Tag Archives: Cavalry Westerns

Thunder Over the Plains

Nicholas Chennault ~ September 26, 2014

Thunder Over the Plains—Randolph Scott, Lex Barker, Phyllis Kirk, Charles McGraw, Hugh Sanders, Elisha Cook, Jr., Henry Hull (1953; Dir: Andre de Toth)

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Cavalry, carpetbaggers and quasi-vigilantes clash in 1869 Texas, before the state was re-admitted to the Union following the Civil War.  Captain (and native Texan) Dave Porter (Randolph Scott) and wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk) are finding Texas not entirely comfortable after he fought for the Union in the late unpleasantness between the states.  In part Norah’s discomfort is not only because she isn’t a native Texan like her husband, but perhaps also because she seems much younger than he—30 years, maybe?

Porter’s commanding officer Lt. Col. Chandler (the fussy Henry Hull) is mildly sympathetic to Porter’s concerns, but mostly he doesn’t want to mess up with the brass in the two years before he can retire with his pension.  Porter doesn’t really want to exterminate the local vigilantes led by Ben Westman (Charles McGraw, with the subtle name for his character) because he sympathizes with them to some extent.  Elisha Cook, Jr., is Joseph Standish, a corrupt tax assessor, being run by the more corrupt developer and cotton broker Balfour (Hugh Sanders).

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Bad guys Standish (Elisha Cook, Jr.) and Balfour (Hugh Sanders) with hands up (note the expensive clothes, obvious evidence of corruption).

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Dave Porter (Randolph Scott) tries to talk things out with wife Norah (Phyllis Kirk), but she’s having trouble seeing it his way.

Matters are further complicated when cavalry reinforcements arrive, led by handsome young Capt. Bill Hodges (Lex Barker, fresh off several performances as Tarzan), who knew Norah in a former life.  He’s a smug, by-the-book type who cares nothing about the locals but only about black-and-white orders.  Westman is falsely accused of the murder of Henley, a Balfour informer, and Porter tries to buy time to find the real guilty party (Balfour).  But Hodges starts shooting prematurely and also dishonorably makes a play for Norah, and Porter finds himself a wanted man for having released Westman from custody.  Fortunately, things work out as they should, after some angst for the Porters.

Norah Porter (Phyllis Kirk):  “Whatever became of Frances Bilky?”

Capt. Bill Hodges (Lex Barker):  “I don’t know.  She married a colonel, I think.  Maybe it was a general.  At any rate, she outranks all of us.”

Norah Porter:  “But that’s wonderful!  Now she’ll have her lifelong ambition to lead the cotillion.  Well, I guess that’s what I always wanted too.”

Hodges:  “You don’t have anything like that around here, do you, Captain?”

Capt. David Porter (Randolph Scott):  “Oh, I don’t know.  The Indians come down once a month and dance for us.”

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Smug Capt. Hodges (Lex Barker) prematurely starts the violence. Perhaps a Tarzan yodel would be effective here.

Westman’s friends abduct the corrupt Standish, intending to trade him for Westman before he can hang, but Col. Chandler is having none of that.  Dave Porter is about to get Standish to provide written proof that Balfour killed Henley when the increasingly sleazy Hodges raids the camp and shoots Standish, apparently trying to get Porter.  When he brings in Westman’s men and Porter, they manage to escape.  While Porter finds Standish’s evidence, Balfour and three henchmen try to kill him.  Of course they fail.  He is, after all, played by Randolph Scott.  And Hodges gets sent either (a) back to Washington in disgrace, or (b) to an assignment in dangerous Indian territory–Chandler gives conflicting signals about which it is.  And a little voice-over narration neatly wraps up Reconstruction in Texas and returns its government to the locals much more congenially than it actually happened.

The title has no apparent relationship with the movie’s content.  Randolph Scott always looked good in a cavalry uniform, with his straight-backed bearing and obvious rectitude.  Fess Parker has a brief part here (and in The Bounty Hunter) before becoming more widely known as Davy Crockett on television.  There is heavy-handed voice-over narration at the start and end.  In all, this is a decent job by one-eyed Hungarian director Andre de Toth, although it’s not his very best work.  That would be Ramrod (his first western, with Joel McCrea) and Day of the Outlaw (his last western, with Robert Ryan).  But this is one of the better efforts from his Randolph Scott period in the early 1950s, when De Toth and Scott made six westerns together.

Screenwriter Russell Hughes also did Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier and Delmer Daves’ Jubal, as well as giant bug movie Them.  Cinematography was by Bert Glennon.  In color, at 82 minutes.

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For another movie about Texas during the carpetbagger Civil War aftermath, see Three Violent People, with Charlton Heston and Anne Baxter (1956).

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Forts in Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 20, 2014

Forts in Westerns

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Forts are the natural settings for cavalry movies, and the movie title often contains the name of a fort to convey that it is a cavalry movie.  As the popularity of cavalry movies waned in the late 1960s, these “fort” names for movies disappeared.

Fort Apache (1948)
Fort Defiance (1951)
Fort Osage (1951)
Fort Worth (1951)
Fort Vengeance (1953)
Escape from Fort Bravo (1953)
Fort Yuma (1955)
Revolt at Fort Laramie (1957)
Fort Bowie (1957)
Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957)
Fort Dobbs (1958)
Fort Massacre (1959)
Fort Courageous (1965)
Fort Utah (1967)

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Fictional Forts in Movies

Most stories for movies are fictional, although some, like Broken Arrow or Geronimo:  An American Legend, are based on fact.  Many westerns, especially cavalry westerns, used the names of actual historical military installations in the American west, but many of the names of forts were fictional as well.  The following is a partial list of fictional forts used in westerns.

