The Charge of the Light Brigade takes place in India in 1854 during the Crimean War between Russia and England (and other European countries). An unstable political situation becomes worse when England withdraws financial support from Surat Khan (C. Henry Gordon), the influential leader of the Suristani tribesmen. Khan eventually pledges his allegiance to Russia and commits a ruthless act that sets into motion the charge of the film’s title.
On the surface, The Charge of the Light Brigade comes across as a well-crafted action film with a love triangle subplot. But it also offers a subtle commentary on the military mind. At one point in the film, Vickers follows orders against his better judgment—because following orders is what officers do. The result is a bloody massacre that haunts Vickers and his men. When an opportunity for revenge arises later, Vickers chooses not to follow orders, an act that results in both tragedy and triumph.
It was filmed in San Fernando Valley during cold temperatures. Both Errol Flynn and co-star David Niven describe the difficult production in their entertaining autobiographies My Wicked, Wicked Ways (Flynn) and Bring on the Empty Horses (Niven). The title of the latter book is attributed to Curtiz, who frequently shouted to the film crew to "bring on the empty horses" to portray the number of fallen lancers during the charge. Sadly, trip wires were used to cause the horses to stumble, which sometimes caused injuries so severe that the animals had to be killed. Humane societies, including the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, sent formal complaints to Warner Bros., which ultimately resulted in measures to monitor animal scenes during film productions. Charge is one of the few Flynn hits never re-released by Warner Bros., largely because of the concern over the treatment of horses during the climatic charge.
In 1968, Tony Richardson (Tom Jones) directed another version of The Charge of the Light Brigade, which was not technically a remake. Though based on the same historical incident (and also borrowing the title of Alfred Tennyson's famous poem), it's an anti-war film with a satirical edge. Trevor Howard and David Hemmings were the stars. Though probably more accurate, I much prefer the Curtiz-Flynn version.