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on July 17, 2004
The purpose of "Son of the Morning Star," both the book and the miniseries, was to show that George A. Custer is not just a symbol, good or bad, for culural/political causes, but a human being with flaws and attributes. A previous review is a perfect example of the failure to see Custer as anything but as a symbol. To some people, Custer is the embodiment of the evils of Manifest Destiny. It's an ironic fate for someone who died in the most spectacular, albeit temporary, setback for Manifest Destiny.
Custer is a fascinating historical figure because of his symbolism. So many people have such strong feelings about him for what he represents, but so few people really know anything about him. Born the son of blacksmith in a rinky-dink Ohio farm community, Custer was no son of privilege. Yet he was a brigadier general at age 23, a major general at age 25, and fought with great courage and skill in America's most horrific war. It never ceases to amaze me how people throw slurs at the officers and men of the Indian fighting army, but ignore that a large percentage of those men fought with undeniable heroism to re-unite this country and free the slaves. Custer, Reno, Benteen, Cooke, Yates, Keogh, Tom Custer, Smith, and a number of other officers of the 7th Cavalry were all Civil War vets.
Attacks on Custer's courage for "fighting women and children" just demonstrates an ignorance of his Civil War combat record and the realities of Plains Indian warfare. Custer graduated college in June 1861 and a month later he saw action at Bull Run. In April 1865, he would receive General Lee's flag of truce near Appomattox. In between, he saw action in almost every campaign in the Eastern theatre of operations. Even after he became a general, he still exposed himself to danger and was often seen fighting in hand to hand combat. At Appomattox, his superior, General Sheridan awarded him the wooden table, upon which General Grant signed the papers of General Lee's surrender, as a gift of appreciation for his magnificent courage and leadership.
Yet people believe that such a ferocious combat commander reveled in fighting women and children! Plains Indians didn't fight like Rebels. They had a different concept of warfare from the U.S. Army- guerrilla tactics, hit and run. To the Army, the biggest difficulty of Plains Indian warfare wasn't fighting the Indians, it was finding them! In 1876, the biggest fear the U.S Army had was that the Lakota and Cheyennes would scatter before the Army could attack them and this mentality was the reason for Custer's decision processes on June 25. The Army had been forced to attack villages because this was the only effective method it had of forcing the Indians to stand and fight. Yes, women and children would die as a result and this was regrettable, but so were civilian casualties at Vicksburg and Atlanta. However, on June 25, 1876, the Army completely underestimated the Lakotas' and Cheyennes' willingness to stand and fight. Custer thought he would be pressing the issue, but instead had the battle dictated to him with catastrophic results for himself and his men. This "arrogance" was a mindset held not only by Custer, but the entire U.S. Army and they paid for it on June 25.
"Son of the Morning Star" was an attempt to present Custer and the Little Big Horn not just as symbols. Another reviewer mentioned "Little Bigman" as being a more historically accurate potrayal. That is absurd. While "Little Bigman" is a very entertaining film, it's as unrealistic as the 1941 movie "They Died with Their Boots On" which starred Errol Flynn. Flynn's Custer was portrayed as the ideal American military hero for a country that was preparing for World War II. In 1970's "Little Bigman," Custer is shown as a symbol of lunatic American imperialism as the country clashed over the Vietnam War. "Son of the Morning Star" was an attempt to show Custer as a human being without World War II or Vietnam era propaganda. This miniseries does take a lot of dramatic license with its subject, but in comparison to previous efforts on the Custer/Little Big Horn story it's refreshing in its candor.
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on April 17, 2002
This is as good a version of the Little Bighorn that has ever been done for film.
Gary Cole is very good- although he does not look like a horseman. Unfortunatly, Rosanna Arquette, who plays Libbie Custer the General's wife, seems just to be interested in collecting a paycheck. She is as wooden as it gets. However, I think David Strathairn, a regular of John Sayles' films, does an excellent job as Capt. Benteen. Although, the horrendous wig he is outfited with detracts from his performance, he does capture, IMHO, the cranky complainer personality of Benteen very well. (Anyone familiar with the writings of Fred Benteen can tell you he WAS angry with the world.)