Fort Apache (Fort Apache)
Fort Stark (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon)
Fort Gamble and Fort Craig (Ambush)
Fort Thorne, a real fort in New Mexico, but it was abandoned in 1859, before the Civil War (Two Flags West)
Fort Bravo (Escape From Fort Bravo)
Fort McCullough (They Rode West)
Fort Vengeance (Fort Vengeance)
Fort Crane (Fort Massacre)
Fort Dobbs (Fort Dobbs)
Fort Shallan and Fort Medford (The Last Frontier)

Fort Jefflin (The Wonderful Country)
Fort Canby (A Thunder of Drums). The real Fort Canby was in Washington state, named for a general killed in the Modoc War.
Fort Delivery (A Distant Trumpet)
Fort Benlin (Major Dundee)
Fort Creel and Fort Concho (there was a real Fort Concho in Texas, but not in Arizona) (Duel at Diablo)
Fort Clendennon (Chuka)

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Two Flags West

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 31, 2014

Two Flags WestJoseph Cotten, Cornel Wilde, Jeff Chander, Linda Darnell, Arthur Hunnicutt, Noah Beery, Jr., Jay C. Flippen, Dale Robertson, Harry von Zell (1950; Dir: Robert Wise)

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This is a large-budget cavalry western with a good cast and a generic title.  The two flags referred to are north and south during the Civil War, as Col. Clay Tucker’s Confederate cavalrymen (they rode with Jeb Stuart) are recruited by Capt. Mark Bradford (Cornel Wilde) from a prison camp in Rockford, Illinois, to fight Indians out west as galvanized Yankees in autumn 1864.

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Col. Tucker (Joseph Cotten) and his men, in a Union prison in Rockford, Ill., are recruited to fight Indians.

They are headed for Fort Thorn in New Mexico Territory, to serve under Major Henry Kenniston (Jeff Chandler, the same year he played Cochise in Broken Arrow).  The ambitious Kenniston escaped from the famous Libby Prison in Richmond, and, in escaping, ruined his right leg so that he has been assigned out west instead of to duty in the main war.  His brother was killed at Chancellorsville, and he consequently hates Confederates.  The brother’s widow Elena Kenniston (Linda Darnell), a Spanish beauty returning home to Monterey, California, is temporarily staying with her brother-in-law at the post while she waits for a wagon train to California.  She becomes the center of romantic interest for the major, Capt. Bradford and even now-Lt. Tucker (Joseph Cotten). She seems to favor Bradford, and Tucker has other things on his mind dealing with all the conflicting loyalties, plots and counter-plots in this frontier post.

The primary source of tension in the film is whether the former Confederates will desert to Texas as soon as they get a chance, and it seems they will.  Major Kenniston assigns the southerners to carry out the execution of two men convicted of selling guns and booze to the Indians, only for the ex-Confederates to discover after the two are dead that they were southern agents.  There are more southern agents, one of whom convinces Tucker to return to Fort Thorn until a later time when he can help carry out a larger plot.  After duty escorting a wagon train part of the way to California, Tucker brings back Mrs. Kenniston, who was escaping her brother-in-law’s domination, so that the major will trust the southerners.

[Spoilers follow.]  Finally, Tucker gets the signal to leave and does so with his men.  However, the angry, wrong-headed major (who refers to the Indians as rebels, so we know who he’s really thinking about) needlessly antagonizes the Kiowas by angrily and gratuitously killing Kiowa chief Satank’s son.  Given a choice by circumstances, Tucker and his men, instead of heading for Texas, return to the aid of the fort.  Beseiged by 1500 Indians, things look grim for the remaining troopers.

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Major Kenniston (Jeff Chandler) decides to sacrifice himself for the greater good.

After one day of fighting, Bradford and many others are killed, and things look even more hopeless.  With the stockade in flames, Kenniston decides to give himself up to the overwhelming Indian force to save what’s left of the fort and its defenders, and Tucker is left in command.  It appears that Tucker and Elena may make a new life together, although things are left ambiguous between them as they learn that Sherman has split the south and the end of the war is imminent.

Director Robert Wise didn’t make many westerns (Blood on the Moon, Tribute to a Bad Man); he was more known for such large-budget productions as The Sound of Music, West Side Story, The Sand Pebbles and the first Star Trek movie.  However, there are signs here of movie-making intelligence at work.  Some of the shots are reminiscent of John Ford:  see the southern soldiers racing back to the fort, for example, with a low camera angle that captures them along a ridge against a luminescent black-and-white sky.  Later, as Major Kenniston marches (with a limp) out of the stockade gates to his certain doom, he is shot from behind with a low camera angle, making it look as though he is walking upward, although we’ve already seen that the gate is on level ground.

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Linda Darnell and Joseph Cotten engage in some badinage between scenes.

Cotten and Darnell were at the peak of their careers, and Wilde and Chandler were first-rank movie stars at the time as well.  Darnell was allergic to horses, was not happy about her role in this western and reportedly didn’t get along well with either Wilde or Cotten, but she looks lovely and is fine in a better-than-average-female-in-a-western role.  She also wears one of the better hats seen on a woman in a western.  (Compare it, for example, with Donna Reed’s ineffective hat in Backlash.)  With her dark good looks, she was often cast as an Indian (Buffalo Bill) or Hispanic (The Mark of Zorro, My Darling Clementine) beauty.

