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Michael Curtiz
Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ronald Reagan
Writing Credits:
Robert Buckner

In 1854, Jeb Stuart, George Custer and other graduates from West Point are posted to Kansas to help pacify the territory.

Rated NR.

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 109 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 9/14/2021

• Trailer


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Santa Fe Trail [Blu-Ray] (1940)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 5, 2021)

Following his success with 1940’s swashbuckler The Sea Hawk, Errol Flynn turned toward another genre. That same year, he acted in a mix of war, Western and drama, 1940’s Santa Fe Trail - and scored another hit.

Set in 1854, Jeb Stuart (Flynn) and George Custer (Ronald Reagan) graduate from West Point Military Academy. The neophyte Second Lieutenants find themselves assigned to Fort Leavenworth in the violently contested Kansas territory.

In this job, they find themselves confronted with abolitionist John Brown (Raymond Massey) and his followers. These conflicts ensue over a span of years and eventually point toward the ignition of the US Civil War.

Spoiler alert? I hope not, as I assume anyone who reads this understands that Civil War tore apart the United States in the 1860s.

Of course, I expect less familiarity with the story on display, even if it involves well-known figures like Stuart, Brown and Custer. Given that Trail takes many liberties with the facts, it might be best to remain unacquainted with the history, as the film doesn’t try too hard to stick with what actually happened.

That doesn’t need to become a fatal flaw, as most “based on true events” movies depart from reality. In this case, the bigger question becomes whether or not Trail delivers a compelling tale.

No, and that remains the case even if I separate Trail from its misguided perspective. The film firmly lands on the wrong side of history, as it takes an attitude that at least condones slavery in a passive manner and it condemns Brown’s abolitionist efforts.

Historians still debate Brown’s tactics, but whatever the truth may’ve been, Trail takes too much of a one-sided view. It paints him as a literal wild-eyed fanatic, one happy to sacrifice the Blacks he claims to want to save – and even his own son – to advance his cause.

There’s no nuance here, and the depiction of those who defend slavery as heroes – mainly Stuart – can be tough to take. Again, Trail attempts to straddle the lines, as it allows Stuart to nod toward the direction of “slavery is bad”, but all his actions act to support its existence, so these limp efforts don’t work.

Of course, it doesn’t help that we know Stuart would go on to serve as a general for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Whatever the proponents of the “noble cause” want us to believe, the rebels were traitors, and efforts to signify otherwise don’t fly, so the presence of Stuart as our lead “hero” become problematic.

Even if we ignore the movie’s racism and generally misguided feel, Trail simply never becomes a particularly coherent or interesting movie. It mixes melodrama, action, romance and comedy into one awkward, jerky package that doesn’t come together in a satisfying manner.

Boy, do the stabs at laughs seem superfluous and gratuitous. The movie forces two semi-dimwitted characters on us just for purported humor, and these elements always feel silly and aimless.

The love triangle that involves Stuart, Custer and Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland) comes across like little more than unnecessary padding. These scenes add nothing to the characters or the story, but I guess those involved felt the movie needed something to appeal to the ladies in the audience.

The movie’s racism and uncomfortable attempt to rewrite history become its most problematic elements. However, even if one ignores these, Trail simply never becomes an interesting film.

The Disc Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus D-

Santa Fe Trail appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This was a consistently pleasing presentation.

Sharpness usually appeared good. The film only suffered from a few slightly ill-defined shots, as the majority of the flick demonstrated nice delineation.

I saw no problems with jagged edges or shimmering, and the movie lacked edge haloes. Grain came across as natural, and in terms of print flaws, Trail looked clean.

Blacks appeared deep and rich, while low-light shots demonstrated fine definition and clarity. This ended up as a solid image.

Although the DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack of Trail didn’t demonstrate anything special, it worked fine for its era and genre. Speech seemed slightly thin but was good for its age, as lines remained intelligible and clear.

Music demonstrated reasonable range. The score didn’t impress, but it appeared acceptably bright.

Effects became a minor component in this chatty flick, and they came across as reasonably accurate. Though they had little heft, they were clean and didn’t suffer from distortion or other concerns. The audio appeared positive for its era.

The disc includes the movie’s trailer but includes no other extras.

As history, Santa Fe Trail proves inaccurate and slanted toward a position that seems neutral toward slavery at best. As a story, it works no better, as it becomes a messy mix of genres that can’t connect in a satisfying manner. The Blu-ray brings generally good picture and audio but it lacks bonus materials. Trail turns into a dated and problematic film.

Viewer Film Ratings: 1 Stars Number of Votes: 2
0 3:
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