Rough Riders (1997)



Director:  John Milius.

Starring:  Tom Berenger (Theodore Roosevelt), Sam Elliott (Captain Bucky (O'Neil), Gary Busey (Gen. Joseph 'Fighting Joe' Wheeler), Brad Johnson (Henry Nash), Chris Noth,  Brian Keith (President William McKinley), George Hamilton (William Randolph Hearst), Illeana Douglas (Edith Roosevelt), R. Lee Ermey (Secretary of State John Hay),  Nick Chinlund (Frederick Remington) , William Katt (Edward Marshall),  Dakin Matthews (Wadsworth, Sr.),  Geoffrey Lewis (Eli), Francisco Quinn (Rafael Castillo). 

Made for Cable TV.

1898, with Theodore Roosevelt



The following review includes a summary of the entire movie. But the movie is really in the details of the relationships between the soldiers and their performance in combat. After all, most of you already know what happened to Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders.


Good movie. There is a lot of coverage of the role of Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War.

On February 15, 1898 in Havana Harbor the U.S.S. Maine explodes beginning the Spanish-American War. Theodore Roosevelt initiates the creation of a group of cavalry men and officers that came to be called the Rough Riders.

A good deal of time is spent on several scenes dealing with the men who joined the Rough Riders: a couple of bank robbers; the sheriff who chased the bank robbers; a Mexican-American from the southwest; and the sons of some very wealthy New Yorkers. (William Randolph Hearst, who helped provide the propaganda to start the war, makes a couple appearances in the movie.)

The men congregate in San Antonio, Texas where they receive their basic training to become soldiers. Leonard Wood is the commander of the full regiment of volunteer cavalry. He was a medal of honor winner from one of the campaigns against the Apaches. Senator and General Joseph Wheeler, a famous Confederate cavalry officer, is given command of all the volunteer cavalry units. (This includes a group of Buffalo soldiers of the 10th cavalry under the leadership of Lt. "Black Jack" Pershing, who later in history would chase Pancho Villa in Mexico and lead the American forces in World War I.) Roosevelt is able to bring his contingent of 5th Avenue swells, among them: William Tiffany, Craig Wadsworth, and Goodrich. Attached to the cavalry units is the famous author (The Red Badge of Courage) and now war correspondent Steven Crane.

From San Antonio the men head to Tampa where there are considerable supply problems. From Tampa the men head south via train and then by ship head to Cuba. The men land near Daiquiri, Cuba.

Gen. Wheeler pushes his men forward without notifying higher command. The Rough Riders are ambushed, but are able to win the skirmish with the Spanish troops by turning the enemy flank.

The enemy lines now run from the village of El Caney on the north to San Juan Heights. Leonard Wood is promoted and Roosevelt becomes the commander of the brigade.

The battle for San Juan Heights began July 1, 1898. Lawton and Young should have taken El Caney relatively quickly, but they met heavier resistance than expected.

Roosevelt and his Rough Riders have the assignment to take the hill next to San Juan Hill in the San Juan Heights. They take an early beating from the Spanish artillery which their German advisers directed.

Roosevelt and company take their targeted hill and then join in on the assault of San Juan Hill being assaulted by the buffalo soldiers of the 10th cavalry. The Americans take San Juan Heights and Steven Crane takes the victory photo of the surviving Rough Riders.

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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