This is Cotten’s best role in a western; he generally seems a modern, urban actor, and he didn’t make many westerns (Duel in the Sun, The Last Sunset and a few others).  Although he was born into a southern family in Virginia, his Georgia accent here is elusive and sporadic.  The supporting actors (Hunnicutt, Beery, Flippen) are excellent, too, particularly the horse-faced Arthur Hunnicutt as the Confederate Sgt. Pickens.  This is a good cavalry western, but not much seen these days.  Filmed on location in New Mexico in black and white, at 92 minutes.

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For other cavalry westerns featuring Yankees and Confederates fighting Indians together, see Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and Major Dundee (1965).  For Chandler in another role as a not-so-admirable commander, catch him in 1959’s The Jayhawkers!

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Buffalo Bill (1944)

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 29, 2014

Buffalo Bill—Joel McCrea, Maureen O’Hara, Anthony Quinn, Thomas Mitchell, Linda Darnell, Moroni Olson (1944; Dir: William Wellman)

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Director William Wellman directed some very good westerns, such as The Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky and Westward the Women, but this isn’t one of his very best.  It has an interesting cast, but the story suffers from lack of a strong and cohesive story arc, as is often the case with biopics.   And, as with many historically-based movies in the 1940s, it takes numerous liberties with the real history involved.

The movie starts in 1877, with young Bill Cody (Joel McCrea) hunting buffaloes and rescuing a wagon of dignitaries and Sgt. Chips McGraw (Edgar Buchanan in heavy makeup, playing much older than he really was) from attacking Cheyennes with his excellent shooting.  Among those rescued are Senator Frederici (Moroni Olson) and his nubile daughter Louisa (Maureen O’Hara), with whom Cody is immediately taken, and writer Ned Buntline (Thomas Mitchell).  Cody is sympathetic to the Cheyennes and has friends among them, including chief’s son Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and school teacher Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell in a strange role).

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Stills of supposed Cheyennes Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell).

When railroad interests try to force the Cheyennes off part of their land, Dawn Starlight tells Yellow Hand to take the senator as a hostage.  Cody rescues him, but the Cheyennes forge an alliance with the Sioux for a new war.  Cody and Louisa marry, and Cody scouts for the Fifth Cavalry against the Cheyennes (and against Louisa’s objections).  The advance scouts for the cavalry and the Cheyennes meet at War Bonnet Gorge, and in order to give the rest of the column time to come up for support, Cody takes on his blood brother Yellow Hand in single combat.  Cody wins, and Dawn Starlight is killed in the resulting battle as well.

Cody scouts for the Russian Grand Duke Alexis on a buffalo hunt, taking Louisa along.  Louisa tells him she’s pregnant, and they head for home.  The baby arrives before they get there, and Louisa bears a son named for Kit Carson with the help of an aged Cheyenne woman.  However, she won’t stay out west and takes their son to Ohio, where he can have the benefits of civilization and be kept safe.

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Cody goes to Washington, D.C. with Buntline to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for War Bonnet Gorge, only to receive word that Kit is dying of diptheria in Ohio.  He arrives just after Kit’s death, and leaves again.  In his bitterness, he takes on the venal railroad interests, and in turn is vilified with his role in the recent war questioned.  Alone and penniless in New York, he takes a job in a sideshow as a sharpshooter; Louisa shows up and demonstrates her faith in his marksmanship.  And Buntline conceives the idea for a Wild West show, giving rise to a montage in which Cody’s show performs before European monarchs and Cody ages decades in a few minutes, before riding off into a figurative Technicolor sunset with Louisa.

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Joel McCrea looks very good in long hair and goatee as Bill Cody, although he does not seem as outgoing and flamboyant as the real showman Cody was.  Even as a lowly scout and buffalo hunter in 1877, we are to believe that Cody wore outrageous pants.  Some of his actions with Indians, such as greeting them with “How!”, are jarring now, but were maybe less so when this was made.  He is depicted as having strong sympathies with the Indians and speaks up for them, although he always fights with the cavalry.

Red-haired Maureen O’Hara is appropriately fiery as Louisa Frederici Cody, although she seems inherently unreasonable in some of her attitudes.  Thomas Mitchell as Ned Buntline is much the same as he was as Doc Boone (in Stagecoach), as Plato Beck (Silver River) or a number of other heavy-drinking, classically-educated populist characters he played in westerns over the years. Anthony Quinn is good as Yellow Hand, but he stands out against other actors who are more clearly Indians.  Linda Darnell is a curious and unnecessary (but beautiful) character, an Indian school teacher in supposedly traditional Cheyenne dress—a carrier of civilization who has not herself fully partaken of various of its benefits.

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With teacher Dawn Starlight.

The supposed chronology of the movie doesn’t work well.   Although the movie is said to start in 1877 and a year or two passes before we hear of Crook’s defeat (actually more of a draw) at the Rosebud and Custer’s defeat on the Little Big Horn, those battles took place in 1876.  Cody did take on and kill Yellow Hand, but their relationship is exaggerated here.  Louisa Frederici’s father was not a senator, and they were married in the mid-1860s, not the late 1870s.  The Codys’ separation did take place, but they were estranged for most of their married life and never really got back together.  Cody started his first theatrical endeavors without Buntline in 1872, well before 1877, and briefly came back to the frontier after Custer’s defeat.  His manager/partner in the Wild West show was Nate Salisbury, not Ned Buntline.  He did have financial ups and downs with his shows, and he did love children as the movie shows.  At the turn of the 20th century, he may well have been the most recognizable celebrity on earth.  William Tecumseh Sherman is here claimed to have made the comment that the only good Indian is a dead Indian, but another general, Philip Sheridan, was supposedly the originator of that famous phrase.  As you might guess, there are other contenders for that honor, as well.

