Bugles in the Afternoon


Bugles in the Afternoon is a 1952 Western feature film starring Ray Milland, based on the 1943 novel by Ernest Haycox.[2] The story features the Battle of the Little Big Horn. It was filmed in Technicolor and released by Warner Bros.[3]

Bugles in the Afternoon
Original film poster
Directed byRoy Rowland
Written byDaniel Mainwaring
Harry Brown
Based onnovel by Ernest Haycox
Produced byWilliam Cagney
StarringRay Milland
CinematographyWilfred M. Cline
Edited byThomas Reilly
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • March 4, 1952 (1952-03-04) (New York City)
Running time
85 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1.5 million (North America)[1]


A rivalry between two U.S. cavalry officers results in Capt. Kern Shafter being court martialed for striking a fellow officer, Lt. Edward Garnett, with a saber. Shafter claimed to be defending the honor of his fiancée. The court martial found Shafter guilty as charged and was dismissed from the US Army.

After his dismissal from the Army, Shafter drifted for a while and then decides to enlist in the Army as a private. He chose to enlist at Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota territory. On the trip Fort Lincoln, he meets a woman Josephine Russell when they were both waiting to board a stagecoach to Fargo. When they reached Bismarck in the Dakota territory, Shafter heads to Fort Abraham Lincoln and enlists in the 7th Cavalry. He is assigned to a company commanded by an old friend and former sergeant major, Capt. Myles Moylan, and given the rank of sergeant. He is pleased until he learns that Lt. Garnett is there at Fort Lincoln as well and is now a captain and commander of one of the companies assigned to the fort.

Shafter makes friends with Private Donovan who was formerly a sergeant until he punched a sergeant major. The two of them are assigned to investigate the murder of local miners by Sioux tribesmen, leading to a dangerous encounter. When these risky missions continue, Capt. Moylan begins to realize that Garnett is deliberately putting Kern at risk. Moylan puts into motion an effort to clear Shafter.

The feud escalates when Shafter discovers that Garnett also has romantic designs on Josephine. Unaware of the history between the two men, or of Garnett's true character, she feels that Shafter should be dealing with issues more reasonably. She is angered when Shafter strikes Garnett.

The soldiers leave with Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer to engage the Sioux. Garnett deliberately puts Shafter, Donovan, and another soldier in danger by sending the three on a scouting mission, claiming there are no Sioux warriors in the vicinity. The three see their company fall back as they discover a large Sioux war party in their scouting area. After his friend Donovan is fatally wounded, Shafter is able to get back to his command, only to witness Custer's entire command killed in battle. Garnett pursues Shafter during a different skirmish with the Sioux, and the two scuffle until Shafter is knocked out by Garnett. When Garnett is about to drop a large rock on Shafter, a Sioux warrior fatally shoots Garnett. Capt. Moylan arrives and kills the warrior, and informs Shafter he saw the end of the fight with Garnett. The two then regroup with their command to fight the Sioux. Shafter is shot during this battle.

Shafter and Moylan survive. Thanks to Moylan, Kern's reputation and rank of captain are restored and Josephine now sees Shafter as the man she wants.




The film was based on a novel by Ernest Haycox which was published in 1944 and was serialised in The Saturday Evening Post. The New York Times called it "competent".[4]

In May 1944 William Cagney purchased the screen rights intending to make it a vehicle for his brother James Cagney. It would be the first of six films William Cagney would make for United Artists.[5] The others would be Blood on the Sun, Only the Valiant, Port Royal, The Stray Lamb and an untitled mystery romance.[6] In August 1944 Ring Lardner Jnr was assigned to write the script, which. was intended to star James Cagney.[7]

The movie was meant to follow Blood on the Sun but was put back when Cagney elected to make The Time of Your Life instead.[8]

By March 1949 the Cagney deal with United Artists had ended and William Cagney signed a three-picture deal with Warner Bros; the films were to be Only the Valiant, A Lion in the Streets and Bugles in the Afternoon.[9] In September 1950 William Cagney announced Harry Brown was writing the script.[10]

