Bugles in the Afternoon

Bugles in the Afternoon is a 1952 Western feature film starring Ray Milland, based on the 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
Produced byWilliam Cagney
Written byDaniel Mainwaring
Harry Brown
Based onnovel by Ernest Haycox
StarringRay Milland
Music byDimitri Tiomkin
CinematographyWilfred M. Cline
Edited byThomas Reilly
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 U.S. cavalry captains results in Kern Shafter being demoted and disgraced for striking Edward Garnett with a saber. Kern claimed to be defending the honor of his fiancee.

Kern drifts for a while and is attracted to Josephine Russell, a woman he meets as they are both waiting to board a stagecoach to Fargo. When they reach Bismarck in the Dakota territory, Kern heads to Fort Abraham Lincoln and enlists in the 7th Cavalry. He is assigned to a company headed by an old friend and former sergeant major, Capt. Myles Moylan, and assigned the rank of sergeant. He is pleased until he learns that Capt. Garnett is there at Fort Lincoln as well; he is the commander of a different company, but is referred to as "top dog" by Moylan.

Kern makes a friend named Donovan, a private. Donovan 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 Kern should be dealing with issues more reasonably; she is angered when Kern strikes Garnett.

The soldiers leave with General George Armstrong Custer to engage the Sioux. Garnett deliberately puts Kern, 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, Kern is able to get back to his command, only to witness Custer and his own command killed in battle. Garnett pursues Kern during a different skirmish with the Sioux, and the two scuffle until Kern is knocked out by Garnett. When Garnett is about to drop a large rock on Kern, a Sioux warrior fatally shoots Garnett. Capt. Moylan arrives and kills the warrior, and informs Kern he saw the end of the fight with Garnett. The two then regroup with their command to fight the Sioux. Kern is shot during this battle.

Kern and Moylan survive. Thanks to Moylan, Kern's reputation and rank of captain are restored and Josephine now sees Kern 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] 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.[15][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. 'Bugles in the Afternoon' New York Times film review
  3. BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 19, Iss. 216, (Jan 1, 1952): 78.
  4. Custer's New Stand: BUGLE8 1N THE AFTERNOON. By Ernest Hayco. 306 lop. Boston: LittZc, Brown Co. $2.50. By JOHN K. HUTCHENS. New York Times 13 Feb 1944: BR6
  5. Of Local Origin New York Times 2 May 1944: 15.
  6. News of the Screen The Christian Science Monitor 21 July 1944: 4.
  7. SCREEN NEWS: Metro to Make Film on Women's Army Corps Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 11 Aug 1944: 12.
  8. BY WAY OF REPORT: Cagneys Have 'The Time of Your Life'-- Man From Down Under--Addenda Author at Work Chips Newcomer Billing Ford Film By A.H. WEILER. New York Times ]15 Dec 1946: X5.
  9. PREMINGER PLANS FILM IN HONG KONG: Fox Producer and Scenarist, Dunne, Return From China With Idea for Picture By THOMAS F. BRADY New York Times ]24 Mar 1949: 35.
  10. JOHN HUSTON WINS DIRECTORS' AWARD: Captures Quarterly Prize of Screen Guild for 'Asphalt Jungle,' Made at Metro Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 5 Sep 1950: 39.
  11. Drama: 'Force of Arms' Indexed for Todd; Flynn Right for 'Bugles in Afternoon' Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 17 Feb 1951: 9.
  12. Drama: Breakston-Stahl Buy 'Primrose;' Barbara Bates Wins 'Best' Role Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 24 Apr 1951: 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 24 Apr 1951: 35.
  15. Drama: Joan Fontaine Deal for Rowena Hinted; 20th Plans Brady Build-up Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 6 June 1951: B9.
  16. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. 25 June 1951: 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 (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]25 June 1951: B7.
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