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Director William Wellman, star Joel McCrea and editor James B. Clark on the set.

Cody’s Medal of Honor was awarded in 1872, for service as a civilian scout to the 3rd Cavalry, displaying “gallantry in action” at Loupe Forke, Platte River, Nebraska, not for Warbonnet Gorge.  After Cody’s death in 1917, Congress revised the standards for receiving the Medal and removed from the rolls 911 given to civilians and others that would not be awarded by the new standards.  Among those removed was Cody’s.

This was a large-budget production in its time, with an excellent cast.  As a whole, elements of the film don’t work all that well; the weakness is largely in the structure and story.  Shot in color at various locations in Arizona, Utah and Montana, at 90 minutes.  For another interesting view of the Cody marriage (with a young Anthony Quinn as another Cheyenne warrior), see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman (1936).  In They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Anthony Quinn was Crazy Horse and got to kill Custer and make off with the 7th Cavalry’s banner.  For a revisionist look at Cody as a showman and the supposed history of the West, see Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976), with Paul Newman as Buffalo Bill.

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McCrea as Buffao Bill, with Maureen O’Hara; the real W.F. Cody in theatrical gear, ca. 1875.

As an historical artifact, the real Cody made a film with footage of from his show in 1908 near the end of his career.  Four minutes of the footage can be seen at http://moviessilently.com/2013/10/19/silent-movie-time-capsule-105-years-ago-buffalo-bill-cody-appeared-in-a-movie/

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Selander’s Cavalry

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 9, 2014

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ambush

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 2, 2014

Ambush—Robert Taylor, Arlene Dahl, John Hodiak, Don Taylor, John McIntire, Jean Hagen, Pat Moriarty, Bruce Cowling, Leon Ames, Charles Stevens, Chief Thundercloud, Ray Teal (1950; Dir: Sam Wood)

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This is a very good cavalry vs. Apaches tale, with a large cast, lots of plot, good writing and excellent use of locations with scenic Southwestern rock formations around Gallup, New Mexico.  It was the final film of director Sam Wood, based on a story by western writer Luke Short.

It’s 1878 in Arizona Territory, and Mescalero Apache leader Diablito (Charles Stevens) has jumped the reservation again with his people. Ward Kinsman (Robert Taylor, in his usual dark hat), a former scout for the army has been prospecting on Bailey Mountain, Diablito’s home ground.  Current army scout Frank Holly (an outrageously bearded John McIntire) seeks him out for a mission at Fort Gamble, but they have to fight their way out.

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Scouts in trouble: Holly (John McIntire) and Kinsman (Robert Taylor).

Maj. Breverly (Leon Ames), the commanding officer, explains that a white woman, Mary Carlyle, traveling with a surveying party without authorization, was taken by Diablito when he slaughtered the party.  Her sister Ann Duverall (Arlene Dahl) has arrived at Fort Gamble with the new by-the-book senior captain, Ben Lorrison (John Hodiak).  Breverly wants Kinsman to guide a party to rescue Mrs. Carlyle, but Kinsman declines, saying that it would take too many troopers’ lives to rescue one woman from Diablito.

There are not one but two romantic triangles going on at Fort Gamble: one involves Kinsman’s friend 2nd Lt. Linus Delaney, who’s having an affair with the wife (Jean Hagen) of an enlisted man, Tom Conovan (Bruce Cowling), who beats her.  The other develops as it becomes apparent that Lorrison wants Ann Duverall to marry him, and bit by bit Kinsman is taken with her despite himself.  Kinsman steps into the middle of a drunken attack by Conovan on Delaney and punches out Conovan, who will get thrown in the guardhouse when he awakens.

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Lorrison (John Hodiak) interrupts Delaney (Don Taylor) and Mrs. Conovan (Jean Hagen).

Kinsman agrees to guide a patrol escorting the paymaster to Fort Craig.  While they’re gone, Conovan stabs Breverly with a pitchfork and really gets thrown in the guardhouse.  A sub-patrol under Delaney captures a party of Diablito’s women and Tana (Chief Thundercloud), who says he hates Diablito.  Kinsman doesn’t quite believe him and gets his information from a disgruntled woman, who says that Mary Carlyle is with a party just ahead of them, alive and so far unharmed.

With Breverly out of commission with a punctured lung, Lorrison becomes acting commanding officer and decides to take after Diablito and Mary Carlyle.  He believes Tana’s advice, and Kinsman decides to go along even though his advice is ignored.  Lorrison insists on knowing why Kinsman changed his mind, and Kinsman honestly tells him that he doesn’t think Lorrison knows what he’s doing as well as Breverly would.  They fight, and Lorrison wins handily.

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Lorrison doesn’t like Kinsman, but they both like Ann Duverall (Arlene Dahl).

Lt. Delaney gives Kinsman something to deliver to Mary Conovan if Delaney doesn’t make it.
Ward Kinsman:  “Did you ever figure that maybe I won’t get back?”
Lt. Linus Delaney:  “You’ll make it. People only die when they have something to live for.”
Ward Kinsman:  “I know. That’s why I’m a little worried…for the first time.”
Lt. Linus Delaney:  “Well, I never thought I’d see the day.”
Ward Kinsman:  “That’s the point, isn’t it? To live to see the day.”

