Monthly Archives: March 2014

Great Directors: Sam Peckinpah

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 19, 2014

Sam Peckinpah


“Pouring new wine into the bottle of the Western, Peckinpah explodes the bottle.”–Pauline Kael.

“I want to be able to make westerns like Akira Kurosawa makes westerns.”–Sam Peckinpah

David Samuel Peckinpah was born in 1925 and grew up in Fresno, California.  The strongest influence on him during his youth was said to be his maternal grandfather Denver Church, a judge, congressman and one of the best shots in the Sierra Nevadas.  Sam enlisted as a Marine in 1943 during World War II but did not see combat.  On his return from the war, he graduated from Fresno State in 1948 with a degree in drama.  He and his new wife moved on to USC, where he received a masters degree in performing arts in 1952.

Eventually he got a job working as an assistant to director Don Siegel in several films, including Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which he also appeared briefly as a meter reader.  He became a scriptwriter for such television programs as Gunsmoke (1955) and The Rifleman (1958).  Eventually he created his own short-lived television series The Westerner (1960, only 13 episodes), starring Brian Keith.  Keith had a box office success with Maureen O’Hara in The Parent Trap, and when O’Hara sought out Keith for a western production in which they would again co-star, he suggested Peckinpah as a director.


The Deadly Companions was not a success.  The only reason it is remembered today is because it was the first movie Peckinpah directed.  It was a very low-budget film, on which O’Hara’s producer brother Charles Fitzsimmons would not allow Peckinpah to re-write or participate in its editing.  Fitzsimmons also forgot to copyright the film, so it was in the public domain and for decades was seen, if at all, only in very poor quality prints and transfers.  But it was a directing credit and got Peckinpah started in film directing.

His second effort was one of his two masterpieces:  Ride the High Country, the last movie for aging western star Randolph Scott and the last significant movie for Joel McCrea.  It was also his first project with his favorite cinematographer, Lucien Ballard.  Since it was made economically with a relatively low budget in just 26 days, it did not get much attention in the U.S. on its release.  It was not promoted heavily; an MGM executive was heard to comment that “it didn’t cost enough to be that good,” and on MGM’s books it lost $160,000 domestically.  But it was taken more seriously in Europe, where it won first prize at the Venice Film Festival; and it received the grand prize at the Brussels Film Festival (beating Fellini’s 8 ½).  Even in the U.S., and notwithstanding its lack of studio promotion, the film was named by Newsweek and Film Quarterly as the best film of 1962.  Peckinpah was on his way ….

Until he crashed and burned on his next film, Major Dundee (1965), during the making and post-production of which he demonstrated not only some of his brilliance as a filmmaker but his inability to control his use of alcohol and pot or to get along with other egos among his stars and, especially, his producers.  On location in Mexico, his abrasive manner, compounded by heat, excessive drinking and marijuana use, caused star Charlton Heston to threaten to run him through with a saber.  The movie ran significantly over budget and way behind schedule.  However, when the studio, in the person of producer Jerry Bresler, threatened to shut the production down, Heston impulsively offered his own salary to offset the budgetary overages, and Bresler accepted.  Heston essentially made the movie for free. 

PeckinpahDundeeHeston Directing Charlton Heston in Major Dundee.

The conflicts with the producers and Columbia continued in post-production, and the movie was taken away from Peckinpah, resulting in a disjointed cut and disappointment at the box office.  Legends continue that Dundee is a lost masterpiece, and an extended cut was released on DVD in 2005, long after Peckinpah’s death.  However, even the extended cut appears to be evidence that Peckinpah’s overindulgences prevented him from finishing his script or telling a very coherent story.

Peckinpah:  “Any script that’s written changes at least thirty percent from the time you begin preproduction:  ten percent while you fit your script to what you discover about your locations, ten percent while your ideas are growing as you rehearse your actors who must grow into their parts because the words mean nothing alone, and ten percent while the film is finally being edited.  It may change more than this but rarely less.” 


Peckinpah’s directing career hit the skids in the wake of this debacle and he was replaced as director on his next film, The Cincinnati Kid (1965), with Steve McQueen.  He began to rehabilitate his reputation through a strong television production of Katherine Anne Porter’s Noon Wine (1966), which he adapted for the small screen.  It was enough to get him direction of his second masterpiece, this time for Warner Brothers:  The Wild Bunch (1969).  It is the film for which he is best remembered, although there are those who still prefer Ride the High Country.

The Wild Bunch, with its dazzling cinematography (again with Lucien Ballard) and visual compositions, its nihilistic outlook and stepped-up violence, follows a band of aging outlaws who have outlived their time, as they take on one last job in Mexico.  They go out in an explosion of gore and show-motion violence, in a final battle that is sometimes called “the Battle of Bloody Porch.” The film is brilliant, and it resulted in Peckinpah’s nickname “Bloody Sam.”  It rejuvenated his career and sent him into the ups and downs of the 1970s.  And the action and violence in westerns have looked different ever since.

PeckinpahWildBunch On the set of The Wild Bunch.

During the 1970s he directed The Ballad of Cable Hogue (1970, a kind of flower-child western that was said to be one of Peckinpah’s own favorites among his work), Straw Dogs (1971), Junior Bonner (1972, a modern rodeo-based western with Steve McQueen), The Getaway (1972, a crime drama on which Peckinpah introduced Steve McQueen to Ali McGraw), Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973, his last western, with James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson as the title characters and non-actor Bob Dylan), Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974), The Killer Elite (1975), Cross of Iron (1977) and Convoy (1978).  He continued to be the subject of controversy because of his use of graphic, some would say excessive, violence.  He also continued to fight with studios, producers and his own demons (to which he had added cocaine).  His last solid effort was the World War II anti-war epic Cross of Iron, about a German unit fighting on the Russian front, with Maximilian Schell, James Mason and James Coburn.  Peckinpah actually brought the picture in successfully despite severe financial problems.  His last film was The Osterman Weekend (1983), a less-than-notable adaptation of a Robert Ludlum thriller.

Peckinpah’s own views on the violence of his films?   “Well, killing a man isn’t clean and quick and simple.  It’s bloody and awful.  And maybe if enough people come to realize that shooting somebody isn’t just fun and games, maybe we’ll get somewhere.”

