Tag Archives: Cavalry Westerns

A Distant Trumpet

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 23, 2015

A Distant Trumpet—Troy Donahue, Suzanne Pleshette, James Gregory, Diane McBain, Claude Akins, William Reynolds (1964; Dir: Raoul Walsh)

DistrantTrumpPoster2DistantTrumFren

This ambitious film is a highly fictionalized retelling of the surrender of Geronimo (here called War Eagle) and the supposed role of young Lt. Gatewood (here called Matt Hazard) and Gen. George Crook (here named Alexander Upton Quait).  It’s all based on a novel of the same name by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Paul Horgan, and it’s famed director Raoul Walsh’s last western, and his last movie of any kind.

Fresh from West Point, young 2nd Lt. Matt Hazard (Troy Donahue) is sent to dusty Fort Delivery in southern Arizona Territory, where boredom seems as much an adversary as War Eagle’s Apaches, lurking over the border in Mexico’s Sierra Madres.  Bringing with him White Cloud as an Apache scout, he finds the men at Fort Delivery lax and undisciplined.  The temporary commander of the fort is Lt. Mainwaring (William Reynolds), whose wife Kitty (Suzanne Pleshette) is the only woman at the post.  Mainwaring leads a detail off to retrieve long-requisitioned replacement mounts, while Kitty is supposed to head back to Washington, D.C.  While out collecting lumber, Hazard and his detail are attacked.  The men react badly and flee; Hazard fights and is separated from them.  He rescues Kitty Mainwaring, who was also attacked by Indians, and they spend the night in a cave together before returning to the fort.  Hazard’s attentions are now consumed more by Kitty than they are by his own distant fiancée Laura Frelief (a very blonde Diane McBain), niece to bachelor Gen. Alexander Upton Quait (James Gregory), a famous Apache fighter.

DistantTrumRescuingKitty

Lt. Hazard (Troy Donahue) rescues Kitty Mainwaring (Suzanne Pleshette).

Mrs. Kitty Mainwaring:  “You’re a hard man, a duty man.  It’s your only love, really.”
2nd Lt. Matt Hazard:  “Is there a better kind?”
Mrs. Kitty Mainwaring:  “Well, speaking as a normal woman, yes; as an Army woman, no.”

Hazard works at shaping up the men, including the uncooperative Sgt. Kroger.  He also resists the corrupting influence of Seely Jones (Claude Akins) and his troop of prostitutes.  While on patrol, Hazard finds Mainwaring and his men all killed, and uses the opportunity to steal back the remounts and other horses from the Apaches.  Upon returning to the fort, he finds Laura there, along with a new commanding officer, Maj. Hiram Prescott.  Hazard seems more attracted to the newly-widowed Kitty Mainwaring than to Laura, and Laura senses that while making plans for them to be married as quickly as possible.

DistantTrumPleshMcBain

Kitty Mainwaring (Suzanne Pleshette) and Laura the fiancee (Diane McBain) engage in a little verbal sparring.

An inquiry led by Gen. Quait seems to take Hazard and Prescott to task, but it’s a sham.  Quait is impressed by Hazard as he leads his men into a battle which is technically a victory but results in War Eagle retreating into Mexico again.  Hazard is sent with White Cloud to persuade War Eagle to surrender on generous terms from Quait.  When Hazard returns successfully, he finds that Quait is no longer in charge, that the terms have been changed, and that all the Indians, including the faithful White Cloud, are to be sent to Florida.

Hazard is summoned to Washington, where he is awarded the Medal of Honor for his feat and promoted to captain long before he otherwise would have been.  Feeling betrayed, however, he and Quait both resign in an attempt to get Pres. Chester Arthur to reverse some of the decisions made.  In the end, Capt. Hazard is shown commanding Fort Delivery and married to Kitty Mainwaring.

DistantTrumpBigBattle

At the big battle.

Troy Donahue and Suzanne Pleshette had enjoyed success with 1962’s Rome Adventure, and Warner Bros. apparently thought their casting in this cavalry tale would appeal to younger audiences.  The year this film was released, Donahue (real name: Merle Johnson) and and Pleshette were married in January and divorced in September.  (Donahue was married four times, and none of the marriages lasted longer than a couple of years.)  Donahue was very attractive in a blonde, hunky sort of way, but as an actor he was limited, and his film career was entering its downhill side as his limitations became more apparent.  The romantic triangle in this film looks doomed from the start, with the fiancée (Diane McBain) played rather unattractively.  Neither 77-year-old director Walsh nor star Donahue would ever make another western; Suzanne Pleshette would show up again in a few years in the comedy Support Your Local Gunfighter (1971), with James Garner and Jack Elam.

Obviously intended as a large-budget epic, the movie feels more lightweight than that.  It is visually impressive, with excellent cinematography by William Clothier, and music by Max Steiner.  Shot in color on location in northern Arizona and around Gallup, New Mexico, at 117 minutes.

DistantTrumpLtWhiteCloud

Lt. Hazard and White Cloud on their big mission.

A better version of the Geronimo-Gatewood story, using the real names, is Walter Hill’s Geronimo:  An American Legend (1993), with Jason Patric, Matt Damon, Robert Duvall and Gene Hackman.  In fact, after Gen. George Crook had done the hard work of getting Geronimo to surrender (a second time), he was supplanted by Nelson Miles, who took the credit and shipped both Geronimo and the Apache scouts who had supported the cavalry off to Florida.  Geronimo died in 1911 at Fort Sill in Oklahoma, having never seen his homeland in Arizona again.  The real disillusioned Lt. Gatewood did not receive the Medal of Honor.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Arrow in the Dust

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 20, 2015

Arrow In The Dust—Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Tom Tully, Keith Larsen, Tudor Owen, Lee Van Cleef (1954; Dir: Lesley Selander)

ArrowDustPosterArrowDustBelg

Prolific director Lesley Selander seldom had a lot to work with, either in terms of budget or with casting.  This is one of his better casts.  Sterling Hayden was in a number of westerns and other movies in the mid-1950s, most notably Johnny Guitar (also from 1954).  Coleen Gray is now remembered principally as the girl on the wagon train John Wayne leaves behind in Red River (1948), only to see the Comanches slaughter the rest of the train—and for a smattering of films noir (Kiss of Death, Copper Sky).  Both Hayden and Gray appear together again in Stanley Kubrick’s film noir The Killing (1956).  This is both a wagon train and a cavalry story–as the poster proclaims, a “Flaming Saga of the Savage West.”

Here army deserter Bart Laish (Sterling Hayden) is on the run, somewhere east of Fort Laramie in western Nebraska-eastern Wyoming.  In Indian country, he’s trying to link up with a wagon train for safety as he makes his way west.  This is generally Sioux country, but the Pawnees seem to be on the warpath as well.  He hears of a Major Andy Peppers heading to take command of Camp Taylor, and finds the remnants of a small burnt-out wagon train, with Peppers dying in one of the wagons.  Peppers, it turns out, is his cousin, and they had started at West Point together before Laish had dropped out to become a gambler and gunfighter.  The dying major tries to persuade Laish to find a way to rescue the wagon train ahead.

