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The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade(1936)

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The film's opening credits include a statement acknowledging the technical advice of Captain E. Rochfort-John, formerly of the royal engineers. The film played with historical fact, linking the charge to the fall of Sebastopol, which occurred in 1855, rather than at the climax of the Crimean War. Warner Bros.' production of Charge of the Light Brigade was inspired by the success of Paramount's 1935 film Lives of a Bengal Lancer (below) and became an important entry in the 1930s box office cycle of adventure films featuring stories about Imperial Britain. According to studio records, the part of Randall was written with David Niven in mind, and although Anita Louise did a screen test for the part of Elsa Campbell, writer Rowland Leigh argued strongly that Olivia de Havilland be cast in the role. When the studio realized how successful their 1935 picture Captain Blood (above) proved, they decided to re-team de Havilland and Errol Flynn.
       Daily production reports included in the Warner Bros. collection at the USC Cinema-Television Library indicate that Bela Lugosi and Mischa Auer were tested for the parts of the Kahn and Prema's father, respectively. According to Warner Bros. production files at USC, scenes were shot at the following California locations: Lone Pine, Sherwood Lake, Lasky Mesa, Chatsworth and Sonora. The Sierra Mountains were used for the Khyber Pass scenes. Because of the abuse of the "running W," a type of trip wire used to make horses fall during the charge scenes, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals banned its use following this film. During production, one of the stunt riders was killed when he accidentally fell on a sword and a number of horses were injured or killed in the battle scenes. The total cost of the film was $1,200,000. Warner Bros.' records also note that second unit director B. Reeves Eason turned down screen credit. Studio publicity claims that technical advisor Sam Harris commanded a cavalry regiment in the second Zulu War and the Boer War. Assistant director Jack Sullivan won an Academy Award, and Nathan Levinson was nominated for Best Sound Recording, as was Max Steiner for his musical score.
       Modern sources add the following information about the production: The production design was so accurate that actual postage stamps of the period were used even though they were not visible on screen, and the uniforms seen in the film were the same as those originally worn by the 27th Dragoons. Modern sources credit Eason with direction of the charge scenes as well as other 2d unit work. Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem was the basis for a 1903 Biograph film and a 1912 Edison film directed by J. Searle Dawley and starring Ben Wilson and Richard Neill. In 1968, director Tony Richardson made Charge of the Light Brigade, a British version of the story, starring Trevor Howard and Vanessa Redgrave (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70; F6.0745).