He lived another six years without significant career achievements.  He died of a heart attack at 59 in 1984, his body worn out by his overindulgences over the years.  Actor Robert Culp may have been right when he said that the surprising thing about Peckinpah was not that he only made fourteen pictures, but that he managed to make any at all.  In terms of awards, Peckinpah received only one Academy Award nomination in his career, for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Wild Bunch.

PeckinpahGetawayMcQueen With Steve McQueen.

Peckinpah:  “The end of a picture is always an end of a life.”.

Forty years after his death, his best-remembered films are his westerns.  The two very best of them feature old-timers finishing out a string as best they can, according to a code that may be obsolete.  Peckinpah himself may have been born out of what he felt to be his time.  His legacy as a director is both brilliant and disappointing.  Current directors who show his influence include Walter Hill and Quentin Tarantino.

“Sam Peckinpah’s life, like many of his movies, ended in a kind of apocalyptic debacle.  Too many arguments with producers, too much alcohol-fueled misbehavior and (always the real problem) too many disappointments at the box office had rendered the director of The Wild Bunch (1969) effectively unemployable by the time he died in 1984, at 59.”–Dave Kehr

“The Western is a universal frame within which it’s possible to comment on today.”–Sam Peckinpah

The most comprehensive biography of Peckinpah currently is If They Move …Kill ‘Em!  The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah, by David Weddle (2000).  There is an interesting documentary on Peckinpah and his films, especially his westerns:  Sam Peckinpah’s West (1994).


Peckinpah Essentials:  Ride the High Country, Major Dundee, The Wild Bunch

Second-Rank Peckinpah:  The Deadly Companions, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Junior Bonner, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid

Peckinpah Non-Western Essentials:  The Getaway, Straw Dogs, The Killer Elite, Cross of Iron

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The Alamo (1960)

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 18, 2014

The Alamo—John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Laurence Harvey, Richard Boone, Chill Wills, Frankie Avalon, Linda Cristal, Ken Curtis, Joseph Calleia, Denver Pyle, Hank Worden (1960; Dir:  John Wayne)


This retelling of the Alamo story and the beginnings of Texas independence from Mexico is perhaps the most John Wayne film ever made:  Wayne was the star, producer, and director, and his company provided some of the financing.  Wayne as an actor was at his peak in the wake of The Searchers and Rio Bravo, and the movie was released to great hype.  From our vantage point more than 50 years later, one would expect that it would have done well at the box office but perhaps not been greeted with much enthusiasm by critics.  In fact, it was the opposite.  A hugely expensive production in its time ($12 million) with an enormous cast, it only made back $8 million domestically.   Wayne lost his personal investment.  The movie eventually went into the black, making lots of money in Europe and Japan, but Wayne no longer owned it by that time.  Critical reaction was mixed at best, but the movie was one of the few nominated for for the Best Picture Academy Award for 1960.

In 1836, Texans are declaring their independence from Mexico, and Mexican president/generalissimo Santa Anna is bringing his experienced army of more than 6000 north to bring them back into the fold.  There is not much of a Texas army to oppose him—only 600 men under Fannin at Goliad and 187 men commanded by William Barret Travis (English actor Laurence Harvey) at San Antonio, using the old mission at the Alamo as a fortress of sorts.  Sam Houston (Richard Boone in his curmudgeonly mode) is trying to put together a real army to oppose Santa Anna, but he desperately needs time to do that.


In addition to Travis, “Colonel” Jim Bowie (Richard Widmark), former Louisiana land speculator and knife fighter, commands some militia at the Alamo.  And a bunch of roistering Tennesseans nominally led by former congressman Davy Crockett (John Wayne) are in town with an uncertain destination.  Travis offends local Hispanics such as Juan Seguin (Joseph Calleia), who would otherwise support Texas independence, Travis and Bowie bicker constantly, and Travis ineffectively tries to recruit the Tennesseans. 

During the build-up, Crockett bonds with his men, gives the occasional speech about how the word “republic” chokes him up, and makes a play for a young and attractive Hispanic widow (the beautiful Linda Cristal).  She has no apparent dramatic purpose, since she doesn’t actually get together with Crockett and she doesn’t stick around after the first third of the movie.  In the midst of their drunkenness, Crockett manipulates the Tennesseans into joining the defenders of the Alamo.

Alamo1960Harvey Alamo1960WidmarkGun

Laurence Harvey as Travis and Richard Widmark as Bowie (with his volley gun).

Santa Anna and his good-looking army show up and blast away at the Alamo.  Crockett and Bowie conduct a commando operation to destroy the biggest Mexican gun, and there are constant conflicts with Travis.  It can be no secret to us (or to audiences of 1960) that in the end the defenders are overwhelmed by Santa Anna’s forces and slaughtered to a man in an extended battle sequence, creating the first heroes of Texas independence.  Each of the three defending principals gets an appropriately heroic end.

The need to make this a John Wayne movie means this film disproportionately focuses on the supposed Crockett, who seems not very authentic historically.  He’s not too old for the part, since Crockett was almost 50 when he died at the battle.  There’s a lot of meandering in the first two-thirds of the movie with extraneous characters.  The Tennesseans (especially Chill Wills) quickly become tedious in their constant drunken revelry.  Apparently having learned from Rio Bravo that one should always have a teen-idol singer in the cast to appeal to the younger demographic, Frankie Avalon here is another in a series of unnecessary young brothers and compatriots (Fabian in North to Alaska, Bobbie Vinton in Big Jake and The Train Robbers) who can’t act well.

The Alamo 1960

In production design, there are a few concessions to 1836 this time, especially in the hats and firearms.  Bowie’s seven-barrel flintlock volley gun (called a Nock gun, after its British maker) looks impressive; such a gun was developed by the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic wars for naval warfare but was not widely used because of its horrific recoil.  Crockett’s coonskin cap looks hot and foolish; thankfully, he often wears more regular hats.

In Rio Bravo the year before, one of the prominent musical features was the constant playing of the Deguello, Mexican-flavored trumpet and guitar music that was said to have been played by Santa Anna’s men at the Alamo, signifying that no quarter was to be given.  It was a romantic story, but, In fact, the tune was composed by Dimitri Tiomkin for that film.  Here the theme music is a combination of the Tiomkin Deguello and the melancholy “Green Leaves of Summer” by Tiomkin, which would be nominated for an Oscar and become a big hit for the folk group The Brothers Four.  The overture and musical intermission are usually omitted for television broadcasts.