[Spoilers follow.]  There are two columns involved in the pursuit, one led by Capt. Wolverson (Ray Teal), and the other by Lorrison. Tana disappears, and Kinsman goes after him. He gets Tana and finds Conovan’s body. There are also two ambushes in the movie, the first by Lorrison at a watering hole Diablito is trying to reach. Kinsman stampedes Diablito’s horses and gets Mary Carlyle, but takes a spear in the hip. Lorrison and his men are on the verge of being overrun when Wolverson’s column hits Diablito’s forces in the rear, forcing him to take off into the desert.

Capt. Ben Lorrison to Kinsman:  “What do you think of the entire plan of action?”
Ward Kinsman:  “I wasn’t asked.”
Capt. Ben Lorrison:  “You are now.”
Ward Kinsman:  “The plan is based upon what Diablito should do.  You better be ready for what he can’t possibly do, but probably will.”

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Kinsman finally gets a moment alone with Ann.

Lorrison, intent on finishing Diablito, takes a patrol after him, thinking correctly that they can’t get far without horses.  That brings up the second ambush, by Diablito.  He and his surviving men have hidden themselves in pits in the desert, leaving just enough trail to keep Lorrison following them into the trap.  All of Lorrison’s patrol is killed, but so are Diabilito’s men—except for Diablito himself, who is wounded.  As Kinsman and Delaney lead their own patrol to the site of the second ambush, Diablito reloads his pistol and plays dead.  Lest we not get who he wants to kill, he mutters to himself, “Kinsman.”  But Kinsman is wary; the trap doesn’t work this time, and Kinsman gets Diablito.

Back at Fort Gamble, Mary Conovan is now a widow, but the path is clear for her to get together with Delaney if they want to–the end is deliberately a little ambiguous for them.  Kinsman stands by Ann Duverall as the flag is raised to the strains of a bugle call, just as John Ford would have directed it.  No ambiguity there.

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The characters in this are well differentiated and believable, although some of the well-written dialogue is crisper than real people would be able to come up with.  Ward Kinsman is not infallible or invincible, as he demonstrates in his fight with Lorrison.  Lorrison has some capacity to learn (unlike, say, Col. Owen Thursday in Fort Apache), but he’s still sure he’s right and lets his animosity with Kinsman lead him to trust the wrong souces of information and advice.  Ann Duverall is not as priggish as she appears at first, and can also learn.  Delaney has a little self-restraint, but not enough to keep him out of trouble, until he is overtaken by events.

Fort Gamble, as depicted in this movie, is the same setting as Fort Bravo three years later in Escape from Fort Bravo:  Ray Corrigan’s ranch in Simi Valley, California.  The cinematographer, Harold Lipstein, was clearly enamored of the rock formations around Gallup, New Mexico, and he used them to good effect, often from low camera angles.  The excellent screenplay is by Marguerite Roberts (True Grit, 5 Card Stud, Shoot Out) from a story by Luke Short, usually a good starting source.

At this point in his career Robert Taylor had made only one western, Billy the Kid about ten years previously.  He was just coming into a period when he would make several good ones.  In fact, after this he also made Anthony Mann’s first western, Devil’s Doorway, and the excellent Westward the Women.  This is one of the first really good cavalry movies not made by John Ford.  For similar good stories of the Old Scout with a headstrong or inexperienced commanding officer, see Hondo, Duel at Diablo and Ulzana’s Raid.  The plot has a number of similarities with Duel at Diablo, in particular.  For another good black-and-white cavalry western from 1950, see Two Flags West, with Joseph Cotten and Linda Darnell.

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Diablito is played by Charles Stevens, who was said to be Geronimo’s Apache-Mexican grandson.  He appeared in a number of westerns beginning in the mid-1930s as Indian characters of one sort or another (see Frontier Marshal, My Darling Clementine and The Showdown, for example).

In black and white, with a lot of plot packed into 90 minutes. The DVD has been available from Warner Bros. Archive only since 2011, and not that many people have seen it.  It deserves a wider audience.

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A Thunder of Drums

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 4, 2014

A Thunder Of Drums—Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Luana Patten, James Douglas, Arthur O’Connell, Slim Pickens, Charles Bronson, Richard Chamberlain.  Cameos:  country singer Duane Eddy, rodeo star Casey Tibbs (1961; Dir:  Joseph M. Newman)

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A grim cavalry western, with hard-bitten Capt. Stephen Maddocks (Richard Boone) commanding the undermanned frontier outpost Fort Canby in 1870.  George Hamilton is newly arrived Lt. Curtis McQuade, son of a former post commander and current general.  While fighting Apaches, Maddocks roughly schools McQuade, who also renews his former relationship with Tracey Hamilton (Luana Patten), the fiancée of fellow officer Lt. Gresham (James Douglas).  Maddocks doesn’t want the trouble that is bound to come from such a romantic triangle, with the inevitable competition and animosity between his young officers.

“Bachelors make the best soldiers out here.  They have nothing to lose but their loneliness.”  The line might have been interesting if used once; it’s used twice by Maddocks.  Maddocks leads the garrison on a sortie against the hostiles.  As the lieutenants learn their trade in frontier Indian fighting, there is a climactic battle.  Predictably, Gresham is killed; a little less predictably, McQuade lets Tracey go back east so that he can follow Maddocks’ grim dictum and be a soldier without family entanglements. 

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A sergeant (Arthur Connell), lieutenant (George Hamilton) and private (Charles Bronson) fight Apaches.  Or are they Comanches?

