The 1997 TV Miniseries is almost the perfect movie. Last night my wife and I watched my DVD copy of the movie, directed and written, by John Milius, starring Tom Berenger as Theodore Roosevelt. After we watched the movie I watched it again with the "Commentary Track" on with John Milius. The movie looks like a big screen theatrical release even though the movie was made on a budget with Milius fighting the studio all the way for an increased budget. Milius is a disciple of director John Ford and it shows. You can tell that everyone making the movie wanted to put out a quality product. There is a cast of hundreds with many "reinactors" filling out the men who charged up San Juan Hill, Cuba in 1898 during the Spanish American War. The movie starts out with TR organizing the Rough Riders and training them in San Antonio, Texas and then follows them on the train to Florida and on to Cuba. The scene with the Rough Riders loading on the train with a lady singing "Garryowen" is magical. As the train travels across the South, only a few years removed from the Civil War, you see the crowds cheering the men and holding American flags. As the movie points out the South still hadn't started to celebrate the 4th of July again since the Civil War. Baranger is perfect as TR. After he and his men have made a frontal assault up a hill with entrenched soldiers with machine guns Roosevelt is strangely melancholy realizing he and his man will for the rest of their lives live in the shadow of that charge. Some have said that Roosevelt was a political opportunist. However, political opportunist's don't charge up a long hill ridding a horse under enemy fire when everyone else is on foot. Today most Americans little remember Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, but for the rest of their lives these men were honored in America for what they did and were held in a special place in the hearts of Americans. John Milius in his commentary points out that only two modern movies have been made about Teddy Roosevelt, this and "The Wind and the Lion"(1975) which also was directed by John Milius. Some background on the Rough Riders:
The most famous of all the units fighting in Cuba, the "Rough Riders" was the name given to the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry under the leadership of Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in May 1898 to join the volunteer cavalry. The original plan for this unit called for filling it with men from the Indian Territory, New Mexico, Arizona, and Oklahoma. However, once Roosevelt joined the group, it quickly became the place for a mix of troops ranging from Ivy League athletes to glee-club singers to Texas Rangers and Indians.
They were a cavalry unit but since there was not room on the ships going to Cuba for horses they went as a infantry unit. One of the fun thing about the movie is that there are so many famous people in it. For example:
Tom Berenger ... Theodore Roosevelt
Sam Elliott ... Capt. Bucky O'Neil (a Sheriff from Arizona who joined up.....Captain Bucky O'Neil is buried in Arlington National Cemetary,)
Gary Busey ... Gen. Joseph 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler (Congressman and former officer in the Confederate Army)
Illeana Douglas ... Edith Roosevelt (TR's wife)
Brian Keith ... President William McKinley (Keith played TR in "The Wind and the Lion)
George Hamilton ... William Randolph Hearst (Citizen Kane!)
R. Lee Ermey ... Secretary of State John Hay (Secretary to Abraham Lincoln at age 22)
Nick Chinlund ... Frederick Remington ( The Painter hired by Hearst to illustrate the war)
Dale Dye ... Col. Leonard Wood ( My basic training was at Fort Leonard Wood in Mo.)
Holt McCallany ... Hamilton Fish (Grandson of former Secretary of State)
Adam Storke ... Stephen Crane (reporter and wrote the "Red Badge of Courage" about the Civil War)
Robert Strane ... Sen. Hanna
Marshall R. Teague ... Young Black Jack Pershing ( would later lead American forces in France in WWI)
James Parks ... William Tiffany (one of the sons of the New York Tiffany's which are still famous today.....Breakfast at....)
(Click on the title for a link to the IMDB page for the movie)
(Actual picture of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders up on top of San Juan Hill after the battle)
Line from the movie: "My God, we were young. Well, it was a young country then, full of promise and hope. Anything was possible then if you were an American."
(Fredrick Remington's painting of the Rough Riders Charge up San Juan Hill under heavy fire from the Spanish with German advisers)
Unless Directed by John Milius they don't make movies like this anymore.... which is too bad!
UPDATE:According to the IMDB, because of the work of John Milius , on Rough Riders (1997) (TV), he was instrumental in causing President Theodore Roosevelt to be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, in 2001, for acts of conspicuous gallantry on San Juan Hill.