Cinematography was by the excellent William Clothier.  The screenplay was by James Edward Grant (Angel and the Badman), long a favorite (and often clunky) writer-friend of Wayne’s.  The two or three patriotic speeches dropped in, especially those for Wayne, stop the action and don’t work very well.  Producer/director Wayne wanted to express his patriotic sentiments and he got his way, but that aspect doesn’t play well now.  The final battle scene has some curious editing, showing Mexican soldiers lunging at one or another of the notable defenders, cutting away, and seconds later returning to the defender, now skewered with a bayonet or sword and falling over.

The Alamo received seven Academy Award nominations.  It won the Oscar for Best Sound (Gordon E. Sawyer, Fred Hynes) and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Chill Wills), Best Cinematography (William Clothier), Best Film Editing (Stuart Gilmore), Best Musical Score (Dimitri Tiomkin), Best Music (Song) (Dimitri Tiomkin and Paul Francis Webster for The Green Leaves of Summer) and Best Picture.  Chill Wills placed a tasteless ad in Variety, soliciting votes and referring to those who voted for him as his “Alamo cousins.”  Groucho Marx responded in a small ad of his own:  “Dear Mr. Wills, I am delighted to be your cousin, but I voted for Sal Mineo” (nominated for Exodus).


Wayne directing, apparently in the same hat he wore from Stagecoach (1939) through Rio Bravo (1959).  The hat does not appear on-screen in The Alamo, though.

This film is a relic of John Wayne in the 1960s at the height of his career, and that is the reason to watch it.  John Wayne learned that he didn’t want to direct, although he took over that role again (uncredited, at his insistence) on 1962’s The Comancheros when Michael Curtiz was dying of cancer.  As in the making of other films (see The Cowboys, for example), Wayne’s right-wing politics sometimes conflicted with those of others in the production.  In this case, Widmark didn’t get along with him well.  Widmark repeatedly challenged Wayne’s direction and once they almost came to blows; thereafter the two remained professional but distant. The movie is long, at 167 minutes, and there is a director’s cut at 203 minutes (1993, obviously done without Wayne’s participation) if you want even more and if you can find it.  The movie was re-released in 1967 at 140 minutes, so there are lots of choices.  Some of these cuts are in need of restoration.

So how accurate is it?  Not very.  For example, Bowie did not brandish a seven-barrel volley gun, nor was he wounded in the leg during the final assault, nor did his wife die during the time of the siege. He fell ill due to typhoid fever and was barely awake during the final attack, and Bowie’s wife had died a year before the battle was fought.  Fannin was not ambushed and slaughtered during the siege of the Alamo.  He and his men were murdered in Goliad on Palm Sunday three weeks after the Alamo fell.  Bowie and Crockett never made the decision to leave the Alamo as shown in the movie.  Though Bowie and Travis disliked each other intensely, they agreed that the Alamo should be defended.  And the time frame for the battle is wrong.  The movie shows the final battle taking place during the day; in reality, the final Mexican attack was pre-dawn, while most of the Alamo defenders were sleeping.  The individual deaths of Travis, Bowie and Crockett are fictional, for dramatic effect.  They were killed, but, especially for Crockett, the individual circumstances are not generally known and are still a matter of debate.


Billboard art by Reynold Brown, emphasizing the film’s epic scale and the final battle.

In a bit part as an aide to Santa Anna, look for famed Mexican bullfighter Carlos Arruza; well-known director Budd Boetticher would fizzle away his career in Mexico during the 1960s trying to make his magnum opus, a documentary on Arruza, before Arruza’s early death in 1966.  If Arruza’s presence in the film was intended to make it appeal to Mexicans, it didn’t work; the film was banned in Mexico.  There are various Canutts (related to Yakima, legendary stuntman and second unit director), Patrick Wayne, even an uncredited Pilar and Toni Wayne.

The first movie about the battle at the Alamo was the silent The Immortal Alamo (1911), now thought to be lost.  There have been at least eight films portraying it, and three television productions, including Disney’s “Davy Crockett at the Alamo” episode on Disneyland.  This is not the best film ever made about the Alamo, but it might be the most prominent.  For a better, more historical Crockett performance, see Billy Bob Thornton in The Alamo (2004)The 2004 movie, which tries for greater historical accuracy, is not among the greatest westerns, but it’s better than this version and Thornton’s performance is terrific.  The definitive Alamo movie has yet to be made.

For more actual history of the Alamo and its defense, focusing on the three protagonists (Crockett, Bowie and Travis) and doing a good job of separating the legends from what is actually known, see the books Three Roads to the Alamo (1999), by William C. Davis and The Blood of Heroes (2012), by James Donovan.


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Devil’s Doorway

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 17, 2014

Devil’s Doorway—Robert Taylor, Paula Raymond, Louis Calhern, Edgar Buchanan, Spring Byington (1950; Dir:  Anthony Mann)


An early and socially-conscious western by Anthony Mann (it was his first western, in fact); and a range war western with an interesting Indians vs. whites twist.  Civilized Shoshone Indian Lance Poole (or Broken Lance, played by blue-eyed Robert Taylor in dark makeup with his hair growing longer as the movie progresses) fought at Antietam in the Civil War and won the Medal of Honor at Gettysburg, but he returns home to find that his people are in trouble.  His home town is Medicine Bow (the same Wyoming town that was the setting for The Virginian), and his family has long ranched at Sweet Meadows in the mountains.  The gap leading to their mountain valley is known as the Devil’s Doorway, and much of the action takes place around it. 

Long-time residents like Zeke Carmody (Edgar Buchanan) know Lance and treat him well enough.  However, a venal and bigoted eastern lawyer, Verne Coolan (Louis Calhern), has lured sheep ranchers to the area with the promise of free land for the homesteading—Sweet Meadows.  Lance tries to follow the law, as directed by his young and attractive female attorney Orrie Masters (Paula Raymond, with Spring Byington playing her mother).  But Indians are not U.S. citizens (not until 1924, in fact), and can’t legally homestead themselves. 


Lance (Robert Taylor) and Orrie (Paula Raymond) ponder the futility of it all.

Lance’s father dies, and a band from the reservation seeks refuge with Lance at Sweet Meadows.  Lance tries legal recourse, but Coolan forms a mob and attacks Sweet Meadows.  The Indians are successful in holding them off for a while (both sides use dynamite, which is probably anachronistic for the 1860s), and Lance kills Coolan.  But Masters calls in the cavalry from Fort Laramie to get the Indians back to the reservation.  By the time the Indians agree to go back to the reservation, there are only the women and children left alive.  Lance dies theatrically, wearing his soldier’s jacket and Medal of Honor. 