There are references to a former officer saying “Never apologize.  It’s a sign of weakness.”  That presumably goes back to John Wayne in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  It turns out that McQuade’s father made sure that Maddocks stayed a captain for the rest of his career because of an unspecified mistake long ago. 

A bearded Richard Boone is good as the embittered Maddocks, although he’s relentlessly downbeat and mostly hostile.  He’s the center of the movie, as he would be in Rio Conchos three years later, and he’s the primary reason to watch this.  A young George Hamilton isn’t particularly good as McQuade; he will show up again in A Time for Killing, a 1967 cavalry western, as a Confederate major pursued in Utah and Arizona by Yankee Glenn Ford.  Charles Bronson, as a trooper obsessed with women, and Richard Chamberlain (who would soon become famous as television’s Dr. Kildare), as a wounded lieutenant, have small parts.  Arthur O’Connell is probably the strongest supporting player here as a veteran sergeant, the sort of role that would have been played more broadly by Victor McLaglen in John Ford cavalry movies a decade earlier.  

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The print was a bit muddy (on Encore Westerns; watch it on TCM, if possible, where they use a better print).  Written by James Warner Bellah, who also wrote The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, Sergeant Rutledge and the stories for Fort Apache, Rio Grande and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.  Shot in color in Santa Clarita, California, and near Old Tucson and Sabino Canyon, Arizona.  97 minutes long.  Notwithstanding the title, there aren’t any drums; lots of “talking smoke,” though.

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The Horse Soldiers

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 30, 2014

The Horse Soldiers—John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers, Ken Curtis, Judson Pratt, Willis Bouchey, Denver Pyle, Strother Martin, Althea Gibson, Hank Worden, Hoot Gibson (1959; Dir:  John Ford)

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Not exactly a western, since it takes place entirely in Mississippi during the Civil War.  But it stars John Wayne and William Holden riding horses and fighting battles, and it’s directed by John Ford.  So the western genre seems to be where it fits most comfortably—specifically, it’s a cavalry western.

Gen. U.S. Grant has besieged Vicksburg on the Mississippi River but not yet taken it, so that puts the time of this story in the first half of 1863.  Grant calls in cavalry Col. John Marlowe (John Wayne) and gives him the assignment of destroying supplies and railroads to the south in Newton Landing, between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge.  Marlowe’s officers include Col. Phil Secord (Willis Bouchey), an older man from Michigan with political ambitions, and Maj. Henry Kendall (William Holden), a surgeon who is almost instantly at odds with Marlowe.

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Hannah Hunter, Marlowe and Kendall at Greenbriar; Marlowe with one of his scouts.

Heading south and trying to keep the Confederates in ignorance of their whereabouts and objectives, the cavalry stops at the plantation of Greenbriar, run by Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers).  She receives them hospitably, given that her sympathies are southern, and discovers that they plan to destroy the supplies at Newton Landing and then head for Baton Rouge.  Kendall finds Hannah and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) listening, and Marlowe is forced to take them along so his plans are not prematurely revealed.  Hannah’s attempts to escape and hostility to the Yankees provide another source of tension within the column.

Hannah Hunter:  “They’ll catch up to you and cut you to pieces, you nameless, fatherless scum.  I just wish I could be there to see it!”

Col. John Marlowe:  “If it happens, Miss Hunter, you will be.”

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Trying to figure out why the Confederates aren’t putting up more resistance.

As they move toward Newton Landing, Marlowe’s men discover a couple of Confederate deserters (Denver Pyle and Strother Martin), whom Marlowe lures into giving information on Confederate units in the area before he turns them over to the southern sheriff.  At Newton Landing, there are a few Confederate soldiers led by a one-armed Col. Jonathan Miles (Carleton Young), known to Kendall from their days fighting Indians out west.  It turns out Miles has telegraphed for reinforcements, and when those additional men arrive on a train, Marlowe’s men are reluctantly forced to fight a battle. The Yankees win handily before destroying the supplies and railroad, which pains the one-time railroad worker Marlowe.  When the Confederate army asks a local military school to send its young men into battle, led by their reluctant headmaster/minister (Basil Ruysdael), Marlowe and his men are forced to leave the field rather than shooting them down, once more demonstrating Marlowe’s comparative humanity.  The political Col. Secord continually gives poor and self-aggrandizing advice, and when Marlowe takes to referring to Kendall as “Croaker,” Kendall responds by calling Marlowe “Section Hand.”

Col. John Marlowe [during firefight]:  “I didn’t want this. I tried to avoid a fight!”

Maj. Henry Kendall:  “That’s why I took up medicine.  

With Nathan Bedford Forrest’s Confederate cavalry on their heels, they move south toward Baton Rouge, only to find their way blocked by another Confederate unit at a bridge about 40 miles from their destination.  Hannah’s slave Lukey is killed by the initial Confederate attack.  Meanwhile, Marlowe and Hannah get to know each other better as Hannah nurses Marlowe’s wounded men with Kendall and sees that Marlowe cares about his young wounded soldiers.  His hostility to doctors is rooted in the period before the war, when he was a young railroad section hand and his wife was killed by a medical mistake.  Marlow’s cavalry finds a way to ford the river and flank the blocking Confederates while their attention is fixed on a direct charge across the bridge.  Marlowe takes a leg wound, which Kendall binds up.

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The Colonel lights the fuse and dashes across the bridge.

Marlowe has to blow up the bridge so Forrest can’t follow him so closely.  He is the last across the bridge and tells Hannah he loves her, taking her bandanna for a neckerchief.  He barely makes it across the bridge, leaving Kendall and Hannah tending the wounded and Kendall presumably bound for captivity in Andersonville prison in Georgia.  Marlowe and Kendall are to some degree reconciled, with some mutual respect at the end.