"Son of the Morning Star" relied on the services of dedicated re-enactors who brought a sense of authenticity to the uniforms and equipment not seen in other Little Bighorn movie re-creations. Unfortunatly, although re-enactors are great at dressing their parts, they don't often look their parts- the 7th Cavarly was not as heavily populated with middle-aged, overweight men as "Son of the Morning Star" would have you believe.
Finally, the outfit Gary Cole is wearing for the Little Big Horn scenes is based on an actual photo. In 1875, a picture was taken of Custer at a picnic near Ft. Lincoln wearing a hat and a white buckskin jacket, which look alot what was depicted in the movie. Of course, we don't know if Custer wore that outfit a year later, but that photo shows that the producers for the movie just didn't make it up. However, the movie's Little Big Horn scenes show Gary Cole with his face shaven and hair immacutely clean, conditioned, and styled. Hardly realistic.
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on April 30, 2000
If memory serves me correctly, "Son of the Morning Star" was broadcast the same year as the theatrical release of Kevin Costner's "Dances with Wolves." Inasmuch as both dealt with the same historical period of our nation, obvious comparisons would arise. Wherein "Dances" told a fictional story, "Son" is the tale of General George Armstrong Custer, a figure both revered and vilified simultaneously. And it pulls it off wonderfully with passion and political correctness.
Gary Cole IS Custer. He brings to life the conceit and arrogance of a man who felt that his way was the only way. Cole's unique facial expressions are perfect in every scene, even those wherein he is completely silent.
The television mini-series has the production quality of a bigger budget theatrical film. The location filming enhances the story and the use of Native American actors is a further plus.
"Son of the Morning Star" rises high! I give this film a strong recommendation.
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on April 12, 2002
And the actor who portrayed Benteen was even worse. He had a perpetual scowl and looked truly angry at the world, not just at Custer. Gary Cole looked more suitable to be riding a Harley, zipping around with his mouth agape. Arquette was her usual air-headed self, and did a grave injustice to Libby Custer's memory. Some of the supporting cast was wooden as is the case in some of these biopics, as they seem to be just filling the space of real characters and are usually portrayed with not much personality of their own. As all Custer historians know, everything concerning the movements of the five troops with Custer is purely speculative. After passing
the bluffs no one saw them alive and their movements have been the subject of hot debate for many years. The Hollywood version portrayed here is as good as any, and the terrain should look familiar to anyone who has spent time at the Battlefield, as it was filmed a short distance away, showing that rolling, treeless terrain that is easily recognized. Thumbs down to the costume designer who came up with the supposedly buckskin outfit Cole wore. It looked like the bleach bottle got loose in the wash. in truth the troopers were dirty, grimy, and on a day that had temperatures in the 90's, Custer would surely have not been zipping around in a full, well tailored buckskin outfit.
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on October 27, 2001
This film has many wonderful attributes, which one is being filmed close to the actual sites. The casting is great and Gary Cole does a surpurb job as General Custer. The casting was excellent all the way around.
The film portrays George Custer soon after the American Civil War was over and Custer is ordered to report to the central plains to help maintain the peace between the white immigrants and the various Indian tribes.
I especially liked the sets of this film which looked more authentic then previous films concerning the Little BigHorn battle. Fort Lincoln and Fort looked very similar to the real thing. Another major asset to the film is the Indian perspective to the film. It shows their side and the casting was excellent.
One critical thought is that the part played by Tom O'Brian playing Charlie Reynolds was called by another name in the film. This could have been easily corrected to maintain historical accuracy. Charlie Reynolds was a major figure in the last Custer Campaign.
If you are interested in the life of General George Custer I would recommend in buying this film. The musical score is excellent. There are of course other historical errors by in all this film portrays the LBH more accurately then the previous films.
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on January 28, 2000
Without a doubt, "Son of the Morning Star" is the best film on the subject of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn. It also does a good job being fairly even handed with this still controversial subject. Custer is not shown as an insane Indian hater or as a self-sacrificing hero. Gary Cole does an excellent job of showing the vibrancy and arrogance of Custer which demonstrates why people either loved or hated him.
The first part of this film is fairly uneven. The producers decided to add on the parallel story of Crazy Horse, which is too thinly developed. The jewel of the film, though, is the retelling of the Little Bighorn campaign and battle. Really magnificent work. As close to the historical record as any film has ever come. (Although, that really is not saying much considering the other Little Bighorn movie recreations.)