The film is not based on any historical incident involving Shoshones, but it’s not wrong about the implacability of racial attitudes at the time, either.  The reservation in question would have been the Wind River reservation, which wasn’t, and still isn’t, bad as reservations go.  In those days the Shoshones would have only felt the need to leave it to go buffalo hunting.  The great Washakie was the Eastern Shoshone chief in the 1860s, and he was an effective leader respected by both Indians and whites. 


Beleagured Shoshones defend themselves against settlers, in a reversal of the usual situation..

Orrie and her mother, as sympathetic, even radical, as they are for their times, can’t bring Orrie to act on the attraction she feels for Lance.  One of Lance’s last comments to Orrie:  “Maybe in a hundred years we could have made it work.”  But he’s right; in the 1860s, the Indians couldn’t win in this fictional situation.  Even Custer’s demise was ten years in the future.  This plays well with modern social sensibilities 60 years after its release.  It’s a little heavy-handed, especially at the end, but watchable.  Taylor, Calhern and Raymond are all good.  It was released the same year as the more celebrated Broken Arrow.  Shot in black and white by cinematographer John Alton, with great mountain scenery in Grand Junction and Aspen, Colorado.  The aspens and mountain meadows look authentic.

Robert Taylor was in the middle of a pretty good run as he moved into making more westerns.  See him also in the excellent Ambush (1950) and Westward the Women (1951).  During the 1950s, he would also be good in The Last Hunt (1956), The Law and Jake Wade (1958) and Saddle the Wind (1958).

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The Last Wagon

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 15, 2014

The Last Wagon—Richard Widmark, Felicia Farr, Nick Adams, Susan Kohner, Tommy Rettig, Stephanie Griffin (1956; Dir:  Delmer Daves)


Sheriff Bull Harper:  “Don’t be fooled by the color of his eyes and his skin.  He may be white, but inside he’s all Comanche.”

As the movie opens, Comanche Todd (Richard Widmark) is on the run on foot from what appears to be a posse.  He gets two of them before the leader, the brutal Sheriff Bull Harper (George Matthews), captures him.  While Harper’s taking him back for trial, they encounter a wagon train of devout Christian emigrants in Apache territory and band together with them, at least for protection from the Indians.  We’ve seen Todd kill others in the posse already, but Bull Harper doesn’t seem all that trustworthy either.

[After capturing Todd, Sheriff Harper offers to join Colonel Normand’s wagon train.]  Col. William Normand (Douglas Kennedy):  “He’s safe in your custody, I suppose. It’s just that we got women and children with us.”

Sheriff Bull Harper:  “He’ll be safe. The first time he don’t look safe, he’ll get dead.”


The next night several young people are off swimming and, when they return to the wagons, they find them burned and everyone killed by the Apaches.  Todd, who was manacled to a wagon wheel, went over a cliff with the wagon, but he’s still alive.  And he’s the only hope of the young people to get out of the desert and wilderness alive.  Only he has the survival skills and the wilderness knowledge they’ll need.  Jenny (Felicia Farr) and her young brother Billy (Tommy Rettig) are inclined to trust Todd, but two others (including Nick Adams) don’t and the remaining one (half-Indian, played by Susan Kohler) is undecided. 

Comanche Todd:  “We’ve got six bullets, and that idiot uses up three of them on a stinkin’ rattler you could kill with a stick.”

The relationships develop while Todd guides them toward safety, with death lurking constantly around every corner.  Eventually Todd saves a patrol of soldiers, who then take him into custody.  The final scene is Todd’s trial before General Oliver O. Howard, where it comes out that the sheriff and his three rotten brothers had raped and killed Todd’s Comanche wife and son and had left him for dead.  He’d been hunting them ever since. 


Delmer Daves, like John Sturges, is one of those directors from the 1950s whose westerns are usually worth watching.  So is this.  Although it’s quite watchable, however, it’s not smoothly plotted.  The ending doesn’t have the same edge that the rest of the film does.  Widmark is excellent as Todd, keeping us unsure how bad or good Comanche Todd is, and Felicia Farr is also very good.  At this stage of his career, Widmark was playing both bad guys (The Law and Jake Wade) and good guys (Sturges’ Backlash and this) in westerns, although he had made his initial reputation ten years earlier playing psychotic killers in films noir.  To see Farr in another western, she plays the girl who catches Glenn Ford’s interest in a barroom and delays him long enough that he gets captured in the original 3:10 to Yuma (1957), also directed by Delmer Daves.  She’s also in Daves’ JubalThis film is better looking than much of Daves’ work.  Shot in color (Cinemascope and Technicolor) in Sedona, Arizona.  98 minutes.  Music is by Lionel Newman, younger brother of Alfred Newman.

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The Desperadoes

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 14, 2014

The Desperadoes—Randolph Scott, Glenn Ford, Claire Trevor, Evelyn Keyes, Edgar Buchanan, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (1943; Dir:  Charles Vidor)


In 1943, Randolph Scott was moving to the phase of his career where he would concentrate on making westerns, when he was paired with the young Canadian actor Glenn Ford in this western set in Utah in 1863.  Shot in color (Columbia’s first color feature, in fact), this was a big-budget western for its time.

In the town of Red Valley, Utah Territory, the sheriff is Steve Upton (Randolph Scott), who might be interested in Allison McLeod (Evelyn Keyes), proprietor of the local livery stable.  The local banker and several others are conspiring to have the bank robbed every time the army pays for horses, only to make off with the money themselves.  Uncle Willie (Edgar Buchanan), Allison’s father, is in on it and has sent for an outlaw to do the robbing.  Wanted outlaw-gunman Cheyenne Rogers (Glenn Ford) and his pal Nitro Rankin (Guin Williams) show up, but he’s late and the bank has already been robbed by somebody else.   


Cheyenne (Glenn Ford) steals the sheriff’s horse, without the sheriff (Randolph Scott) seeing who he is.

Cheyenne’s horse goes lame as he enters the valley, and he comes upon the sheriff watering his horse while out looking for the robbers.  Without allowing the sheriff to turn around, Cheyenne takes his horse, leaves the lame one and heads for town.  When the Steve does finally see him, it turns out they are old friends from Wyoming, along with the Countess (Claire Trevor), who runs the town’s principal gambling establishment.  Taking the imaginative name Bill Smith, Cheyenne develops an interest in Allison himself and decides to go straight.