Director Ford does well in managing his large cast and the action in this film.  There are typical Fordian touches, such as the opening shots of a column of cavalry riding along railroad tracks against the sky and supposedly singing a Civil War song over the initial credits.  There are the low-angle shots of cavalry riders as they charge across the bridge.  The story is based on an actual historical incident from the Civil War:  Grierson’s Raid, from Legrange, Tennessee, in April 1863, led by Col. Benjamin Grierson.  Grierson was a music teacher who was afraid of horses because one kicked him in the head as a child.  Joining the Union army to fight slavery (he was a staunch abolitionist) he wanted infantry duty but was assigned to the cavalry by mistake.  He turned out to be good at it and stayed in the cavalry after the war, becoming the first Colonel of the 10th Cavalry (buffalo soldiers).  It’s unclear why the names are changed, but presumably it was to give the writers and director greater freedom to deviate from the real historical events.  There probably wasn’t much of a love story involved in the real raid, nor such animosity with the regimental doctor.

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John Ford directs Wayne and Towers in an intimate scene.

Overall, the film seems to take an anti-war stance.  The movie takes an interesting attitude toward southerners and their slaves.  It does not condone slavery, but it shows close relationships between owners and slaves, as with Hannah and Lukey.  It seems sympathetic to the Union side generally, but it does not shy away from showing nobility in southerners in a way that now seems slightly old-fashioned (the sheriff to whom Marlowe turns over the deserters, the military school headmaster and his charges, the courtliness of Forrest in offering medical assistance to Kendall at the end, for example).  In modern times, when there can be no cinematic tolerance at all for slavery, it could probably not be done this way, although arguments could be made that Ford’s approach is historically accurate or defensible.  The incident with the two Confederate deserters is reminiscent of several situations in Cold Mountain (2003).

This is one of Ford’s last movies and not, perhaps, among his very best, although it is still a very good western.  There are a host of Ford’s usual character actors, such as Strother Martin, Hank Worden and his son-in-law Ken Curtis in one of his better performances, but there is no Ben Johnson or Harry Carey, Jr.  1920s cowboy star Hoot Gibson shows up in a small role as a Union sergeant in his penultimate movie.  (His last appearance was as an uncredited deputy in Ocean’s Eleven.)  1950s African-American tennis star Althea Gibson appears as Lukey.  Judson Pratt is good as Marlowe’s hard-drinking Sergeant-Major Kirby, the sort of role in which Ford once would have cast Victor McLaglen.  This is one of three Civil War cavalry movies for William Holden, along with Escape from Fort Bravo (1953) and Alvarez Kelly (1966).  He was drinking heavily at the time and during production broke his arm falling off a bridge.

Strother Martin on working with John Ford:  “I did a tiny bit in The Horse Soldiers (1959) first, and that’s when I met him; and he liked me, I guess.  Ford said to somebody I knew, ‘I’ve got to get something else for that Stuffer.. Smucker… Stoofer… whatever the hell his name is,’ and he put me in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).”

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John Wayne and Hoot Gibson trading stories behind the scenes.

Constance Towers, who otherwise didn’t have much of a movie career, appears in one of her two Ford movies (along with Sergeant Rutledge), with her curiously 1920s-style looks.  Gen. U.S. Grant, appearing briefly at the start of the movie, is played by songwriter Stan Jones, who composed the movie’s featured song “I’ve Left My Love” which plays over the opening credits and elsewhere in the film and three years earlier had written “The Song Of The Searchers,” sung by the Sons Of The Pioneers over the titles of the The Searchers (1956).

Cinematography is in color by William Clothier.  The film was shot on location in Mississippi and Louisiana, giving it an authentic look.  Screenwriters were John Lee Mahin and Martin Rackin, based on a novel by Harold Sinclair.  The score is by David Buttolph, with the title song by Stan Jones.

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The film marked the beginning of mega-deals for Hollywood stars.  John Wayne and William Holden received $775,000 each, plus 20% of the overall profits, an unheard-of sum for that time.  The final contract involved six companies and numbered twice the pages of the movie’s script.  The movie was a financial failure, however, with no profits to be shared in the end.

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Fort Massacre

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 16, 2014

Fort Massacre—Joel McCrea, John Russell, Anthony Caruso, Denver Pyle, Forrest Tucker (1958; Dir:  Joseph M. Newman)

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This is a grim psychological cavalry western, with Joel McCrea as Sgt. Vinson of Company C in southwest New Mexico in 1879, a variant of the “lost patrol” story. 

At the start of the film, the captain and lieutenant of Company C have been killed by Apaches, and the decimated company is trying to get back to Fort Crane under the leadership of Sgt. Vinson.  Forrest Tucker is Pvt. McGurney, a particularly malcontent Irishman; Anthony Caruso is Pawnee, the patrol’s sardonic Indian scout.  Vinson is experienced but influenced by the death of his wife and son at the hands of Indians.  His men gripe and seem on the point of mutiny the entire film, but he forges ahead, attacking the Apaches twice with the resulting reduction in his own numbers. 

Only Pvt. Travis (John Russell) becomes something of a reluctant confidant for the embattled sergeant.  “Fort Massacre” is the name given by the men to the cliff dwelling where they take refuge, only to have a war party of Apaches show up.  In the end, Vinson is shot by the last of his own men, Pvt. Travis, when Vinson tries to shoot a couple of non-hostile Paiutes at the cliff dwelling. 