Maj. Andy Peppers:  “It doesn’t matter what you’ve been or what you’ve done.  There must still be some good left in you.  Or have you changed so much, Bart?”

ArrowDustGrayHaydenArrowDustGrayCropped

Stars Coleen Gray and Sterling Hayden in a publicity still.  And feisty doctor’s daughter Christella Burke (Coleen Gray) fights the attacking Pawnees with the best of them.

Camp Taylor, too, is burned out, and Laish dons Peppers’ uniform and insignia of rank.  He comes upon the wagon train, and he claims to be Peppers.  The few remaining troopers, led by Lt. Steve King (Keith Larsen), take him at face value; the experienced scout, Crowshaw (Tom Tully), has reservations but goes along.  The train itself includes attractive young Christella Burke (Coleen Gray), in whom King is interested, and freighting businessman Tillotson (Tudor Owen) with several wagons.  Laish-Peppers does well enough as the train is under almost continual attack, but Crowshaw knows he’s not Peppers.  They lose people and wagons fighting Pawnees and allied Apaches (?), but get ever nearer to Fort Laramie.  Finally, they discover Tillotson is hauling new Henry repeating rifles, and that’s really what the Indians want.  Tillotson is killed trying to attack Crowshaw, and they destroy his wagon, while Laish-Peppers is wounded fighting a rear guard action while the train moves out.

Laish had intended to leave the train before Fort Laramie to head south for Santa Fe.  But now Christella, who knows his story, Crowshaw and Lt. King will all speak up for him based on how he got the wagon train through, and he decides to go into Fort Laramie with the train.  In 1954, Laish and Christella weren’t allowed to just take off together for California, as they probably would have in real life.  Laish has to face the music, even though it will happen after the end of the movie.  For similar endings, where somebody who’s committed a crime has to give himself up instead of just moving on, see Four Faces West [Joel McCrea], Face of a Fugitive [Fred MacMurray] and The Moonlighter [MacMurray again].  The alternative seemed to be expiating one’s sins by taking a bullet (fatally) while doing something honorable, as Randolph Scott did in Western Union, and not getting the girl.

ArrowDustMtgFauxPepp

Lt. King (Keith Larson) introduces the faux major (Sterling Hayden) to the redoubtable Christella Burke (Coleen Gray).

This is a fairly good story, but it is marred by Selander’s pedestrian direction and by Hayden’s stiff, unnatural demeanor as the false Peppers.  Nevertheless, it’s one of Selander’s better films.  Coleen Gray is very good, and so are Tom Tully and some of the other supporting players.  Lee Van Cleef is one of Tillotson’s henchmen; he does not survive the movie, like his boss.

The writing, by Don Martin. is not dazzling.  In color, at 79 minutes.  Many of the prints of Selander’s low-budget movies from this period were not of good quality originally or have become dingy through poor preservation.

ArrowDustWide

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Southwest Passage

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 26, 2015

Southwest Passage—John Ireland, Joanne Dru, Rod Cameron, John Dehner, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Darryl Hickman (1954; Dir: Ray Nazarro) SWPassagePosterSWPassageTall

Joanne Dru (the former Joanne Letitia LaCock) was unusually effective in westerns in a time when the casting of most female roles was usually a secondary consideration at best.  Even now, her performances shine in such classics as Red River, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon and Wagon Master.  Like Claire Trevor in Stagecoach, she was excellent at portraying a bad girl who showed signs of turning out well if given half a chance (Red River, Wagon Master).  This particular expertise resulted in her being somewhat typecast in westerns, which was fine when they were at their peak but stalled out her career as they lost popularity by 1960.  She married John Ireland in 1947, and one result was their collaboration in this cavalry and camels vs. Apaches story.

Gunman Clint McDonald (John Ireland), Jeb (Darryl Hickman, a child star of the 1940s) and Jeb’s sister Lilly (Joanne Dru) are escaping with $20,000 taken in a bank robbery, pursued by a posse.  Jeb is shot, and Lilly returns to town looking for a doctor.  The one she finds turns out to be a veterinarian on his way to join a cavalry patrol heading into the desert with camels to survey a new route to California.  McDonald pays the vet for his kit and takes his place, claiming to be the doctor.

SWPassageIrelandDehner

Fake doctor Clint McDonald (John Ireland) patches up suspicious muleskinner Matt Carroll (John Dehner).

The head of the patrol is Edward Fitzpatrick Beale (Rod Cameron), experimenting with the camels and mapping the Arizona desert.  He is accompanied by three Arab camel drivers led by High Jolly (Hadji Ali, played by Mark Hanna), nasty-tempered head mule teamster Matt Carroll (John Dehner), colorful scout Tall Tale (Guinn Williams) and several cavalrymen, led by Lt. Owens.  Lilly joins them, claiming to have gotten lost from a wagon train; Jeb didn’t survive his wound. Clint is unusually good with a gun for a doctor, and Matt Carroll distrusts Clint, dislikes the Arabs and lusts after Lilly.  Lilly is coming to admire the ambitious but seemingly selfless Beale.

The party is followed by Apaches, who believe the camels are gods, until one of the beasts breaks a leg and has to be shot.  Lilly tries to persuade Clint to go straight, but the lure of $20,000 is too great.  When Tall Tale is bitten by a gila monster, Clint treats the wound but it gets infected.  Although he’s not qualified to do so, he prepares to amputate Tall Tale’s arm, until Lilly speaks up and Clint’s real identity becomes known.  After a fight with Beale, he is exiled from the group, looking for a town 80 miles south, and is joined by Carroll, who wants half the loot.  They find a water hole in the rocks, and Carroll gets the jump on Clint, intending to take both canteens, both horses and all the loot.  But Clint’s non-medical skill with a gun comes in handy, and Carroll ends up face down in the pool.

SWPassageInRocks

Lilly (Joanne Dru), Beale (Rod Cameron) and Tall Tale (Guinn Williams) fight off Apaches.

Clint rides back to the patrol with news of water only 30 miles distant, but the Apaches now know that the camels are mortal and attack the party from the rocks around the water.  Clint redeems himself by drawing off the Indians with the remaining camel so the rest of the patrol can make a dash for the water and the protection of the rocks.  When it’s over, he’s wounded but asks Beale to give back the loot to the bank, and he and Lilly are together again.

Although Rod Cameron seems to get top billing, Joanne Dru is the best thing in the movie.  Ultimately Lilly finds Cameron’s character Beale more interesting than we do.  John Ireland was an intriguing mix of hard-edged tough guy with an ability to learn, but he’s never very convincing as the doctor.  John Dehner makes an excellent villain as dastardly muleskinner Matt Carroll..

SWPassageDruRiver

Lilly (Joanne Dru) can defend herself if she needs to.

This was made in the 3-D fad of the early 1950s (like Hondo, Gun Fury, The Stranger Wore a Gun and The Moonlighter), which faded out almost as soon as it began.  There are a couple of things that show a lack of careful direction.  As the patrol drives its wagons along the side of some dunes, Clint and Lilly are riding downhill from them, where they’ll be crushed if the wagons tip over, as it seems they might.  And as Clint rides back to the patrol from the water hole, he leaves Carroll’s body in the water.  With the desert heat and decomposition of the corpse, that will leave the water hole fouled and unusable by the time the patrol gets there. Filmed on location in southern Utah, near Kanab.  The direction is by journeyman Ray Nazarro.  The unexceptional screenplay by Harry Essex has some clunky dialogue, especially Lilly’s lines to Clint about going straight.  In color, at only 75 minutes.

SWPassageBelgKONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA Dru was good in westerns, but she didn’t always enjoy them.  “I simply hated horses,” she said in a 1957 interview with Hedda Hopper.  “And those long gingham dresses with boned bodices are miserable things to wear.”  By the end of the 1950s she had drifted almost entirely into television work, and she and Ireland were divorced in 1957.

Edward Fitzpatrick Beale and his involvement with camels in the American southwest are based on actual history.  In 1857, Lt. Beale, with the support of Secretary of War Jefferson Davis, used 25 camels to survey a route for a wagon road from Fort Defiance in Arizona to the Colorado River, then took the camels on to California.  The Santa Fe Railroad and U. S. Highway 66 subsequently followed this route.  With the outbreak of the Civil War, the Camel Corps was largely forgotten, although there were reports of feral camels in the southwest well into the 1900s—even as late as 1975 in Baja California.  Hadji Ali, an Ottoman citizen, was the lead camel driver of the Camel Corps beginning around 1856 and lived in this country until his death in 1902 in Arizona.  There was even a folk song about him, recorded by the New Christy Minstrels in the 1960s.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Chuka

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 12, 2015

Chuka—Rod Taylor, John Mills, Ernest Borgnine, Louis Hayward, Luciana Paluzzi, James Whitmore, Victoria Ventri (1967; Dir: Gordon Douglas)

ChukaPosterChukaFren2

A doomed fort in Arapaho country manned by the dregs of the U.S. cavalry, with corrupt leadership, a rootless gunman and two beautiful Mexican women—it’s a Fort Zinderneuf situation (see Beau Geste, a 1939 French foreign legion movie, for the reference) transplanted to the U.S. frontier.

Helena Chavez:  “Tell me, Señor, are you as bad as they say?”
Chuka:  “No man is as bad as they say, Señorita.”

ChukaScouting

Chuka (Rod Taylor) looks for Trent while scouting.

In late 1876, the film starts with a panning shot of burnt-out Fort Clendennon, still smoldering in its ruins.  A cavalry patrol is trying to figure out how it all happened.  Cut to a single rider under the opening credits; it is Chuka (Rod Taylor).  He rides into an Arapaho camp, speaking Arapaho with the young chief Hanu (Marco Lopez) and seeing that they’re burying some one who died of hunger.  He leaves a hunk of jerky “for the children” and rides on, encountering a stage with a lost wheel and two female Mexican passengers, the older of whom recognizes Chuka (pronounced with a short “u” sound, as if it were spelled Chucka, supposedly because as a young man he spent a lot of time around a chuckwagon).  She is Veronica Kleitz (Luciana Paluzzi), a wealthy young-ish Mexican widow who had a romantic history with Chuka and is traveling with her niece Helena Chavez (Victoria Ventri).  As the men work on the stage, they are quietly surrounded by Arapahoes, who recognize Chuka and melt back into the dust storm without taking any action.

The stage makes it into Fort Clendennon, where Col. Stuart Valois (John Mills) refuses to let them leave because a three-man patrol is overdue.  Chuka tells him about the Arapahoes and suggests they leave the fort and its supplies to the Indians.  Valois, an Englishman, is unwilling to do that and sends out chief scout Lou Trent (James Whitmore).  His horse comes back, but Trent does not.  Such order as there is, is maintained by Sgt. Otto Hahnsbach (Ernest Borgnine).

ChukaBorgMillsWhit

At the fort: Sgt. Otto Hahnsbach (Ernest Borgnine), Col. Stuart Valois (John Mills) and chief scout Lou Trent (James Whitmore).

[Spoilers follow.]  At a formal dinner with his officers, Chuka and the women, a drunken Valois sneers at each of his officers in turn.  Major Benson (Louis Hayward), second in command, is a cheating gambler who forces a captive Arapaho woman to sleep with him.  The doctor was accused of cowardice, a lieutenant of treason.  They were all formally acquitted, but their careers were blighted, and they ended up at Fort Clendennon.  Valois drinks way too much, and he was cashiered from the British army for cowardice because of his drunkenness.  The dinner ends when the doctor is shot through the open window with an arrow apparently intended for Valois.  Chuka gets the two Arapahoes who shot it.

Chuka agrees to go on a scouting expedition for $200.  He kills four Aparahoes, rescues Trent and sees the missing three-man patrol dead.  Back in the fort, a mutiny is brewing, with a plan to replace Valois with Major Benson and get out of Fort Clendennon.  It is becoming increasingly obvious that it’s too late to get out.  It is revealed that Valois, as a captain in the British army, covered for a Hahnsbach mistake in the Sudan and was captured, tortured and emasculated by natives as a result.  That’s presumably why he drinks so heavily.  As a young hand on her father’s ranch, Chuka and Veronica fell in love; he was banished, and she married a man selected by her father from her own class.

Trent:  “Wake me up when it’s time to die.”
Buck:  “Are you scared of dyin’, Lou?”
Trent:  “Not particularly.  It just comes an inconvenient time.”

ChukaStairwayEnd

Chuka (Rod Taylor) and Helena Chavez (Victoria Ventri) prepare for the end.

The Arapahoes attack, and one by one Fort Clendennon’s defenders fall.  Chuka takes a spear to the side; Victoria an arrow to the back.  As the Indians enter the fort led by Hanu, Chuka is defending Helena under a stairway.  The Indians take the supplies they want, and Hanu looks at Chuka and leaves.  When the cavalry patrol finds the burnt-out fort, Chuka’s gun is left, along with a small grave near the stairway.  No bodies of Chuka and Helena are found, and the implication is that they got away.

Australian actor Rod Taylor was a big star in the 1960s (The Birds, The Time Machine, The Glass-Bottom Boat), and this was a bit of a vanity project for him.  He was the co-producer.  Taylor plays Chuka in a heavy-handed way, and John Mills was a good actor but doesn’t seem to be paying a lot of attention here.  This wasn’t a box office success, and it was Taylor’s only producing credit.  The director was journeyman Gordon Douglas, who had made a number of westerns (The Nevadan, The Iron Mistress, Fort Dobbs, Rio Conchos, Yellowstone Kelly, Barquero), several of which were good.  The screenplay was written by Richard Jessup, based on his 1961 novel.  The music, by Leith Stevens, has a very late-1960s feel to it.  At 105 minutes, the film is watchable but not as good as it could have been.  Beau Geste did it significantly better.

ChukaFrenChukaItTall

It is not entirely clear where the doomed Fort Clendennon is supposed to be.  There were two branches of the Arapahoes, Northern and Southern.  Chuka is said to be riding to Montana, but there are suggestions that Mexico is much closer.  The two women are from Mexico as well.  The southern Arapahoes ranged from southern Colorado, Oklahoma, northern Texas and perhaps occasionally into northern New Mexico.  This looks like perhaps Arizona, so maybe, to the extent it is concerned about actual historicity at all, it takes place in New Mexico.  Unlike in most cavalry movies, these Indians also attack at night.