That’s not so easy in the corrupt environment of Red Valley.  Steve orders Cheyenne and Nitro out of town when local elements want to push them into a fight, and, unknown to Cheyenne, Nitro robs the bank for real on the way out.  The judge insists that Steve arrest Cheyenne and Nitro for the robbery and intends to hang them.  Steve thinks hanging is too severe a penalty for a robbery in which the money was returned and nobody was hurt.  Cheyenne had nothing to do with it, anyway.  So Steve lets them escape, only to be put in the jail himself for his efforts.  The bad guys wait for Cheyenne to return and rescue Steve; they’ll get him then and blame the previous bank robbery on him, too.


The Countess (Claire Trevor) chats up the bad guys.

Stampeding a herd of horses as it nears town gives Cheyenne a cover to slip in and bust Steve out of jail.  There is a showdown with the most belligerent of the bad guys, Allison marries Cheyenne, who presumably will be able to carry out his intention of going straight, Uncle Willie goes to jail peaceably, and Steve is able to get rid of the corrupt banker, judge (Raymond Walburn) and other elements in town.


Randolph Scott, Glenn Ford and Big Boy Williams fooling around with set visitor Fred Astaire during the making of The Desperadoes.

There’s a lot of action and good fights, with some comic undercurrents provided by Williams (who wears the most mismatched plaids in cinematic history) and a long-suffering bar owner (Irving Bacon) whose establishment keeps getting smashed up.  The horse stampede is very well done–Randolph Scott used one again the same way in The Doolins of Oklahoma a few years later.  Nitro’s use of nitroglycerin is anachronistic for 1863; it wasn’t available for two or three more decades.  Although Randolph Scott was the bigger name in movies at the time, the concentration here is more on Ford’s character than on Scott’s.  They don’t really look the same age.  Director Charles Vidor, the less prominent brother of director King Vidor, was married to Evelyn Keyes, who gives a good performance as Allison.  John Ford’s brother Francis Ford is one of the townsmen.  Uncle Willie is one of Edgar Buchanan’s juicier roles, too.  Young Budd Boetticher was an uncredited assistant to director Vidor; his own directing was still almost ten years in the future.  The film moves right along, at only 87 minutes.


Vidor directed Glenn Ford again three years later after Ford’s return from the war in the classic film noir Gilda.  By then Ford was starting to look more his age.

Not to be confused with 1969’s The Desperados (without the second “e”), with Jack Palance, Vince Edwards and George Maharis.  Or with Ron Hansen’s excellent 1979 novel Desperadoes, about the Dalton gang.  Or with Desperado, the song made famous by Linda Ronstadt in 1973.  Take your desperadoes where you can find them.


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Shoot Out

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 13, 2014

Shoot Out—Gregory Peck, Patricia Quinn, James Gregory, Jeff Corey, John Davis Chandler, Arthur Hunnicutt, Dawn Lyn, Paul Fix, Susan Tyrell (1971; Dir:  Henry Hathaway)


A revenge story, like Peck’s The Bravados more than ten years previously.  One of Henry Hathaway’s last movies, and a late western for Gregory Peck, who plays Clay Lomax, released from Colorado’s Canon City prison after seven years for bank robbery. 

During the robbery, Lomax’s partner Sam Foley (James Gregory), shot him in the back, left him for dead and made off with the loot.  He has since prospered in Gun Hill with his ill-gotten gains, but he’s worried about Lomax.  He sends three senseless young gunmen led by Bobby Jay Jones (Robert F. Lyons) to follow Lomax and let Foley know where he’s headed.  Initially, Lomax takes the train to Weed, where he was shot, to ask crippled local saloon keeper and whoremaster Trooper (Jeff Corey) where Foley is to be found.  Unable to restrain themselves from violence, the three gunmen following kill Trooper and take Alma (Susan Tyrell), one of his prostitutes, with them. 


Lomax meets the train from Kansas City, expecting $200 from a “lady” there.  Instead, she’s dead and Lomax is handed her daughter Decky (Dawn Lyn), six or seven years old.  He tries to palm her off on anybody else, but there are no takers.  Finally they head off for Gun Hill, and Lomax discovers they’re being followed by the three ne’er-do-wells.  He takes their guns and rides on. 

In the rain, he and Decky come to the ranch of widow Juliana Farrell (Pat Quinn) and her son.  They seem to hit it off very quickly, for no very good reason except that he’s basically decent and so is she.  The three bad guys burst in on them and terrorize them until finally Lomax gets the upper hand.  Bobby Jay’s two stupid confederates are dead after this confrontation, and he heads directly for Foley with Lomax in pursuit.  When Foley pays him off, he shoots Foley and takes the rest of his money just as Lomax gets there.  Lomax wins the extended shootout, as we knew he would, and heads back for the widow and Decky. 


This has good character actors, such as Corey, Fix, Tyrell and Hunnicutt.  The child (Dawn Lyn) isn’t bad, though occasionally foul-mouthed.  Use of the child should make it a family film, but there’s violence, brief nudity and some foul language, so it doesn’t come together well.  The bad guys are stupid, loud and annoying, as well as bad.  This has a pretty meaningless title that could apply to almost any western.  Lomax’s use of the word “punk” seems anachronistic.  There are a couple of shots of Lomax and Bobby Jay supposedly riding, where it’s obvious they’re not really on horses.  Altogether, this is a mildly disappointing effort from the same director (Hathaway)-producer (Hal Wallis)-writer (Marguerite Roberts) team that had made True Grit a couple of years earlier.  It’s not as bad as Peck’s other late westerns McKenna’s Gold or Billy Two Hats, though.  For a better Gregory Peck revenge story, see The Bravados.  Excellent score by Dave Grusin.  Based on a story by Will James.  Filmed in Cerillos, New Mexico.  In color.

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The Cariboo Trail

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 12, 2014

The Cariboo Trail—Randolph Scott, Gabby Hayes, Bill Williams, Karin Booth (1950; Dir:  Edward L. Marin)


The plot for this resembles Anthony Mann’s better known The Far Country, which would follow in a couple of years.  A cattleman takes a herd north to mining country in western Canada, only to encounter trouble from a corrupt town boss and his minions, while developing romantic interests with both a woman who runs a saloon and a more plebeian but more obviously honest young woman.  In this case, the cattleman is Jim Redfern (Randolph Scott, at the height of his box office appeal), bringing a small herd to the wild gold strike country of British Columbia with Mike Evans (Bill Williams), and a Chinese chuck wagon cook (Lee Tung Foo). 

