Journeyman director Lesley Selander is said to have made more westerns than any other director, purely in terms of numbers–107 Westerns between his first directorial feature in 1936 and his last in 1968. This requires a little explanation. Allan Dwan, a well-known director between 1909 and 1961, directed 171 westerns. But 157 of these were silent movies produced between 1911 and 1917, when movies were not yet generally at feature length. (Cecil B. DeMille is thought to have made the first feature-length movie in 1914 with The Squaw Man.) So Selander is considered to have made the most westerns in the modern era–since 1920 or so, let’s say.
In the hierarchy of directors, Selander was more prolific but less talented than, say, Andre de Toth. He seldom had a large budget, well-known writers or a big star to work with; these were mostly B movies. But leading actors in Selander movies occasionally included Randolph Scott (Tall Man Riding) or Rory Calhoun (The Yellow Tomahawk, below), and he often had good character actors (John Dehner, Robert Wilke, John Doucette, Noah Beery, Jr.). Long-time character actor Harry Dean Stanton got his start on Selander westerns. During the 1950s Selander was at the peak of his career when he made several cavalry movies, including these four.
War Paint—Robert Stack, Joan Taylor, Keith Larsen, Peter Graves, Charles McGraw, John Doucette, Robert Wilke (1953; Dir: Lesley Selander)
Robert Stack is Lt. Billings, the commander of a small cavalry troop charged with delivering a treaty to an Indian chief. If he doesn’t receive it within a week, the chief will go on the warpath. The chief’s son Taslik (Keith Larsen) is guiding the soldiers to his father, but he secretly wants war to come and is undermining the mission. His sister Wanima (Joan Taylor), a beautiful Indian princess, secretly follows the patrol, sabotaging their water and helping her brother in other ways. Not a lot of action or much star power, but the cast is good aside from that. Filmed in color in the vicinity of Death Valley. Workmanlike directing, with occasionally clunky writing. 89 minutes.
The Yellow Tomahawk—Rory Calhoun, Peggie Castle, Noah Beery, Jr., Lee Van Cleef, Rita Moreno, Peter Graves (1954; Dir: Lesley Selander)
This was a B movie directed by Lesley Selander, so Rory Calhoun is a good guy in it. In higher-grade movies, he tended to show up as a bad guy (The Spoilers, River of No Return), and he could be convincing as either good guys or bad.
Indian scout Adam Reed (Rory Calhoun) is a blood brother to the Cheyenne war leader Fireknife (Lee Van Cleef). When the cavalry, led by Major Ives (Warner Anderson), insists on building a post in Wyoming Territory contrary to the treaty with Red Cloud, Fireknife warns Reed that there will be bloodshed, especially because Ives was one of the leaders at the Sand Creek Massacre of Black Kettle’s Cheyennes a few years previously.
While traveling to warn the cavalry detachment, Reed encounters Kate Bolden (Peggie Castle), who is looking for her betrothed lieutenant. (Obligatory nude-bathing-in- the-wilderness scene.) Ives refuses to leave and bit by bit all the soldiers are killed except Ives. Reed guides the small party of survivors to Fort Ellis, where he hopes to turn Ives over to a court martial. Finally, it comes down to Reed against Fireknife, one brother against another, and Reed wins. Bolden has transferred her affections to Reed after her lieutenant is killed. And it turns out Ives is part Cheyenne, which is the personal stain he was trying to wipe out at Sand Creek.
Filmed in Kanab, in southern Utah, this movie features some clunky acting and was seen in a very poor print. It was theoretically shot in color, but the print I saw was black and white and grainy. Castle wears anachronistic very tight blouse and pants. Van Cleef doesn’t sound like an Indian, although his Indian looks are better than some whites in such parts. Noah Beery is a Mexican scout, pursued by amorous Indian maiden Honey Bear (unconvincingly played by Rita Moreno). Peter Graves is a cowardly prospector who kills his partner after they’ve discovered gold. On the whole it’s watchable, but not really good. 82 minutes.
Tomahawk Trail—Chuck Connors, Susan Cummings, George Neise, Harry Dean Stanton (1957; Dir: Lesley Selander)
Clunky writing distinguishes this B western about a beleaguered cavalry patrol in Apache country. The two conflicts: (a) an inexperienced, incompetent (and out of his head) lieutenant (George Neise) with the patrol in danger among Mescalero Apaches; and (b) Apache chief Victorio’s daughter (Lisa Montell) captured by the patrol. Experienced sergeant Wade McCoy (Chuck Connors) has to take over, although some members of the patrol question his authority and he has the spectre of a court martial hanging over him (a la The Caine Mutiny). McCoy gets them back to the post without horses, only to find all the personnel there slaughtered and the well water salted. At the post they have to hold off an attack by Victorio’s superior forces, until the fight is resolved when his daughter returns to the Apaches. The lieutenant is killed in the defense.
Susan Cummings plays Ellen Carter from Philadelphia; when she dons a military uniform out of necessity, it looks suspiciously tailored to her form (much as Joanne Dru looked good in military garb in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon). A young Harry Dean Stanton (billed as Dean Stanton) plays the disabled lieutenant’s orderly. The movie uses an actual Indian actor (Eddie Little Sky) as Johnny Dogwood, the patrol’s Apache scout. Filmed around Kanab in southern Utah, in black and white. Short, at only 60 minutes.
Revolt at Fort Laramie—John Dehner, Gregg Palmer, Frances Helm (1957; Dir: Lesley Selander)
Generally, this is a decent late black-and-white B western curiously lacking in star power. The Civil War is starting back east, and the garrison at Fort Laramie is (a) facing its own problems with Red Cloud and (b) trying to sort out where the individual loyalties of the soldiers will lie in the conflict between the states. Major Seth Bradner (John Dehner) is from Virginia, with southern sympathies. Second-in-command Capt. James Tenslip (Gregg Palmer) is a northerner, in love with Bradner’s niece Melissa (Frances Helm). The soldiers appear equally split between north and south, although historically southerners tended (and still tend) to take to a career in the military more than northerners. A too-venal-seeming Jean Selignac (supposedly a half-Sioux, played by Don Gordon) is a scout whose own loyalties are in question for different reasons. Dehner is fine; Palmer is fairly forgettable; Helm is okay. Filmed in Kanab, Utah. Look for an uncredited Harry Dean Stanton as a southern-leaning private. Short, at 73 minutes.