This was another of those 1960s westerns with a seemingly-misplaced European actress as the romantic interest (see, for example, Senta Berger in Major Dundee, Claudia Cardinale in The Professionals, Bibi Andersson in Duel at Diablo, Bridget Bardot in Shalako, and Camilla Sparv in McKenna’s Gold, not to mention any number of spaghetti westerns).  Italian actress Luciana Paluzzi is not particularly memorable here as Chuka’s former lover, nor does she seem particularly Mexican.  For Rod Taylor in other westerns as his career was fading, see the not-terribly-memorable John Wayne vehicle The Train Robbers (1973) and the even less memorable The Deadly Trackers (1973).  For a better doomed-fort cavalry western, see Two Flags West (1950).

Save

Save

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Apache Territory

Nicholas Chennault ~ February 9, 2015

Apache Territory—Rory Calhoun, Barbara Bates, John Dehner, Leo Gordon Frank DeKova, Francis De Sales, Thomas Pittman, Carolyn Craig, Myron Healey (1958; Dir: Ray Nazarro)

ApacheTerrPoster2ApacheTerrPoster

Based on an early novel by Louis L’Amour (Last Stand at Papago Wells, which would have been a better and less generic title), this is first an Old Scout Takes Charge story.  The Old Scout here is Logan Cates (Rory Calhoun), and he is one of those omni-competent frontiersmen of whom L’Amour was so fond, like Hondo Lane (John Wayne, also in a story by L’Amour), Ward Kinsman (Robert Taylor in Ambush), Shalako (Sean Connery in Shalako) or Archie McIntosh (Burt Lancaster in Ulzana’s Raid).  It is also a Lost Patrol story, like Fort Massacre, from the heyday of cavalry westerns.  It has echoes of Strangers on a Stagecoach stories, except that this time it’s strangers surrounded by Apaches.  If only it had an easterner coming west and learning new ways and a Mysterious Stranger, it might have most of the traditional elements of western stories packed into one relatively short B western.

We first find Cates in the Arizona desert, aided by a little voice-over narration, as he tries to get to Yuma while avoiding hostile Apaches.  He’s successful enough until he spies several white horsemen who don’t see Apaches about to attack them; he fires a couple of warning shots, and they take off, followed by the Apaches.  He cautiously approaches the next water, only to find the whites’ bodies, and a live Apache.  He kills the Apache and finds one young white survivor with a wound:  19-year-old Lonnie Foreman (Thomas Pittman), who joins him.  A bit later Cates comes upon a wagon the Apaches have already left; a quivering young woman, Junie Hatchett (Carolyn Craig), huddles under the sagebrush with the rest of her family slaughtered nearby.

ApacheTerrCalhounBatesCup

Logan Cates (Rory Calhoun) and Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates) hash over past regrets.

As the three head for Apache Wells, they encounter two more riders:  former Confederate cavalry officer Grant Kimbrough (John Dehner) and his fiancée Jennifer Fair (Barbara Bates), also heading for Yuma.  As they all stop for water at Apache Wells, they are surrounded by Apaches under their leader Churupati and are joined in due course by six surviving cavalrymen from a patrol from Yuma, as well as Lugo (Frank DeKova), a Pima scout and prospector.  The cavalrymen have their own problems, in addition to having lost fifteen men already.  Their sergeant, Sgt. Sheehan (Francis De Sales), is a former desk clerk from St. Louis, and Zimmerman (Leo Gordon), whom he has demoted, is in a state of near constant rebellion.

[Spoilers follow.]  The sergeant defers to Cates in matters of strategy and planning.  Kimbrough initially does the same, but doesn’t trust his fiancée with Cates around and really wants to leave quickly.  Zimmerman wants to take over and is a constant source of tension.  Kimbrough and Zimmerman don’t trust Lugo, but Cates is inclined to, since Apaches hate Pimas.  Cates has a history with Jennifer that puts him at odds with Kimbrough.  He insists that they wait out the attack, since they have water and the Apaches don’t.  He and Lugo think a storm is imminent, and they plan to get out under cover of the weather.  The cavalrymen get picked off one by one, starting with the sergeant and another.  Zimmerman is killed trying to break out, and another (Myron Healey) is driven crazy thinking of his family in Illinois.  Finally, as the storm comes up, Cates, Lonnie, Kimbrough and Conley (the last cavalryman) fashion bombs out of gunpowder and canteens and use the storm as cover to deliver them—except for Kimbrough, who tosses his aside and ducks back to cover.

ApacheTerrSpanApacheTerrTall

By the end, the survivors ride out.  Kimbrough is dead after a fight with Lugo, Cates and Jennifer are back together, and it looks like Lonnie and Junie will ride on to California and make a life together with a little gold given to them by Lugo.  The five are the only survivors.  We never see Churupati.

Rory Calhoun could be a decent actor with good material and direction (see him in Dawn at Socorro, for example).  Here he mostly looks pained while others quarrel with him, as he tries to save people he’s not really responsible for.  He tended to be the protagonist in B westerns but a bad guy in A westerns (see, for example, The Spoilers and River of No Return).  Cates’ backstory of his relationship with Jennifer is not terribly convincing.  One suspects the direction by journeyman Ray Nazarro wasn’t much help.  Nazarro directed a lot of B westerns, and this was his last movie.  John Dehner (The Fastest Gun Alive, Trooper Hook, Man of the West, The Left-Handed Gun) and Leo Gordon (Hondo, Gun Fury, Ten Wanted Men, 7th Cavalry, McLintock!) were both excellent character actors, and they do well enough here. Gordon tends to be on one note of hostility here, and he can do much more than that if allowed.  Barbara Bates is fine; she’s required to move from hositility to Cates to despising Kimbrough to rapprochement with Cates, and it works.  DeKova works well enough as the Pima Lugo.   Pittman and Craig would have done better with better writing for their parts and more nuanced direction.   Both Tom Pittman and Carolyn Craig, who played the young couple, died young and violently—Pittman soon after the release of this movie in a car crash and Craig in 1970 by gunshot (suicide).  Barbara Bates was also a suicide in 1969.

In all, this is a watchable B western, especially for fans of Rory Calhoun.  It’s not perfect, and it’s marred by pedestrian direction.  Among all westerns, it might win the award for Best Performance by a Gila Monster.  Shot in color by Irving Lippman, at 77 minutes.  Not to be confused with Apache Country, with Gene Autry (1952).  Or with the classic Fort Apache, for that matter.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Santa Fe Trail

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 15, 2015

Santa Fe Trail—Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Ronald Reagan, Van Heflin, Guinn Williams, Alan Hale, Moroni Olsen, Ward Bond (1940; Dir: Michael Curtiz)

SantaFeTrailTallSantaFeTrailPoster

Around 1940, the dashing Errol Flynn was the star of several good westerns:  Dodge City (1939), Virginia City (1940) and They Died With Their Boots On (1941) are the best known.  Two of these were directed by Hungarian Michael Curtiz, the director most closely associated with with Flynn. Olivia de Havilland and Flynn formed one of the greatest romantic on-screen partnerships from the golden age of Hollywood, and this was the seventh of their nine movies together.  And Alan Hale and Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (a frequent drinking partner of Flynn’s) had appeared in several movies with Flynn (Robin Hood, Dodge City, Virginia City), mostly as quasi-comic relief.  Clearly Warner Bros. was hoping a formula that had worked before would produce box office gold again.