Refusing to pay an exorbitant toll on a bridge, they stampede their herd across and meet prospector Grizzly Winters (Gabby Hayes).  The town is run by Frank Walsh (Victor Jory), a bookkeeper-looking boss with more obvious gunmen around him.  Walsh’s men rustle the cattle, and Evans loses an arm in the stampede.  Redfern and Evans find some sympathy with Frances Harrison (Karin Booth), who owns the Gold Palace and has refused to sell out to Walsh. 


Getting the wounded Evans (Bill Williams) to a doctor.

Although he’s a novice prospector, Redfern finds a gold strike, which he uses to buy into a large herd being brought in from the south.  (The foreman of this new herd is Will Gray, played by Dale Robertson.)  Meanwhile, the embittered Evans both joins and fights Walsh, while he blames Redfern for the loss of his arm.  In the resolution, Walsh’s men try to stampede the new herd, and Evans leads miners to the rescue but is killed. 

In color, but a curiously flat color.  The plot’s not as coherent as it might be, and the end is abrupt.  Serviceable, but not as good as The Far Country or Scott’s later work with Budd Boetticher.  This is Hayes’ final film, and he’s not as obnoxious as in some of his earlier Roy Rogers vehicles.


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Blue-Eyed Apaches: Whites in Indian Roles

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 11, 2014

Casting of Whites in Indian Roles


Debra Paget as a Cheyenne princess in White Feather; Donna Reed in dark makeup as Lemhi Shoshone guide Sacajawea in The Far Horizons.  Both from 1955.

There have been real Indians in the movies since their earliest days.  John Big Tree, a Seneca from New York state, began in movies in 1915 and worked with both John Ford and Cecil B. DeMille (Drums Along the Mohawk, Western Union, North West Mounted Police, Unconquered, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, etc.).  He appeared in John Ford’s The Iron Horse in 1924 as an uncredited Cheyenne chief, and Ford also used many Navajos as extras in that film.  Ford tended to use Navajos for the Indians in his movies whenever he was filming in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border, whether they were supposed to be Comanches, Cheyennes, Arapahoes or Apaches.  Charles Stevens, a Mexican-Apache grandson of Geronimo, was used as a character actor in Indian parts in the 1930s and 1940s (Frontier Marshal, My Darling Clementine, etc.).

Nevertheless, it was more common for decades to cast whites in dark makeup in Indian roles from the start of the movies through the 1960s.  Wallace Beery, for example, played the evil Huron Magua in the 1920 version of Last of the Mohicans, and Bruce Cabot played the same role in the 1936 remake.  Even John Ford could take authenticity only so far; he used the German actor Henry Brandon as the Comanche chief Scar in The Searchers (1956), and a trio of Mexican actors (Ricardo Montalban, Gilbert Roland and Dolores Del Rio, along with New Yorker Sal Mineo) as the Cheyenne leads in his last major movie, Cheyenne Autumn (1964).


By 1970, westerns, like other movies, were moving more toward more ethnic authenticity in the casting of Indian parts.  Chief Dan George from the Burrard Band of North Vancouver, was terrific in Little Big Man (1970) and The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976).  The trend had become even more notable by the time of the release of Dances With Wolves in 1991, with its large cast of Native American actors from various tribes playing Lakota Sioux and speaking real Lakota.

Still, for most of the history of the movies, whites most often played the prominent Native American roles.  Below is an incomplete list of some of the best-known examples of whites in Indian parts; if you’d like to add to the list, leave a comment, and we’ll be updating it from time to time.  There were a few movies with blue-eyed actors unapologetically playing Apaches, Cheyennes or other Indians, of which special note is made.  (Contact lenses had been available to change blue eyes to brown at least since 1950, when Debra Paget–everybody’s favorite Indian princess of the 1950s–wore them as an Apache maiden in Broken Arrow.)

Indians weren’t the only ethnic group to receive this treatment—actually, most ethnic groups have mostly had white actors of other ethnicities playing them in Hollywood.  For example, see the list of whites playing Mexicans of various sorts, even though there have been major actors of Mexican ancestry in Hollywood since at least the 1920s (Ramon Novarro, Dolores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland). 

There will be more on actual Indian (Native American) actors in westerns in a future post.

BlueEyedEdwardsVince Edwards as Hiawatha, 1952.

Bruce Cabot and Robert Barratt (Huron Magua and Mohican Chingackgook, in Last of the Mohicans, 1936)

Anthony Quinn (with his half-Mexican ancestry, Quinn played a lot of ethnic roles, including several as Indians and Mexicans [Ride, Vaquero!  Yellow Hand in Buffalo Bill, Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On, The Plainsman])

Anthony Quinn (Cheyenne warrior in The Plainsman, 1936)

Anthony Quinn (Oglala Sioux Crazy Horse in They Died With Their Boots On, 1941)

Anthony Quinn (Cheyenne Yellow Hand in Buffalo Bill, 1944)

Linda Darnell (Cheyenne Dawn Starlight, in Buffalo Bill, 1944)

Boris Karloff and Katherine DeMille (western Seneca chief Guyasuta and his daughter Hannah, in Unconquered, 1947)

Robert Taylor (Shoshone Broken Lance, in Devil’s Doorway, 1950)

Jeff Chandler (Chiricahua Apache Cochise, in Broken Arrow, 1950, and The Battle at Apache Pass, 1952)

Debra Paget (an Apache woman in Broken Arrow, 1950)

Ricardo Montalban and Jack Holt (Blackfeet Ironshirt and Bear Ghost in Across the Wide Missouri, 1951)

Susan Cabot (Cheyenne maiden Monahseetah in Tomahawk, 1951)

Rock Hudson (Young Bull, in Winchester ’73, 1952)

Vince Edwards (Onondaga or Mohawk Hiawatha, 1952)

Hank Worden (Blackfoot Poordevil, in The Big Sky, 1952)

Cyd Charisse (a Chippewa maiden, in The Wild North, 1952)


Dennis Weaver (Navajo Menguito, in Column South, 1953) may not seem like much of an Indian, but he was a registered Cherokee and part Osage as well.

