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Santa Fe Trail

The year is 1854. Robert E. Lee is Superintendent of West Point, where J.E.B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) and George A. Custer (Ronald Reagan) are classmates. In the dormitory, one of the cadets (Van Heflin) reads aloud the secession-promoting pamphlets of abolitionist John Brown. At graduation, the address is given by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis. J.E.B. Stuart and Custer are assigned to the 2nd Cavalry in the Kansas territory, where they have to deal with John Brown.

This copy has better video quality than the one already here in the archive. The mpeg2 file contains nav-packets, so you can load it into DVDAuthorGUI (a free program) and create a DVD to watch on your television. If you don't have burning software, I suggest ImgBurn (another free program).

Santa Fe Trail is a 1940 American Western (genre) film directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Raymond Massey and Ronald Reagan. Written by Robert Buckner, the film is about the abolitionist John Brown and his fanatical attacks on slavery as a prelude to the Civil War. Subthemes include J.E.B. Stuart and George Armstrong Custer as they duel for the hand of Kit Carson Holliday.
The film was one of the top-grossing films of the year, being the seventh Flynn–de Havilland collaboration. The film also has almost nothing to do with its namesake, the famed Santa Fe Trail, except that the trail started in Missouri and the railroad could be built only after the Army drove Brown out of Kansas.
The outdoor scenes were filmed at the Movie ranch#Famous Players-Lasky Movie Ranch - Ahmanson Ranch in the Lasky Mesa area of the Simi Hills in the western San Fernando Valley.


At the This film takes substantial liberties with the historical facts: Stuart and Custer did not attend West Point at the same time and were never personally acquainted. Stuart graduated from West Point in 1854 and Custer graduated in 1861.


The film is frequently confused with the Raoul Walsh movie They Died with Their Boots On, released the following year, in which Flynn replaces Reagan in the role of Custer and also features de Havilland as Flynn's leading lady.


In its initial release, Warner Brothers premiered this film in some large cities with an experimental sound system called Vitasound. Not a stereophonic system as sometimes reported, Vitasound was intended to create a greater dynamic range in the reproduced sound in the theatre for battlefield scenes etc., or for dramatic music.
Vitasound employed a second, control, track along the line of the sprocket holes on the soundtrack side of the film. This control track consisted of a clear line on a black background that varied in width. If the width was greater than 0.04" then the soundtrack played as normal. At a width of 0.04" a relay operated connecting left and right speakers in parallel with the normal center speaker. As the control track width reduced further playback volume would be increased up to a maximum of 10dB at a zero control track width.
(Source: IMDb) This system was unrelated to Disney's Fantasound system which had just been used for roadshow engagements of Fantasia (1940 film), released 13 November 1940.


Santa Fe Trail entered the public domain in 1968, after United Artists Television – then the owners of the pre-1950 WB library (inherited from Associated Artists Productions [a.a.p.]) – failed to renew the copyright. As a result, the film has been widely available on VHS, LaserDisc and DVD, with picture and sound quality varying. A Film colorization version was produced in the 1980s, which was released on VHS. In the 1990s, Turner Entertainment through MGM Home Entertainment released an authorized VHS version (of higher quality than most other releases, but not utilizing the original negative); no other official release has been available on DVD or Blu-ray Disc (today, Turner's library is part of the Warner Bros. Television of Warner Bros., the original distributor). The film is also free to watch and download on YouTube and the Internet Archive.

See also

  • Errol Flynn filmography
  • Olivia de Havilland#Filmography
  • Ronald Reagan filmography
  • List of films in the public domain
  • List of films featuring slavery

Further reading

  • Robert E. Morsberger, "Slavery and 'The Santa Fe Trail,' or, John Brown on Hollywood's Sour Apple Tree," American Studies (1977) 18#2 pp 87–98. online, full-scale scholarly analysis of John Brown & other distorted historical themes

  • Category:1940 films
    Category:American films
    Category:Warner Bros. films
    Category:Romantic Western (genre) films
    Category:Black-and-white films
    Category:English-language films
    Category:Films directed by Michael Curtiz
    Category:American Civil War films
    Category:1940s Western (genre) films

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