This one has nothing to do with Santa Fe and little to do with the famous Santa Fe Trail.  It should have been titled “Chasing John Brown.”  In 1854, the arguments over slavery that had led to the new potential state being called “Bleeding Kansas” were also manifest among the cadets at West Point.  Rader (Van Heflin) is taken with the sentiments of the fiery abolitionist John Brown; he is opposed, both personally and politically, to J.E.B. Stuart (Errol Flynn) of Virginia.  Stuart is supported by several other cadets, including George Custer (Ronald Reagan), Phil Sheridan, George Pickett, John Bell Hood and James Longstreet (all names that will become famous as generals in the upcoming Civil War).  When Rader and Stuart are involved in a fight, West Point Superintendent Col. Robert E. Lee (character actor Moroni Olsen) banishes Rader for his divisive political activities.  Stuart and his friends are punished by being sent to the most dangerous duty in the army at that time:  the Second Cavalry at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.  They don’t mind at all.

SantaFeTrailMeetingKit

Young lieutenants Stuart (Errol Flynn) and Custer (Ronald Reagan) make the acquaintance of Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland).

Leavenworth is the western terminus of the railroad, although stage magnate Cyrus Holliday hopes to build toward Santa Fe when it is safe enough.  It isn’t yet, partly because of Indians but mostly because of John Brown and his strikes against supporters of slavery, such as the notorious raid on Ossawatomie.  Part of the Second Cavalry’s mission is to disband any armed groups, like Brown or his opponents.  Stuart and Custer are both interested in Holliday’s daughter Kit Carson Holliday (Olivia de Havilland), and are detailed to join a detail protecting a Holliday freighting column bound for Santa Fe.  A couple of days out, they encounter a Mr. Smith, who wants to take delivery of eight crates of Bibles.  One of the crates is dropped and breaks open, revealing rifles instead of Bibles.  Mr. Smith is in fact John Brown, and one of his men is the disgraced Rader.  As Brown and his men make their getaway (with some of the rifles), Brown’s young son Jason (Gene Reynolds), driving a wagon, is shot by Rader in the melee.

Back in Leavenworth, Jason reveals the location of Brown’s base in Palmyra before dying.  As Stuart investigates out of uniform, he is captured in Palmyra by Brown’s men.  He is about to be hung by them, when he grads a gun and ducks into the barn where Brown-liberated black former slaves (Negroes, as they were called in 1940) are housed.  Stuart is being blasted from all sides and a lantern is shot, spilling flames all over the barn.  (We can see that Brown apparently doesn’t care what happens to the innocent blacks in his anger at Stuart.)  Stuart is rescued by the appearance of the rest of his detail, led by Custer, and Brown decides his work in Kansas is done, riding off to the east with his men.

SantaFeTrailFlynnBarnSantaFeTrailReagFlynn

Stuart (Errol Flynn) fights John Brown in a fiery barn; and a still of Custer (Reagan) and Stuart (Flynn) in uniform.

Back in Leavenworth, both Stuart and Custer press their suits with Kit, and Stuart is the winner.  An old Indian woman at the fort makes dark prophecies about the future of the six friends and divisions and battles among them.  Stuart and Custer are both promoted to captain and head off to an assignment in Maryland, where their new commanding officer is Col. Lee again.

In Maryland Rader comes to the army, disillusioned with Brown because he hasn’t been paid for his military expertise as Brown promised.  Rader warns of Brown’s plans to take over the weapons from the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry.  Because of the warning, Lee and his men are able to arrive in time to capture Brown in the act.  During a battle in which the army uses artillery to knock holes in the arsenal building, Brown kills Rader as a traitor.  (We knew he was going to die, with his conflicted loyalties).  John Brown is captured and hung, Stuart and Kit are married, and even Custer has a new girl friend.  The army friends ride off to an uncertain future in the Civil War, fighting on opposite sides.

Flynn and De Havilland make their usual charming couple.  De Havilland’s lively attractiveness reminds us that this kind of role usually passes unnoticed, but she does it unusually well.  Ronald Reagan, a perennial best friend to the lead in movies, is adequate if a bit light-weight as a fictional Custer.  The excellent character actor Moroni Olsen brings an appropriate gravitas to his role as Robert E. Lee.  Van Heflin isn’t bad in an early role as a villain who reforms, in the sort of role often played by Arthur Kennedy.  Heflin would graduate to more sympathetic parts eventually.  Ward Bond has a scarcely noticeable role as one of Brown’s men.

SantaFeTrailMasseyHanging

John Brown (Raymond Massey) gives his final speech about the coming apocalypse. He’s not wrong.

SantaFeTrailCurry

The famous John Steuart Curry mural “Tragic Prelude” in the Kansas Statehouse, 1938-1940.

The most memorable role in the film is Raymond Massey as John Brown, with his appearance and manner reminding us of the famous painting by John Steuart Curry from about the same time.  It was a natural role for Massey, and he would star as John Brown again in Seven Angry Men (1955), the main story of which is also the trial and hanging of the abolitionist.  Kansas slavery politics sound muddled here, although it is clear that John Brown is a bad guy, even if his heart is in the right place about the abolition of slavery.  He’s just too willing to use the sword on anybody who believes differently or crosses him.  Stuart is not all that convincing in his view that all the South needs is time and it will get rid of slavery on its own.  As in William Butler Yeats’ poem The Second Coming,
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

1941’s They Died With Their Boots On was wildly inaccurate historically but enjoyable to watch, with Flynn playing Custer and De Havilland as his wife Libby in their last movie appearance together.  This is even more inaccurate, and slightly less watchable.  Of the six army friends in this film, only Stuart was actually in the West Point class of 1854, although it did include Robert E. Lee’s son George Washington Custis Lee (an eventual Confederate general) and Oliver O. Howard (ultimately a Union general).  Of the six supposed West Point friends depicted in the film, only Stuart did not survive the Civil War, although Custer famously met his own ignominious end at the Little Bighorn in 1876.

SantaFeTrailJapSantaFeTrailGerm

Filmed in black and white, at 110 minutes, although there is a cut of only 93 minutes.  Music is by Max Steiner.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Rocky Mountain

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 12, 2014

Rocky Mountain—Errol Flynn, Patrice Wymore, Scott Forbes, Guinn Williams, Chubby Johnson, Dickie Jones, Slim Pickens, Sheb Wooley (1950; Dir: William Keighley)

RockyMountPoster1RockyMountFren

This was the last of Errol Flynn’s eight westerns, and it is better than the previous one (Montana, his last film with Alexis Smith).  The Rocky Mountain of the title is not in Montana, or Utah or Colorado; it is on the borders of Nevada and California, and is also known as Ghost Mountain.