Jack Palance (Apache Toriano in Arrowhead, 1953)

Michael Pate (Apache chief Vittorio in Hondo,1953)

Keith Larsen and Joan Taylor (Taslik and Wanima in War Paint, 1953)

Henry Brandon and Dennis Weaver (Seminoles Waygro and Pino in War Arrow, 1953).  [See comment on Weaver below.  He was a registered Cherokee and part Osage, too.]

Charles Bronson (Modoc Captain Jack in Drum Beat, 1954)

Marisa Pavan [Italian] (Modoc maiden Toby in Drum Beat, 1954)

Burt Lancaster, Jean Peters and Charles Bronson (Massai, an Apache, and two others in Apache, 1954)

Lee Van Cleef (Cheyenne chief Fireknife in The Yellow Tomahawk, 1954)

Rita Moreno (Cheyenne maiden Honey Bear in The Yellow Tomahawk, 1954)

Donna Reed (Lemhi Shoshone Sacagawea, in The Far Horizons, 1955)

Victor Mature (Oglala Sioux Crazy Horse in Chief Crazy Horse, 1955)

Debra Paget, Jeffrey Hunter and Hugh O’Brian (Cheyennes Appearing Day, Little Dog and American Horse in White Feather, 1955)

Elsa Martinelli (Sioux maiden Ohnati, daughter of Red Cloud, in The Indian Fighter, 1955)

Debra Paget (Indian maiden—presumably Sioux—in The Last Hunt, 1956)

BlueEyedPaget Debra Paget in The Last Hunt.

Russ Tamblyn (red-headed half-breed in The Last Hunt, 1956)

Neville Brand (Rokhawah, a Mohawk, in Mohawk, 1956)

Mae Clark (Minikah, a Mohawk chief’s wife, in Mohawk, 1956)

Henry Brandon (Comanche chief Scar in The Searchers, 1956, Comanche Black Cloud in Comanche, 1956, and Comanche chief Quanah Parker in Two Rode Together, 1961)

Lex Barker (Apache chief Mangas Coloradas, in War Drums, 1957)

Charles Bronson, Jay C. Flippen and Sara Montiel (Blue Buffalo, Walking Coyote and Yellow Moccasin, Oglala Lakota in Run of the Arrow, 1957)

Vince Edwards (Chief Little Wolf, in Ride Out for Revenge, 1957)

Joanne Gilbert (Pretty Willow, in Ride Out for Revenge, 1957)

Michael Ansara (Apache Delgadito in Quantez, 1957)

Lisa Montell (Tula, daughter of Apache chief Victorio, in Tomahawk Trail, 1957)

H.M. Wynant and Toni Gerry (Shoshone chief Black Eagle and Nez Perce maiden Little Deer, in Oregon Passage, 1958)

Bert Convy and Kathryn Grant (half Sioux in Gunman’s Walk, 1958)

Susan Cabot (Paiute girl in Fort Massacre, 1958)

Henry Silva (Lujan in The Bravados, 1958)

John Russell, Ray Danton and Andra Martin (Sioux chief Gall and his nephew, and an Arapaho Maiden in Yellowstone Kelly, 1959)

Audrey Hepburn (Kiowa, in The Unforgiven, 1960; but to be honest, part of the point for most of the movie is guessing whether she’s Indian or not)

Michael Pate (Sioux brave Four Horns, in The Canadians, 1961)

Chuck Connors (Apache Geronimo, in Geronimo, 1962)

Wende Wagner (Apache girl Sally in Rio Conchos, 1964)

Pierre Brice (Winnetou in Frontier Hellcat, 1964, and others)

Ricardo Montalban, Dolores Del Rio, Gilbert Roland, Sal Mineo (Cheyennes Little Wolf, Spanish Woman, Dull Knife and Red Shirt in Cheyenne Autumn, 1964)


Martin Landau and Robert Wilke (Sioux Walks-Stooped-Over and Five Barrels in The Hallelujah Trail, 1965)

Michael Pate (Apache leader Sierra Charriba in Major Dundee, 1965)

Janet Margolin (Kiowa in Nevada Smith, 1966)

Howard Keel (Levi [Kiowa] in The War Wagon, 1967)

Royal Dano (Pretty Horse in The Last Challenge, 1967)

Warren Oates (Walter Charlie in Smith!, 1969)

Julie Newmar (vengeful Apache maiden Hesh-Ke in McKenna’s Gold, 1969)

Ted Cassidy (giant Apache Hachito in McKenna’s Gold, 1969)

Judith Anderson (Sioux Buffalo Cow Head, in A Man Called Horse, 1970)

Henry Silva (Chatto in Five Savage Men, aka The Animals, 1970)

Bruce Cabot (Sam Sharpnose in Big Jake, 1971)

Charles Bronson (Chato in Chato’s Land, 1972)

Paula Pritchett (a Central American Indian princess in The Wrath of God, 1972)

Desi Arnaz, Jr. (Billy in Billy Two Hats, 1974)

Trevor Howard (Cheyenne Windwalker, in Windwalker, 1981)


The quintessential blue-eyed Apache:  Six-foot five-inch Chuck Connors as Geronimo, 1962

Blue-Eyed Apaches

Robert Taylor as Lance Poole (Broken Lance, Shoshone) in Devil’s Doorway

Jeffrey Hunter as Little Dog (Cheyenne) in White Feather

Burt Lancaster as Massai in Apache

Chuck Connors as Geronimo in Geronimo

Paul Newman as John Russell in Hombre (authentically blue-eyed because he is playing a white man raised among the Apaches)

White Women Captives with Half-Indian Children

Barbara Stanwyck in Trooper Hook

Betsy Palmer in The Tin Star (not really a captive)

Bibi Andersson in Duel at Diablo

Eva Marie Saint in The Stalking Moon

BlueEyedBogart Mexican bandido chieftain Bogart in Virginia City.

Anglos Playing Mexicans     

Humphrey Bogart as John Murrell in Virginia City (1940)

Linda Darnell as Chihuahua in My Darling Clementine (1946)

Linda Darnell as Elena Kenniston in Two Flags West (1950)

Natalie Wood as Maria-Christina Colton in The Burning Hills (1956)

Joan Collins as Josefa Velarde  in The Bravados (1958)

Horst Buchholtz (German)  in The Magnificent Seven (1960)

Eli Wallach as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and as Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966)


Eli Wallach as Calvera in The Magnificent Seven (1960): “If God had not wanted them sheared, He would not have made them sheep.”

