You know what Ted Turner likes? Of course you do. You can see
it displayed every day on the far-reaching tendrils of his TV
empire--be it TBS, TNT, TCM or CNN. Old Ted likes money, baseball,
horses, the Civil War and any combination thereof. Since he's
burned out every good Civil War story, character and battle making
movies (Glory, Gettysburg, Andersonville, etc.), Ted's
now moved on to the Spanish-American War. The new four hour mini-series
"Rough Riders" premiering on Sunday, July 20, details
the founding of Teddy Roosevelt's famous rag-tag military troop.
"Rough Riders" begins in 1898, when the soon-to-be president
(then young assistant secretary of the Navy) formed the 1st Volunteer
Cavalry Regiment. The Volunteer Cavalry was made up of wealthy
Eastern dandies, hard-bitten cowboys and rough-and-tumble outlaws.
Part One of "Rough Riders" deals mostly with the founding
and training of Roosevelt's melting pot army. About 23,000 enthusiastic
volunteers from across America are whittled down to a lean, mean
fighting machine of 560 tough guys. Part Two moves on to Cuba
and the famous battle of San Juan Hill. Roosevelt and his boys
help turn the tide in this crucial battle against the Spanish.
Americans don't take too well to well-oiled military machines.
Ever since a bunch of starving, poorly equipped Yankees fought
off their British oppressors, Americans have had a soft spot for
scrappy misfits. And so, by the time Roosevelt's rag-tag raiders
storm San Juan Hill, guns a-blazin', it's root-root-root for the
There's something quite thrilling about boys going off to war--especially
in an era when war was more of a mano a mano affair and
not simply a matter of wiping out villages at the touch of a button.
"Rough Riders" doesn't spend much time dabbling in the
politics and what have you. It gets right down to the meat of
the matter: men proving their manhood, bravery and loyalty in
the heat of battle. Wives, girlfriends and fiancees are summarily
kissed and dismissed, and it's off to war almost before the credits
are done rolling.
Behind the camera is director John Milius, who knows a thing or
two about making manly man movies. He's directed films like Dillinger,
Conan the Barbarian and Red Dawn. He's written ones
like Apocalypse Now, Magnum Force and Evil Knievel.
If there's a manlier résumé in Hollywood, I don't
know of it. He's the perfect fellow to bring this red-blooded
American tale to life. The battle scenes aren't exactly Gone
With the Wind in scope, but they're pretty impressive for
the small screen, and the "Yew shot mah brother, yew dirty
Spaniards" drama is suitably stirring.
Tom Berenger plays Roosevelt as a blustery eager beaver--a man
with no military experience whose charisma and leadership skills
blossomed in the face of adversity. The big-ticket supporting
cast includes Gary Busey, the late Brian Keith (as President McKinley)
and Sam Elliot (who's made a surprisingly good career out of doing
westerns in an era when nobody makes westerns anymore). Assorted
historical figures of the day make cameo appearances (Stephen
Crane, William Randolph Hearst, Frederick Remington) for all the
history buffs in the audience.
The script (co-written by Milius) leavens its bloody subject matter
with an airy wit. Cheery bravado and male bonding melodrama provide
most of the grist between shootouts. The cast (especially Berenger)
all look like they're having fun playing dress-up on Ted's dime.