AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
Name Occurs Before Title Offscreen Credit Print Viewed By AFI
7th Cavalry
Alternate Title: The Return of Custer
Director: Joseph H. Lewis (Dir)
Release Date:   Dec 1956
Production Date:   12 Jan--3 Feb 1956
Duration (in mins):   76
Duration (in feet):   6,856
Duration (in reels):   8
Print this page
Display Movie Summary

Cast:   Randolph Scott (Captain Tom Benson)  
    Barbara Hale (Martha Kellogg)  
    Jay C. Flippen (Sergeant Bates)  
    Frank Faylen (Kruger)  
    Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Charlotte Reynolds)  
    Leo Gordon (Vogel)  
    Denver Pyle (Dixon)  
    Harry Carey, Jr. (Corporal Morrison)  
    Michael Pate (Captain Benteen)  
    Donald Curtis (Lieutenant Bob Fitch)  
    Frank Wilcox (Major Reno)  
    Pat Hogan (Young Hawk)  
    Russell Hicks (Colonel Kellogg)  
    Peter Ortiz (Pollock)  
    William Leslie (Lieutenant Murray)  
    Jack Parker (Officer)  
    Al Wyatt (Officer)  
    Edward F. Stidder (Orderly)  

Summary: In 1876, together with his fiancée, Martha Kellogg, Captain Tom Benson returns to his command under General George Custer. As they approach the fort, Tom notices that the garrison flag is not flying. Leaving Martha behind, Tom investigates and discovers that the fort is largely deserted. From Charlotte Reynolds, a distraught soldier's wife, Tom learns that most of the soldiers were massacred during a battle with the Sioux at Little Big Horn. Charlotte accuses Tom of deliberately avoiding the battle when he left the fort to fetch Martha. Although Tom insists that Custer gave him permission to leave, and that he did not know the battle was to take place so soon, the surviving soldiers are not convinced. Tom, who was Custer's right-hand man, is shocked to hear the other soldiers blame Custer's incompetence and ego for the defeat. Despite the bad feeling toward Tom, Martha remains supportive, but he decides to send her away so that she will not be affected by his blackened reputation. His plans are interrupted by the arrival of Martha's father, Colonel Kellogg, who has been charged with investigating the massacre. During the inquiry, Major Reno reveals that Custer made several serious mistakes, among them dividing his force into three battalions, which contributed to his defeat. Another soldier states that Custer began the attack against the advice of his scouts. When Tom tries to defend Custer, Kellogg orders him confined to quarters. Later, when asked why he left the fort on personal business so close to the time of the coming assault, Tom replies that Custer gave him direct orders, but because the orders were verbal, he has no proof. Determined to clear himself of charges of cowardice, Tom volunteers to lead a burial detail that has been ordered by President Ulysses S. Grant to remove the bodies of the officers from Little Big Horn. Tom "persuades" the soldiers who did not fight in the battle because they were in the stockade to volunteer along with him. As the detail travels toward Little Big Horn, Tom must contend with hostile soldiers as well as the threat of Indian attack. Near Little Big Horn, the soldiers encounter a warning indicating that Sitting Bull has made the site a sacred place for the Sioux, and the men become certain that they are riding into an ambush. Meanwhile, at the fort, Corporal Morrison returns and informs Martha that he heard Custer order Tom to leave. Then mounted on Dandy, a double for Vic, the horse that died with Custer, Morrison hurries to deliver the news to Tom. At Little Big Horn, the soldiers remove the officers' bodies and load them in wagons to be carried back to the fort. While they are working, the Sioux surround them. Young Hawk, a Sioux who was educated by whites, tells Tom that the soldiers are defiling sacred ground. He explains that the Sioux believe that the spirits of the dead men and horses live on in the Indians who defeated them in battle. When Tom dismisses his concerns as superstition, Young Hawk adds that if Custer's body is removed, his spirit would go with him and the fruits of their victory would be lost to the Sioux. When Tom still refuses to leave without Custer's body, the men rebel. Rather than further defile the sacred ground by shedding more blood, the Sioux surround the soldiers, planning to wait until they die. Meanwhile, Morrison approaches Little Big Horn. After he is killed by a lookout, the riderless horse continues to Little Big Horn. The Sioux recognize the horse as Custer's and, believing him to be the spirit of the dead Vic, disperse. Tom takes advantage of Dandy's appearance to bring his men home. Kellogg apologizes and gives his blessing to Martha and Tom's marriage. 

Production Company: Producers-Actors Corp.  
Production Text: A Scott-Brown Production
Distribution Company: Columbia Pictures Corp.  
Director: Joseph H. Lewis (Dir)
  Raphael J. Sevilla (Stand-by dir)
  Abner E. Singer (Asst dir)
  Jesús Marín (Asst dir)
Producer: Harry Joe Brown (Prod)
  Randolph Scott (Assoc prod)
  David Breen (Asst to prod)
Writer: Peter Packer (Scr)
Photography: Ray Rennahan (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: George Brooks (Art dir)
  Jesús Bracho (Art dir)
Film Editor: Gene Havlick (Film ed)
Set Decoration: Frank [A.] Tuttle (Set dec)
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff (Mus cond by)
Sound: Gene Valentino (Sd)
Production Misc: Antonio Guerrero Tello (In charge of production)
Color Personnel: Henri Jaffa (Techicolor col consultant)
Country: United States
Language: English

Source Text: Based on the short story "A Horse for Mrs. Custer" by Glendon E. Swarthout in New World Writing 5 (New York, 1954).
Authors: Glendon E. Swarthout

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
Producers-Actors Corp. 1/12/1956 dd/mm/yyyy LP7330

PCA NO: 17766
Physical Properties: Sd: RCA Sound System
  col: Technicolor

Genre: Western
Subjects (Major): Cowardice
  Dakota Indians
  Little Big Horn, Battle of the, 1876
  United States. Army. Cavalry
Subjects (Minor): Burial
  General George Armstrong Custer
  False accusations
  Fathers and daughters
  Rites and ceremonies

Note: The film's working titles were The Return of Custer and Return to Custer . For more information about the life of General George Armstrong Custer and the Battle of Little Big Horn, please see the entry for the 1942 Warner Bros. film They Died With Their Boots On in AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   27 Oct 1956.   
Daily Variety   19 Oct 56   p. 3.
The Exhibitor   31 Oct 56   pp. 4241-42.
Film Daily   2 Jul 56   p. 12.
Harrison's Reports   27 Oct 56   p. 170.
Hollywood Reporter   19 Oct 56   p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest   3 Nov 56   p. 130.
Variety   24 Oct 56   p. 6.

Display Movie Summary
The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
Advanced Search
Support our efforts to preserve hisotory of film
Help AFI Preserve Film History

© 2017 American Film Institute.
All rights reserved.
Terms of use.