In February 1951 Warners announced that Harry Brown and Geoffrey Home had written the script and that filming would start in May. They hoped for Errol Flynn to play the lead.[11] In April Roy Rowland, who had signed a long-term deal with Cagney Productions, was going to direct; he left for Utah to scout locations and Cagney were still hopeful Flynn would star.[12]

In April William Cagney announced he had signed Ray Milland to star and that Helena Carter, David Brian and Robert Preston would co star.[13][14] (Carter had previously made Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye with Cagney.[15]|) Ward Bond was also mentioned. Then by May Brian – who had refused to make the film and was put on suspension – was replaced by Hugh Marlowe borrowed from 20th Century Fox and Bond – who had to go make The Quiet Man was replaced by James Millican. By June Forrest Tucker joined the cast, presumably in the role intended for Preston.[16]


Filming took place in June 1951. Parts of the film were shot in Johnson Canyon, Long Canyon, Asay Creek, Kanab Canyon, Aspen Mirror Lake, and Strawberry Valley in Utah.[17]

In late June, the unit returned from Utah.[18]


  1. ^ 'Top Box-Office Hits of 1952', Variety, January 7, 1953. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors, not gross box office takings.
  2. ^ 9B00EEDC123BE23BBC4D53DFB5668389649EDE "Bugles in the Afternoon' film review". New York Times. {{cite news}}: Check |url= value (help)
  3. ^ "BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON". Monthly Film Bulletin. Vol. 19, no. 216. London. January 1, 1952. p. 78.
  4. ^ JOHN K. HUTCHENS (February 13, 1944). "Custer's New Stand: BUGLE8 1N THE AFTERNOON. By Ernest Hayco. 306 lop. Boston: LittZc, Brown Co. $2.50". New York Times. p. BR6.
  5. ^ "Of Local Origin". New York Times. May 2, 1944. p. 15.
  6. ^ "News of the Screen". The Christian Science Monitor. July 21, 1944. p. 4.
  7. ^ "SCREEN NEWS: Metro to Make Film on Women's Army Corps". THE NEW YORK TIMES. August 11, 1944. p. 12.
  8. ^ A.H. WEILER (December 15, 1946). "BY WAY OF REPORT: Cagneys Have 'The Time of Your Life'-- Man From Down Under--Addenda Author at Work Chips Newcomer Billing Ford Film". New York Times. p. X5.
  9. ^ THOMAS F. BRADY (March 24, 1949). "PREMINGER PLANS FILM IN HONG KONG: Fox Producer and Scenarist, Dunne, Return From China With Idea for Picture". New York Times. p. 35.
  10. ^ "JOHN HUSTON WINS DIRECTORS' AWARD: Captures Quarterly Prize of Screen Guild for 'Asphalt Jungle,' Made at Metro Of Local Origin". THE NEW YORK TIMES. September 5, 1950. p. 39.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (February 17, 1951). "Drama: 'Force of Arms' Indexed for Todd; Flynn Right for 'Bugles in Afternoon'". Los Angeles Times. p. 9.
  12. ^ Schallert, Edwin (April 24, 1951). "Drama: Breakston-Stahl Buy 'Primrose;' Barbara Bates Wins 'Best' Role". Los Angeles Times. p. B7.
  13. ^ "LIPPERT, PETRILLO IN ACCORD ON VIDEO: Movie Producer and Head of Musicians' Union Work Out Formula on TV Films Of Local Origin".
  14. ^ "LIPPERT, PETRILLO IN ACCORD ON VIDEO". New York Times. April 24, 1951. p. 35.
  15. ^ Vagg, Stephen (February 14, 2020). "Helena Carter: An Appreciation". Filmink.
  16. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 25, 1951). "Drama: Joan Fontaine Deal for Rowena Hinted; 20th Plans Brady Build-up". Los Angeles Times. p. 15.
  17. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  18. ^ "MOVIELAND BRIEFS". Los Angeles Times. June 25, 1951. p. B7.

External linksEdit

  • Bugles in the Afternoon at IMDb
  • Bugles in the Afternoon at the TCM Movie Database
  • Bugles in the Afternoon at Letterbox DVD
  • Review of film at Variety