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Santa Fe Trail

(1940 b 110')

En: 6 Ed: 5

Cadets J. E. B. Stuart and George Custer are assigned to track down abolitionist John Brown in Kansas and capture him at Harper's Ferry.

At West Point in 1854 Carl Rader (Van Heflin) approves of John Brown and fights over slavery with J. E. B. Stuart (Errol Flynn). Col. Robert E. Lee (Moroni Olsen) sends Stuart and six officers to Kansas; but he discharges Rader. Secretary of War Jefferson Davis (Erville Alderson) speaks at the commencement. On the train Stuart and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) court Kit Holliday (Olivia de Havilland). Martin (John Litel) tries to stop slaves from going to Kansas; Oliver Brown (Alan Baxter) shoots a man and jumps off the train.

At Fort Leavenworth Stuart and Custer are assigned to escort wagons and say good-bye to Kit. Rader brings men to John Brown (Raymond Massey), who slaps Oliver for failing to rescue the slaves. John Brown asks Stuart for his Bibles, but a broken crate reveals rifles. Brown's men arrive and take them. Stuart sees Rader and learns it is Brown. As they go, Stuart leads an attack. Young Jason Brown (Gene Reynolds) is wounded and says he wants to leave his father. He tells Kit where his father is before he dies, and she tells Stuart. At Palmyra Rader asks John Brown for his pay. Soldiers led by Stuart search for Brown and find Martin with Free Staters who were attacked by Brown's men. John Brown frees Negroes but leaves them behind. Stuart, Tex (Alan Hale), and Windy (Guinn Williams) go into Palmyra. Rader captures Stuart at the barber. Stuart asks John Brown to stand trial. Stuart is about to be hanged but grabs a gun and escapes into a barn that burns. Cavalry led by Custer arrives, causing John Brown and his men to flee. At a farewell dance for Stuart and Custer they propose to Kit, who chooses Stuart. An Indian woman prophesies the seven officers will fight as enemies.

John Brown tells men in Boston he will attack Harper's Ferry and free slaves. Rader gives John Brown a map and asks for pay; but Brown hits him. At a Washington ball Kit introduces Charlotte Davis to Custer. Rader tells Stuart, Lee, and Davis that Brown plans to attack Harper's Ferry arsenal. John Brown and his men capture the arsenal but are attacked. Rader persuades Brown to wait, and cavalry led by Lee arrives. Stuart with a white flag asks Brown to surrender, but he refuses. The army uses cannons, and Stuart leads the charge. Brown calls Rader a Judas and kills him, but Stuart captures Brown. At his hanging John Brown prophesies more blood. In the final scene Stuart weds Kit.

Much of this is fiction as Custer graduated from West Point in 1861. Abolitionists are portrayed as fanatical terrorists, slave-owners as law-abiding citizens, and slaves as ignorant fools. Despite the distortions, the remaining history is dramatic and gives the audience a sense of what caused the impending war.

Copyright © 2002 by Sanderson Beck

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