Bugles in the Afternoon (1952)

A competent Cavalry Western from a novel by Ernest Haycox which dovetails a convoluted fictional story into a hashed-about version of the events leading up to the Battle of Little Big Horn. Officer Ray Milland is cashiered out of the service for taking a sabre to rotten fellow officer Hugh Marlowe, and pulls the Lawrence of Arabia stunt of re-enlisting as an ordinary trooper - which backfires when he finds himself under Marlowe's command and continuously detailed to duties which involve riding through hostile Indian territory with a target painted on his back. Meanwhile, Ray and Hugh are competing for the affections of pretty blonde heroine Helena Carter, importing a good deal too much spooning and hugging into a picture that needs to concentrate on riding and shooting. The relative low budget becomes obvious in the finale, which takes place at a minor skirmish while the big battle is going on out of sight just over the ridge. The ranks are filled out with sub-John Ford brawling braggarts like Forrest Tucker and Barton MacLane, competing to show off their Oirish brogues and salty rambunctiousness ('I heard of a feller who went in the navy twenty years and the only action he got was beatin' his wife'), while future TV Superman George Reeves tempers Marlowe's scurviness as the sympathetic officer. The script is part-authored by Geoffrey Homes, who also worked on Out of the Past and Invasion of the Body Snatchers, while the director is reliable hack Roy Rowland, who hit with The 5,000 Fingers of Dr T but was usually entrusted with oaters like this. Sheb Wooley, who had a worldwide hit single with 'Flying Purple People Eater', is oddly cast as General Custer.
KIM NEWMAN

First published on the BBC Films website.


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