Fort Dobbs

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 6, 2014

Fort Dobbs—Clint Walker, Virginia Mayo, Brian Keith, Richard Eyer, Russ Conway (1958; Dir:  Gordon Douglas)

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A variation on a theme of Hondo—remote ranch threatened by Indians, widow with young son befriended by capable scout who may have had something to do with her husband’s death.  Apparently this was kind of a low-budget variation, with a couple of television actors starring.  In black and white in 1958, filmed near Moab, Utah.  Cinematography is by William Clothier.  Written by George W. George and Burt Kennedy (screenwriter of the best Boetticher-Scott westerns), with music by Max Steiner.  The original title was Fifteen Bullets to Fort Dobbs, shortened upon release to just Fort Dobbs.

How much you like this western depends on your tolerance for Clint Walker’s brand of taciturn acting.  Walker is Gar Davis, big and good with a gun but not so good with women, apparently.  As the movie opens, he kills somebody and the sheriff from Largo (West Texas?  New Mexico?) leads a posse after him into Comanche country.  Davis finds a body with an arrow in the back; he switches jackets with the corpse and pushes it into a ravine, hoping that the posse will take it for him without getting close enough to get a better look.  When the posse, already uncomfortable with chasing Davis, finds the body, they are only too willing to head back without investigating further, taking Davis’ horse.  Davis finds a remote ranch and attempts to make off with a horse, only to be shot a glancing blow.  It turns out the ranch is owned by Mrs. Gray (Virginia Mayo, in one of her better roles) and her son Chad (Richard Eyer). 


Gar Davis with Mrs. Gray, and an amusing exchange with Clett the gunrunner.

It further turns out the corpse Davis had found was her husband, and she begins to think Davis killed him.  Davis gets the widow and son out just as the Comanches torch the ranch, and they head for Fort Dobbs.  The trip is complicated by numerous Comanches, encounters with Clett, a garrulous and unscrupulous gun-runner (well-played by Brian Keith), and Mrs. Gray’s headstrong nature and suspicions of Davis. 

When they do make it to Fort Dobbs, they find the garrison has been massacred.  Not far behind them are the survivors from Largo, led by the sheriff (Russ Conway), with Comanches in pursuit.  They’re running out of ammunition, and Davis volunteers to head for Santa Fe for help.  By this time the sheriff has persuaded Mrs. Gray that Davis didn’t kill her husband, but he still intends to hang Davis for a killing back in Largo.  He fills Mrs. Gray in on more of Davis’ background, and that his love for a faithless woman was at the root of his troubles with the law. 


On his way to Santa Fe, Davis encounters Clett the gunrunner again and tries to persuade him to take the guns back to Fort Dobbs.  They shoot it out, and Davis heads back with the guns—new Henry repeating rifles.  Davis gets in just as the Comanches attack again, and the rifles enable the fort’s defenders to ward off the Indians.  At the end, the sheriff sends Davis off to Santa Fe with the Grays, now that they’ve all forgiven him. 

This is quite watchable.  In fact, this is probably Clint Walker’s best western, not primarily because of his acting, which is pretty consistent from movie to movie, but because of the decent script and good supporting actors, especially Mayo and Keith.  For Virginia Mayo in another good western, see her with Joel McCrea in Colorado Territory.  Shot on location near Moab and Kanab, Utah, in black and white.


Douglas also directed the 1966 Stagecoach remake, Rio Conchos, Yellowstone Kelly, and Barquero along with more mainstream stuff like In Like Flint, Robin and the 7 Hoods, The Detective and They Call Me MISTER Tibbs.  He’d been directing movies since 1935—kind of an Andre de Toth type.

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