Rough Riders – Movie Review
On 1 May the U.S. Pacific Squadron under Commodore George Dewey steamed into Manila Bay, Philippine Islands, and destroyed the Spanish fleet. Two months later, Admiral William Sampson repeated with an annihilating victory over the Spanish in a running battle off Santiago, Cuba.
In addition to Sampson and Dewey’s crushing victories, naval operations included a blockade of the Cuban coast, bombardment of Spanish fortifications at San Juan, Puerto Rico by the battleship USS Iowa, the armored cruiser USS New York and other ships, and gunfire support of Marine and Army landings in Cuba and Puerto Rico. America emerged from the Spanish-American War as a major naval power.
Rough Riders depicts the battle of San Juan during the time of fighting between Spain and Cuba. The U.S took the side for Cuban independence and swept the Spaniards in the battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill. Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders (1st Vol Cav) were made famous in this battle as they ferociously fought their way to victory.
The movie is split into two halves; the preparation for battle, and the battle itself. One of the main characters, Henry Nash, stumbles up in his attic to find his old uniform and photo of his regiment. He recalls how the war got started with violence in Cuba, and with the USS Maine sinking in Havana Harbor. “WAR!!” is the excited word coming from Mr. Hearst, a journalist who reads a telegram in New York about the breakout of the conflict. The movie then bounces back and forth showing how volunteers like polo players from New York City and frontiersmen from Arizona alike answered the call for the 1st Vol Regiment.
Characters were very memorable in this movie; most impressive was Tom Berenger who portrayed Teddy Roosevelt. He showed his outrageous personality which was also amusing to watch. He had a very close relationship with his wife Edith (played by Illeana Douglas). Bucky O’Neil’s character was very well played by Sam Elliott as the hard-nosed westerner who developed his troops from ordinary citizens into Cavalrymen.
In this movie you see a clash of personalities between O’Neil and Nash. Henry Nash was a laid back man who couldn’t make up his mind about staying or going, but after he had his chance to run after coming back, he was hounded by O’Neil the rest of the movie to become a soldier. In one scene, after the first battle, Roosevelt meets with some of his troops and shares some whiskey with them, it depicts the strong brotherhood of the regiment. Gary Busey also stars as a brash former southern General who partly led the 1st Vol into a dismounted assault on San Juan Hill.
Rough Riders is an action movie, with a pretty brisk pace. It will keep you interested and in your seat. Rough Riders is directed by John Milius (who also directed Red Dawn). I would caution against young audiences watching this movie because of the violence during the battle scenes, even though it is not rated. The movie is very lifelike, you feel every struggle, victory, and pride in what the US accomplished.
About the Author
Peter Hipple is a Submariner with the US Navy and is currently stationed in Groton, CT.