Santa Fe Trail. 1940. USA. Directed by Michael Curtiz. Screenplay by Robert Buckner. With Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey, Ronald Reagan, Alan Hale, Van Heflin. 35mm. 110 min.
Santa Fe Trail is a confounding historical pageant that tries to imagine future Civil War antagonists Jeb Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George Armstrong Custer (Ronald Reagan) as West Point buddies posted in the Bloody Kansas territory where John Brown (Raymond Massey) is leading a guerilla war against slavery. Even though the film insists on Brown’s moral righteousness, he’s represented as a dangerous fanatic whose crusade is tearing the country apart, thus somehow neutralizing the film’s own progressivism. Michael Curtiz lends his usual visual scale to the production, but for once he isn’t able to impose a consistent tone; he has to swing pretty wide to include a subplot that has Jeb and George vying for the hand of a railroad heiress (Olivia de Havilland, of course).