Lord Alfred Tennyson's poem served as the inspiration and backdrop for this tale of honour and betrayal. Flynn plays Geoffrey Vickers, a dedicated officer in the British Army stationed in India during the mid 19th Century. Geoffrey saves the life of chieftain Surat Khan during a diplomatic leopard hunt. His gentlemanly behavior impresses Queen Victoria's ambassador, but Khan's true nature becomes apparent when Russia wins his favour and a British outpost is laid waste, sparing not even the women and children.
Geoffrey and his fiancÚ Elsa (Olivia De Havilland) are allowed to escape as payment for his saving Khan. He and the surviving Lancers (most of whom were conveniently away from the outpost when the attack occurred) have blood in their eyes, and with the aid of fabricated orders get the opportunity to exact their revenge in one final charge out in the Crimea.
There is also a co-plot among which this pseudohistoric activity unfolds. Perry Vickers (Patrick Knowles) - also an officer - is fortunate not to be assigned desert patrols or long range trips away from headquarters like his elder brother. Perry and Elsa fall in love. Geoffrey and Elsa's father (Donald Crisp) spend most of the film in denial. But in the end, it becomes clear to Geoffrey that he won't be around much longer to take a wife anyway (not that he was ever around long enough anything in the first place). He hands Perry orders and which send the younger sibling away from the battle set for the 27th Lancers.
This isn't one of my favourites. Sure, there are some intense action sequences. But as a whole the film is predictable and slow. The soap opera material is just too sappy. I find it a drag of a film, save few exceptions including the breathtaking final charge
And even that leaves a bad taste. For the climactic sequence, wire was tied around horses' forelegs. When pulled, a horse's legs would buckle under its body and send it into a convincing tumble. So convincing in fact that a number of horses were either killed or maimed as a result. Flynn (who treated humans less than adequate but respected and cherished animals and nature) and many others objected to this abuse. Techniques were developed and horses were shortly thereafter trained to fall safely. If there is any historic significance to this movie, it's that it became a milestone for animal rights.
This film is available from MGM/UA in both glorious black and white and not so glorious colorized. I might not care so much for 'Brigade, but it's a classic, and ranks as favourite among many of Errol Flynn's fans. A typical tally of votes at the Internet Movie Database would support an opinion other than mine, so check it out and decide for yourself. A superb score is courtesy of the legendary Max Steiner (They Died With Their Boots On, GWTW, Adventures of Don Juan). And the cast also includes David Niven, Nigel Bruce, and Henry Stephenson.