It is the waning days of the Civil War in March 1865.  A small group of men (eight, in total) led by Capt. Lafe Barstow (Errol Flynn) is sent out west by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in a desperate move, to make contact with outlaw Cole Smith. (The premise is similar to that of Hangman’s Knot, two years later.)  Smith promises to provide 500 men to make a Confederate force out west and divert Union military resources from the war Lee is fighting in the east.

Narration by Capt. Lafe Barstow, describing his motley force:  “Six rattle-headed kids and an old man:  Kip Waterson, the baby-faced heir to a plantation; Pierre Duchesne, from French Louisiana; Pat Dennison [Guinn Williams], an old man, really, but a hard, reckless fighter who never gave ground while he lived; Kay Rawlins [Sheb Wooley] from the Mississippi steamboats, a rough, unfriendly man as the Indians now found out; Jimmy Wheat [Dickie Jones], a little redneck cropper who could fight like a wildcat with hydrophobia, who carried a useless little dog for 2,000 miles; Jonas Weatherby, the Texan, a seasoned plainsman at 18; and Plank [Slim Pickens], another real plainsman, hard and bitter, with chain gang scars on his legs at 22.”

RockyMountForbesWymoreFlynn

Lt. Rickey (Scott Forbes) and his patrol are captured by Barstow (Errol Flynn), while his fiance Johanna (Patrice Wymore) looks on.

As Barstow and his men finally arrive at the meeting point in the desert mountains, they find themselves in danger not only from Union cavalry but surrounded by hostile Shoshonis.  They are on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada, where they can see the Humboldt River and Battle Mountain.  They find a crashed stage that had been pursued by the Shoshonis and drive off the Indians.  There are two survivors:  the driver Gil Craigie (Chubby Jones) and a passenger, Johanna Carter (Patrice Wymore, in only her second movie), on her way to meet her cavalry fiancé at Fort Churchill.  This complicates matters for Barstow, since he can’t just let them go and draw the cavalry to him, and he can’t leave them to the mercies of the Shoshonis.  Trapped on Rocky Mountain, they run low on water and food.

[Spoilers follow.]  Matters are further complicated when Barstow and his men capture a small cavalry patrol led by Lt. Rickey (Scott Forbes), Johanna’s fiancé, who is searching for her.  The patrol’s Indian scouts turn out to be Man Dog, head Shoshoni chief, and his sons.  The Shoshonis make an escape attempt at night.  Man Dog gets away to lead the Shoshoni uprising, but his sons are killed.  Barstow’s men have connected with the untrustworthy Smith, only to find his horse shortly after his departure, indicating that the Indians got him.  That means his promised semi-army won’t be coming to the rescue   Rickey makes a break for it, but the Confederates figure the Shoshonis got him, too, although matters won’t be much better for them if he got through.  There is some chemistry between Barstow and Johanna, but neither acts on the attraction in the desperate situation.

Johanna Carter:  “I never thought it would end this way.”
Capt. Lafe Barstow:  “There never was any other way.  We just put it off a while.”

RockyMountCharge

Barstow (Errol Flynn) leads his men in a final charge.

Finally, Barstow leads his men on an attempt to break through the surrounding Indians and draw them away from the driver and Johanna.  It works in the sense that the Shoshonis follow Barstow as he intended, but Barstow’s small group is vastly outnumbered and trapped in a box canyon.  As the Confederates turn to face their pursuers in a desperate last stand (similar to Flynn’s situation as Custer in They Died With Their Boots On), they battle gamely but fall one by one to vastly superior numbers.  Barstow apparently gets Man Dog, but falls with two arrows in his back.  Rickey’s cavalry shows up only in time to rescue Johanna and Craigie and offer Barstow and his men a respectful burial, raising a Confederate battle flag on the stones of Rocky Mountain.

Flynn could play both sides in the Civil War; he was both a Union officer (Virginia CityThey Died With Their Boots On, Silver River) and a Confederate or former Confederate (Dodge City, Rocky Mountain).  Sometimes he was even both, as in Santa Fe Trail, where he plays West Point graduate and future Confederate cavalry commander Jeb Stuart.  Here, a prematurely aging Flynn (at 41) is noble but more subdued than he sometimes played; it makes him seem appropriately war-weary.  His chemistry with co-star Wymore is real.  Three months after shooting wrapped, she became Flynn’s third wife in Monte Carlo.  This is not one of Flynn’s best westerns (Dodge City, Virginia City, They Died With Their Boots On), but it’s worth watching.  It’s better than Santa Fe Trail, San Antonio and Montana, and slightly better than the melodramatic but underrrated Silver River.

RockyMountBehindScenes

Patrice Wymore and Errol Flynn review the script on the set.

This was the first film for Slim Pickens and Sheb Wooley, both of whom had rodeo backgrounds.  Former child actor Dickie Jones, as the youngest of the Confederates, could ride well, too.  Chubby Johnson is particularly good as the stage driver, who is not overtly hostile to the Confederates. Flynn’s carousing friend Guinn Williams (Dodge City, Virginia City) has a small part as the oldest of the Confederates, and is more restrained than he sometimes played.  Scott Forbes is stiff as the Union cavalry officer fiancé, but he wouldn’t really have a chance against Flynn’s charisma.

This is based on a short story by Alan LeMay (author of the The Searchers), who also co-wrote the screenplay with Winston Miller.  The story goes that In 1949 Ronald Reagan complained to Warner Bros. about some of the films he was assigned to, and asked to do a western.  The studio agreed if he would bring them a good story.  Reagan brought them “Ghost Mountain” by LeMay.  Despite their promise to him, Warner Bros. cast Errol Flynn in the lead.  Shot in black and white by cinematographer Ted McCord (Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Hanging Tree) around Gallup, New Mexico.  The night scenes are quite dark.  Music is by Max Steiner.  Comparatively short, at 83 minutes.

 

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

In Pursuit of Honor

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 3, 2014

In Pursuit of Honor—Don Johnson, Craig Sheffer, Rod Steiger, Gabrielle Anwar, Bob Gunton, John Dennis Johnston, James B. Sikking (Made for Television, 1995; Dir: Ken Olin)

InPursuitWide

This is a cavalry movie but an unusual one, in the sense that it is set in the 1930s and deals with the death of the cavalry as the army moved from horses to more mechanized forms of equipment.  As it did so, the move affected cavalry veterans who had spent their careers (and perhaps lives) in partnership with horses.  This is one of those films “based on a true story,” which usually means there’s a strong element of fiction to it.  Here, it’s almost all fictional.

Some of these cavalry veterans are part of the unit under the command of Major John Hardesty (Bob Gunton), given the responsibility in 1932 to deal with Hoover’s Bonus Marchers in Washington, D.C.  Many of these marchers were veterans of World War I, who had set up an encampment for the homeless to draw attention to their plight in the midst of the Great Depression.  Under orders from Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur (James Sikking), Hardesty’s cavalry approaches them with drawn sabers to sweep them from the encampment.  [This part about using cavalry against the Bonus Marchers at MacArthur’s orders is factual.]  Several long-time cavalrymen, including Sgt. John Libbey (Don Johnson) and Sgt. Thomas Mulcahey (John Dennis Johnston) return to their barracks rather than participate in such an action against their fellow veterans, and are thereafter exiled to a remote Texas base.