The Last Stand parts, though, are pure romance. General Custer, already mortally wounded, stands up and blazes away with his pistol in slow motion as the Lakotas and Cheyennes overrun his position. Beside him is his brother, Captain Tom Custer, behind him is Sergeant Major William Sharrow, Chief Trumpeter Henry Voss, and Sergeant Robert Hughes with Custer's personal guidon. Custer probably did not die like that; but he should have.
This movie does contain a historical inaccuracy which no film has ever had the guts to correct which is Custer's long hair. All historical accounts record that Custer cut his hair extremely short for the campaign. Combine that with the fact that all photos of Custer in his mid-30's point to a man who was going bald and you get a very different picture from all the actors who have played him with long, blond manes.
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on April 5, 1999
I am one of the fans of Custer, but in the same mode as I am a fan of Richard III: I enjoy both sides of the life, the dark and the romatic. I find a great deal of similarity in both creations, that of Shakespeare and this video, with the darker side of Custer a little less fictional (or propaganda) than Poor Richard. This video is a practical balance, but the best acting is the portrayal of wife Libby and the counterpoint officers to Custer's character, especially Reno. I read the book, reread the book. then tried the Buried Knee text (a term which best identifies its theme: bad white man, poor Indian). The drama has good rising action, with a series of events in the plot that reminds one also of Julius Caesar, the dream of Libby, the warning of the scouts. and the passion for glory that leads not to a crown for Custer, but an attempt for fame in a reach for a second climax to equal his meteroic Civil War (War Between the States in Georgia) career. The ending scene of the one time general is fine, with the dying Custer focusing on arrows flying overhead. Narration by Libby his wife and the young Indian girl suspend disbelief, but the graphic scene of the killed soldiers of Custer's command is left out. So much for TV criticism! A fine piece of work on a not so fine Colonel still bucking for general or even President!
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on March 24, 1999
Excellent. It doesn't get much better than this fact based story of General George A. Custer's life and indian wars of the 1870's and 1880's.Custer is legendary in western history for being a dire enemy of the american indian. His disire to rid the american west of it's indigenous people proved to be his undoing the battle of the little bighorn area south of modern day Billings, MT.,ending a 10 year army campaign to eliminate the indians from the last frontier.Gary Cole was wonderful as the flamboyant cavalry officer tasked to rid the likes of Crazy Horse and Sitting Bull and other war cheifs of the era. Based on Evan S. Connell's excellant best-seller book.Co-starring Rosanna Arquette as Lizzy Custer and Dean Stockwell as General Phillip Sheridan. Rodney Grant plays Crazy Horse.In the tradition of Dances With Wolves and the Last of The Mohicans this movie won't disappoint if you like westerns and history of the period.
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on December 7, 2010
I would like to add my two cents on the relatively untouched subject of the Indian portrayal: this is the first film I have seen on the subject which provides wide coverage of the Cheyenne and Lakota/Dakota perspectives, and gives them credit for the humanity and courage, combined with strong strategic abilities, which were demonstrated around the entire Greasy Grass campaign. I spotted many aspects which could only have come from oral traditions, including Custer's affair with a Cheyenne woman, which produced a daughter, and the piercing of his ear drums after the battle. Much of the film checks out closely with archaeological work done since the great battlefield grassfires of the 1980s, and the emergence of Native accounts of the events of that year which followed. I urge my university classes to read the book and see the film. As one reviewer has already said, this is the best we will probably see for another generation.
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on March 20, 2002
Without a doubt, this is the best fictionalization of the Battle of Little Big Horn available today. I have watched it many times and the acting and overall effect eclipse the saccharine Dances with Wolves in every category including the musical score. If you are an historian of the event, armchair or otherwise, numerous inaccuracies and omissions will strike you as they did me. That is the beauty of this movie: it stirs you to find out the real and complete story. Read the books including Grinnell's, the books on the recollections of the Arikara scouts and Lakota Noon, the Story of Wooden Leg etc. and the Hearings on Reno's role that tell you so much more you need to know to understand this event. The desire to do so may be this movie's most lasting legacy and its greatest tribute to the Native Americans and soldiers who died June 25 and 26, 1876.
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