Robert Loggia as Johnny Quatro in Cattle King (1963)

Tony Franciosa as Rodriguez in Rio Conchos (1964)

Jack Palance as Jesus Raza in The Professionals (1966)

John Saxon as Chuy in The Appaloosa (1966)

Omar Sharif (Egyptian) as John Colorado in McKenna’s Gold (1969)


John Saxon as Luis Chama in Joe Kidd (1972)



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The Proud Ones

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 10, 2014

The Proud Ones—Robert Ryan, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan, Robert Middleton, Arthur O’Connell, Rodolfo Acosta (1956; Dir:  Robert D. Webb)


The title apparently refers to aging town marshal Cass Silver (Robert Ryan) and young Thad Anderson (Jeffrey Hunter) in Flat Rock, Kansas, a cow town.  Early in the movie, Cass has a run-in with a dealer in a saloon run by Honest John Barrett (Robert Middleton, good here in his slimy mode), with whom he has a long and none-too-cordial history.  Silver, Barrett and Sally (Virginia Mayo) all knew each other in Keystone, where Silver was previously marshal.  A bullet creases Cass’s head and leaves him with impaired vision, and maybe dizziness, when he looks down.  Thad Anderson, just in with a trail herd from Texas, saves Silver from another gunman in the incident but takes a bullet in the leg. 

Cass spends the rest of the movie trying to evade assassins sent by Barrett, while he’s having recurring vision problems (and they’re getting worse).  Cass killed Thad’s father in Keystone, and Thad seems to be looking for revenge.  But he spends most of the movie getting wiser, both about what happened with his father and about Cass.  Cass hires him as a deputy and educates him in various ways:  “Your first lesson comes now.  At night, always walk in the shadows—you can see better.  In the daytime, walk away from the sun–you’ll live longer.” 


Barrett’s public relations campaign with the locals seems to be working; the townspeople are increasingly uncomfortable with Cass and his skill with a gun.  Barrett spreads stories about Cass shooting unarmed men, including Thad’s father.  Cass in turn doesn’t know who he can really depend on, if anyone, since his deputy has a long-term grudge against him that he’s never hidden.  When the chips are down, though, Thad joins with Cass.  In the final shootout with Barrett’s men, Cass and Thad prevail and bond further.  Cass goes off to Kansas City for medical attention and to marry Sally. 

A good B-movie cast.  Virginia Mayo is a local businesswoman and Silver’s long-time romantic interest, but she has little to do here except express concern.  Walter Brennan is the jailor-deputy Jake, Arthur O’Connell is a nervous Silver deputy, and Rodolfo Acosta is Chico, a Barrett gunslinger trying to kill Cass.  In color, with cinematography by Lucien Ballard.  Lots of whistling on the effective soundtrack music by Lionel Newman. 

ProudOnesShooting Shooting contest.

This is said to be a remake of the non-western Red Skies of Montana from four years earlier, also with Jeffrey Hunter.  It can also be seen as another 1950s western exploring the uneasy relationship between the townsfolk and the good-with-a-gun marshal they hire to defend them.  More explicitly, it can be seen as a variation on the Rio Bravo aspect of that theme, as emphasized by the presence of Walter Brennan as the jailer.  Better than average, but kind of talky.  If you like Robert Ryan here, watch him in Day of the Outlaw from about the same time and as a supporting character to Burt Lancaster in Lawman from the early 1970s.  This is one of Jeffrey Hunter’s better roles, although he was always limited as an actor.

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Promise the Moon

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 8, 2014

Promise the Moon—Henry Czerny, Collette Stevenson, Aidan Devine, Shawn Ashmore, David Fox, Gloria May Eshkibok (Made for television, 1996; Dir:  Ken Jubenvill)


Better than most of the lower-profile and made-for-television western productions in the last twenty years or so.  The title doesn’t tell you much about this western.  It’s set in the ranch lands of western Canada of the 1920s. It’s still frontier, to a significant degree, and the financial times are hard.

Wilbur Bennett (Richard Donat) owns the Four Arrows ranch and is suffering health and financial problems.  With his dying request, he sends his foreman Royal Leckner (Henry Czerny) to Chicago to collect his long-neglected and presumably mentally-impaired 15-year-old son Leviatus (Shawn Ashmore) from a sanitarium, where he has been since birth.  There Leckner finds the young man surviving under deplorable conditions, with Sophie Twelvetrees (Gloria May Eshkibok), an Objibway woman who is also a patient, as his only protector.  The three of them ride in a cattle car back to Canada. 

Meanwhile Jane Makepeace (Colette Stevenson), a prim young Englishwoman who has been serving as a secretary to unscrupulous banker Sir Robert Butler (David Fox), declines his advances and has to find another situation for herself.  Desperate, she takes her accounting and business skills to the Four Arrow ranch, where she hopes to make herself necessary and maybe even get paid by helping them put their business affairs in order.  She also becomes the intermediary for Sophie and Levi to Leckner and the rest of the world. 

PromiseMoon2 Facing bleak futures.

The remainder of the movie centers around whether Jane will be allowed to stay, whether Levi will ever become functional and whether Leckner will succeed in keeping the ranch afloat financially and out of the clutches of the nasty banker.  Also on the fringes is Wilbur’s brother James Bennett (Aidan Devine) who feels aggrieved by the very existence of young Levi and is nefariously helping nasty banker Butler behind the scenes. 

It turns out Levi is deaf, not mentally deficient.  Leckner, Levi, Makepeace and associated ranchers make a cattle drive to Pendleton to produce the money they need to keep the bank and Butler at bay.  The ending is much as you’d expect, but with an interesting shootout in a hospital.

The story has something of a Hallmark feel about it, since it’s about the formation of a family by a group of unrelated strangers and has an interesting and, to some extent, unexpected (by everyone except the viewers, who are thinking “Why else would we be watching this?”) romance at its core.  But it plays out well, and the central performances by Czerny and Stevenson make the film better than anticipated.  And the pacing, editing and storytelling are good here, too.  Based on the book The Four Arrows Fe-As-Ko by Randall Beth Platt.  Filmed in Canada.


This is an unheralded and underrated Canadian production, somewhat like The Grey Fox and Gunless in that respect.  They’re also worth more attention.

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