InPursuitLibbeyBuxton

Top Sergeant John Libbey (Don Johnson) and Lt. Marshall Buxton (Craig Sheffer).

Cut to two years later in Texas, where young Jessica Stuart (Gabrielle Anwar), on her way to the army base commanded by her father, Col. Owen Stuart, almost drives over a young man in the middle of a sandstorm.  He turns out to be Lt. Marshall Buxton (Craig Sheffer), a West Point graduate and son of a former cavalry general, who is in disgrace for punching a superior officer who was mistreating a horse.  Stuart is retiring to Tucson, Arizona, and is being replaced by now-Col. Hardesty.  Hardesty has orders from MacArthur to modernize the unit, which involves getting rid of 500 cavalry mounts.  Specifically, Lt. Buxton is in charge of the men ordered to drive the horses into northern Mexico, where machine gun emplacements and riflemen are set up to slaughter the horses.

After the first hundred horses are driven into a pit and gunned down, Buxton rebels.  Supported by Libbey, Mulcahey and two other long-time cavalry sergeants, they disobey orders and drive the horses north into Arizona–stealing them, in effect, as well as disobeying orders.  Buxton rides to Tucson, where he gets maps and support from the Stuarts.  Jessica Stuart is a reporter, but no U.S. newspaper will tell the story of this incident.  She uses her contacts with a British publication to get the story out.  Col. Stuart, now retired, goes to Washington to try to get MacArthur to change his orders.

InPursuitMulcahey

Sgt. Mulcahey (John Dennis Johnston) makes a break for it.

The cavalrymen take their herd of the remaining 400 horses northward into the White Mountains to try to figure out what to do with them.  Their half-baked plan is to take them to Montana onto Indian lands near the Canadian border, where the army can’t go.  Meanwhile, Hardesty pursues with two units:  a mechanized column that has to stick to actual roads, and a horse-mounted unit that Buxton and his group have to keep avoiding.

Stuart hasn’t much luck even getting to see MacArthur.  He is mostly shown working with a map that delineates the progress of the horses as they move northward, pursued by Hardesty.  Buxton is inexperienced, but he is supported by the sergeants, especially Libbey, often referred to as “top,” as in top sergeant.  Although they maintain their military organization, it is clear that everything is done by consent, and they all buy in.

InPursuitGrp4

Buxton (Craig Sheffer, left) and his sergeants try to figure how to get into Canada.

[Spoilers follow.]  Finally in Montana, they are accidentally discovered by Hardesty’s cavalry.  That unit has orders to shoot to kill, and Mulcahey gets a bullet in the back as he tries to escape. The sergeant of the cavalry unit stops them to bury Mulcahey with full field honors, to the consternation of the officer who had shot him.  It becomes obvious the fleeing horses won’t make it to Indian land without being cut off, and Buxton and his herd head for Canada instead.  At the border they encounter (a) the pursuing cavalry with artillery, with their orders to shoot to kill, (b) Hardesty and his mechanized unit, accompanied by Jessica Stuart, and (c) a unit of Canadian Mounties facing them across the border.  As they make a final sprint for the border, the cavalry unit arranges artillery to fire at them, but the sergeant makes sure the artillery fires high and wide.  Hardesty divulges that he has tried to get MacArthur to change his orders, to no effect.  He receives word that Pres. Franklin Roosevelt has pardoned Buxton and his men.  As Buxton and his remaining sergeants cross the border, the Mounties seem to accept them.  Libbey goes on the the Klondike, and Buxton says he’s going back to face court martial, and perhaps Jessica Stuart.

Craig Sheffer (A River Runs Through It, The Desperate Trail) is decent as Lt. Buxton, but the performance that makes this work is Don Johnson as Sgt. John Libbey, hard-bitten, flinty, tough and motivated by his notions of military and personal honor.  John Dennis Johnston is very good as Sgt. Mulcahey as well.  Bob Gunton makes Col. Hardesty seem like an officious military bureaucrat with no heart, until the very end.  Rod Steiger’s Col. Owen Stuart has an unexplained faux-Irish accent, and Gabrielle Anwer seems too young for the independent reporter she’s supposed to be.  She is not yet the actress she will become later in her career.  Douglas MacArthur and the order-following leader of the pursuing cavalry are the villains, to the extent there are villains.

InPursuitArtillery

Artillery sets up to blast the horses as they near the Canadian border.

This is better than one would expect, but it’s not perfect.  The pursuit from the White Mountains of Arizona to Montana seems like it takes place in one day, although it would have taken weeks.  The filmmakers needed to find a more effective way to depict the sheer length and effort of such a drive northward.  Sheffer’s Buxton sometimes seems confused (as a real young lieutenant would have been) but strangely confident at other times.  Still, it’s worth watching, although it raises questions about the factual background.  Filmed in color in Australia, at 111 minutes.

If the names of the sergeants seem familiar, it’s because they often show up in John Ford cavalry movies (Fort Apache, etc.).  For another western featuring young officers (Jason Patric and Matt Damon) balancing honor against an inflexible military structure, see Walter Hill’s Geronimo: An American Legend (1993).

Save

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Yellowstone Kelly

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 31, 2014

Yellowstone Kelly—Clint Walker, Edward (Edd) Byrnes, Claude Akins, John Russell, Ray Danton, Andra Martin, Rhodes Reason, Warren Oates (1959; Dir: Gordon Douglas)

YellowstoneKellyPosterYellowstoneKellyGerm

Luther “Yellowstone” Kelly was a real frontier trapper and scout, whose particular expertise and knowledge was in the Montana area from which he got his nickname.  He served as the chief of scouts for Gen. Nelson A. Miles in the Yellowstone district during the Sioux wars of 1876-1877, the same time period as this movie.  He was not, as the prologue of the movie would have it, the first white man to cross the Yellowstone Valley.  He was more than thirty or forty years too late for that.  Some of Lewis and Clark’s party had gone down the Yellowstone Valley even seventy years earlier on their return from the west coast.

In this version, Kelly (Clint Walker) rides into Fort Buford (at the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers on the western border of North Dakota) to replenish his supplies.  Custer’s defeat at the Little Bighorn has already happened, so this is after June 1876.  While at Fort Buford he advises inexperienced but ambitious Major Towns (Rhodes Reason) against his plan to hunt the Sioux and refuses to go with the cavalry.  He ends up fighting with several soldiers, led by a sergeant (Claude Akins), and he acquires Anse Harper (Edd Byrnes) as a kind of unwanted apprentice.

Major Towns:  “In other words, you refuse.”
Yellowstone Kelly:  “In any words, I refuse.”

YellowstoneKellyWalkerRussellYellowstoneKellyDanton

Clint Walker as Kelly and John Russell as Gall; and Ray Danton as Sayapi.

