trying to kill as many Indians as possible before meeting his Maker.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”