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In some ways this can be compared with They Came to Cordura, released about the same time.  It’s a cavalry movie with a revisionist view of the cavalry.  Joel McCrea being who he was, we keep waiting for him to reveal his good side, but it’s apparently not there in this movie.  In some ways, McCrea toward the end of his career seemed to be looking for roles that were more varied than he had tended to play for the previous decade. 

The movie is short at around 80 minutes; in color.  Filmed at three locations:  Gallup in New Mexico, Red Rock State Park, New Mexico, and Kanab, Utah.

For a couple of other variants of the mutinous patrol story from the late 1950s, see 7th Cavalry with Randolph Scott (1956) and They Came to Cordura with Gary Cooper (1959).

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Cheyenne Autumn

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 1, 2014

Cheyenne Autumn—Richard Widmark, Carroll Baker, Gilbert Roland, Ricardo Montalban, Dolores del Rio, Karl Malden, Edward G. Robinson, James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Sal Mineo, Ben Johnson, Patrick Wayne, John Carradine (1964; Dir:  John Ford)

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This is the self-consciously epic story of the Northern Cheyennes’ escape from Indian Territory back to their northern homeland in late 1878.  It’s unusual to see a John Ford movie with this level of pretentiousness—overture, entr’acte, etc. 

The Cheyennes, led by Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland) and war chief Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban), are slowly dying at their Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) agency run by ineffective Quakers.  When their attempts to get action from Washington fail, they depart in the middle of the night, heading 1500 miles northward.  Their Quaker schoolteacher Deborah Wright (Carroll Baker) goes with them, caring for their children. 

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Leaving Monument Valley:  Little Wolf (Ricardo Montalban), Tall Tree (Victor Jory) and Dull Knife (Gilbert Roland)

Once they cross the Canadian River marking the border of Indian Territory, they are in breach of their treaty and are pursued by cavalry led by sympathetic Capt. Thomas Archer (Richard Widmark).  Archer is also romantically interested in Wright, but there’s little apparent chemistry there.  Among the Indians are Spanish Woman (Dolores del Rio), Dull Knife’s wife, and his son Red Shirt (Sal Mineo), a hot-headed young warrior interested in Little Wolf’s younger wife, and elder Tall Tree (Victor Jory).  The troopers include Lt. Scott (Patrick Wayne, also headstrong in wanting to avenge his father’s death in the Fetterman Massacre) and Troopers Plumtree (Ben Johnson) and Smith (Harry Carey, Jr.), subject of a running joke when Archer can’t remember his name.  The Indians set a successful trap for the cavalry; Scott is wounded and the Cheyennes escape to the north. 

Rumors of savages on the loose inflame Dodge City, leading to a not-terribly-effective comic interlude featuring an overage Wyatt Earp (James Stewart) in a southern planter’s getup and a buffoonish Doc Holliday (Arthur Kennedy). 

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A too-old and extraneous Earp (James Stewart) and Doc Holliday (Arthur Kennedy)

After the interlude, the Indians are suffering terribly from hunger and exposure in the snow.  They split, with half following Dull Knife to seek food and shelter for the women and children at Fort Robinson in northwestern Nebraska.  The others, under Little Wolf, continue north.  At Fort Robinson, commanded by German Capt. Oskar Wessels (Karl Malden), the Cheyennes are imprisoned in a warehouse and denied food and warmth until they agree to head back to Indian Territory immediately. 

Archer heads to Washington, D.C., to try to help, and surprisingly encounters a sympathetic Secretary of the Interior in Carl Schurz (Edward G. Robinson).  They head west together by train.  Meanwhile, Dull Knife’s band breaks out of Fort Robinson, with about half of them apparently killed.  They make it to Victory Cave in the Black Hills, where they reunite with Little Wolf.  When Schurz and Archer find them there, they’re about to be fired on by the local cavalry until Schurz brokers a deal that will let them stay in the north.  Archer and Wright apparently marry and adopt a Cheyenne girl hurt during the exodus.  Little Wolf kills Red Shirt.  Life goes on.

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Capt. Archer (Richard Widmark) and Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz (Edward G. Robinson).

This is Ford’s last film, but not one of his best.  There’s a patronizing tone not unexpected in the 1960s, and the mix of pathos and sentimentality is not in good balance.  Desolate Indian Territory looks surprisingly like the Monument Valley or Arches National Park (Moah, Utah), as does everything between there and their northern homeland.  The Earp-Dodge City interlude is just plain awful.  Sal Mineo doesn’t look much like a Cheyenne; Roland, Del Rio and Montalban (all of Mexican ancestry) are quite noble and effective.  Most of the actual Indians are the Navajos Ford frequently used on his films, not Cheyennes.  Cinematography is by William Clothier, music by Alex North.  Based on the Mari Sandoz book.  Long for its time, at 154 minutes.

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The real Little Wolf and Dull Knife; the photograph was taken in Washington, D.C., in 1873.  The Northern Cheyennes were finally given a reservation adjacent to their long-time enemies the Crows in southeastern Wyoming, on the Little Bighorn, where Little Wolf died in 1904.  Dull Knife ended up (by choice) on the Pine Ridge Sioux reservation in South Dakota, where many of his descendants still live.  The real story of the Northern Cheyennes trying to flee the army northward is one of the more heart-wrenching of Indian history.  If you’re interested in the real story, start with Dee Brown’s chapter in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (good writing but not unbiased and now more than 40 years old), and then go on to one of the more extended (and balanced) accounts of recent years.  This movie has its roots in the story, but is not as affecting.

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