As Kelly and Harper ride into the Snake River country with their two supply mules, they encounter hostile Sioux, who capture them.  They are taken to Gall (John Russell), chief of the Hunkpapa Sioux.  It develops that seven years earlier Gall had been shot on the Snake, and Kelly had cut out the bullet and healed him without knowing who he was.  In return, Gall has allowed Kelly to trap the Snake country for seven years.  Now he wants Kelly to remove a bullet from another Indian—from a captive Arapaho maiden, Wahleeah (Andra Martin).  A complication is that Wahleeah’s captor is Gall’s nephew Sayapi (Ray Danton), who does not trust Kelly.

Kelly is successful in removing the bullet; in return Gall allows Kelly and Anse to leave with their mules.  As they move into Kelly’s cabin and set up traps, they see an Indian rider approaching and then fall off his horse.  It’s Wahleeah, who has escaped from Sayapi and is now all but dead.  As she lies recovering, Gall rides up and decides she can stay the winter with Kelly and he will retrieve her when he returns from his winter hunting ground.  An angry Sayapi breaks with his uncle and rides off with a few followers.

YellowstoneKellyWalkerMartin

Kelly (Clint Walker) rescues Wahleeah (Andra Martin).

As Kelly and Anse get to know Wahleeah, she tells them she intends to escape to her Arapaho people, who appear to be near the area of Yellowstone Park, a hundred miles away.  Kelly intends to turn her back over to Gall in the spring.  Anse, who appears to be falling for her, thinks Kelly might be wrong.  As Anse is about to help her escape, Sayapi shows up, shoots Anse, takes Wahleea and burns the cabin.  Kelly comes back, follows the Sioux trail and overtakes them at night.  He attacks, kills several of them, including Sayapi, and takes back Wahleeah.  Heading back for his burned-out cabin, he encounters Major Towns’ column about to cross the Snake River to find and attack the Sioux.  Towns will not be dissuaded.  “I’ll tell you once more, Major. On this side [of the river] you’re in trouble.  Over there, you’re dead!”

YellowstoneKellyAnseGirl

Wahleeah (Andra Martin) talks the impressionable Anse (Edd Byrnes) into letting her escape.

Kelly and Wahleeah ride back to home ground, but are soon overtaken by the remnants of Major Towns’ column.  The major is dead, and the column and Kelly are soon surrounded by Gall and his warriors.  Gall offers to let Kelly depart in peace if he gives up Wahleeah, but Kelly refuses.  After a couple of attacks demonstrate that the column is likely to be wiped out, Wahleeah breaks for the Sioux.  When she falls, Kelly and Gall meet over her, and Gall makes the same offer again.  But finally he recognizes that Wahleeah has chosen Kelly, and he departs in discouragement or disgust.  Kelly and Wahleeah ride off together.

The screenplay for this movie was written by Burt Kennedy, then in the middle of his fruitful collaboration with Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott.  It was originally intended for John Ford to direct, with John Wayne starring as Kelly, but they opted for The Horse Soldiers instead.  Several of the principal actors were under contract to Warner Bros. for television series:  Clint Walker in Cheyenne, Edd Byrnes in 77 Sunset Strip (known more for his hair than for his acting), John Russell (Lawman) and Ray Blanton (The Alaskans).  Walker even rides Brandy, his big horse from the Cheyenne series.  This is Clint Walker’s best-known western, but not the best.  That would probably be Fort Dobbs, made the previous year, also with director Gordon Douglas.  John Russell made this the same year he played bad guy Nathan Burdette in Rio Bravo, with John Wayne.  The shifty Ray Danton had played Blackie in The Spoilers before moving into television work.  Blue-eyed Andra Martin was a Warners starlet, and this may have been the high point of her movie career.  Warren Oates has a non-speaking role as a trooper who gets killed.  You have to look fast to catch him.

YellowstoneKellyWalkerOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Clint Walker as Yellowstone Kelly; and the real Luther Kelly during his scouting period in the 1870s.

There are several problems of geography and tribal history with this story.  Fort Buford was in far western North Dakota, and the Snake River rises in southwestern Wyoming, hundreds of miles to the west across the wide breadth of Montana, and never even makes it into Montana before heading west across Idaho.  The Snake River and Yellowstone Park were not in Sioux country; the dominant tribe would likely have been the Shoshonis (or Snakes), although you could perhaps find Blackfeet or even Crows in the vicinity.  But not the Sioux, who were enemies of the Shoshonis and Crows.  The Arapahoes were not enemies of the Sioux but were, like the Cheyennes, traditional allies of the Sioux.  Still, if you like Clint Walker, this is a watchable western with kind of a meandering plot and a seductive blue-eyed Arapaho maiden.  In color, at 93 minutes.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

War Arrow

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 8, 2014

War Arrow—Jeff Chandler, Maureen O’Hara, John McIntire, Noah Beery, Jr., Henry Brandon, Dennis Weaver, Jay Silverheels, James Bannon, Suzan Ball (1953; Dir: George Sherman)

WarArrowPoster WarArrowGerm

Major Howell Brady (Jeff Chandler) is a war hero from the Civil War, now trying to recruit Seminoles in Texas to fight Kiowas led by Satanta (Jay Silverheels) and a mysterious white man.  When he arrives at his new post, Fort Clark, he finds that his new superior, Col. Jackson Meade (John McIntire), is dubious about his enterprise.  And he also finds a romantic interest in recent widow Elaine Corwin (Maureen O’Hara).  Meade seems to be interested in her, too.

Brady succeeds in recruiting the reluctant Seminoles led by Maygro (Henry Brandon, the German actor who played Scar in The Searchers and Comanche chief Quanah Parker in Two Rode Together), but there are undercurrents.  Meade is not supportive of the effort, even when it turns out to be quite successful.  And Maygro’s daughter Avis (Suzan Ball) has adopted white values and is interested in Brady.  The mysterious white man helping the Kiowas turns out to be the not-so-dead Corwin (James Bannon).  The conflict between Brady and Meade over strategy and use of the Seminoles leads to Brady being tossed in the brig.

WarArrowChandOHaraWarArrowSilverheelsChand

Major Howell Brady (Jeff Chandler) is interested in fiery young widow Elaine Corwin (Maureen O’Hara); adversaries Satanta (Jay Silverheels) and Brady (Chandler), not so hostile behind the scenes.

He nevertheless manages to save the post from destruction, and Corwin and Satanta are killed.  Meade is wounded and, of course, comes to a new appreciation of Brady—as does the now-widowed Corwin.  Avis turns her attentions to Seminole warrior Pico (Dennis Weaver).

The Corwin character is not very fleshed out, and the end, with Meade’s immediate conversion, doesn’t seem entirely believable.  The final battle at the post is not well done.  But this is fairly watchable anyway.  Shot in color by William Daniels (The Far Country, Night Passage), at only 78 minutes.

WarArrowGrp3

Major Brady makes plans with allies Maygro (Henry Brandon) and Pico (Dennis Weaver).

For another movie of Jeff Chandler commanding cavalry out west and fighting Kiowas, see Two Flags West.  In that one, he plays the unreasonable commander rather than the fighting hero.  But it’s a good movie.  Chandler and Silverheels had played Cochise and Geronimo, respectively, in Broken Arrow, another good western, which had made Chandler’s reputation.  Dennis Weaver shows up again as an Indian, this time a Navajo, the same year (1953) in Column South, an Audie Murphy movie.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone