Tag Archives: Civil War Aftermath

The Man From Colorado

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 8, 2014

The Man from Colorado—Glenn Ford, William Holden, Ellen Drew, Edgar Buchanan, James Millican, Ray Collins (1948; Dir: Henry Levin)


In 1865, a unit of Union volunteer cavalry led by Col. Owen Devereaux (Glenn Ford), a former lawyer, has 100 Confederates trapped at the mouth of a canyon in Colorado.  The southerners try to surrender with a white flag; the only man on the Union side who can see it with binoculars is Devereaux, and he gives the order to his artillery to fire anyway, killing all of them.  Later that day, the cavalry gets the news of Lee’s surrender, meaning the war is over and that day’s killing was unnecessary twice over.  Devereaux confides to his diary that he likes killing and wonders about his own sanity.

The men of the newly-demobilized unit are received back home in Glory Hill as heroes, except for Sgt. Jericho Howard (James Millican), who’s under arrest for celebrating too much.  He escapes and becomes an outlaw.  Devereaux is asked by Big Ed Carter (Ray Collins), a big mine owner, to become the local federal judge; he asks his best friend, Capt. Del Stewart, to be the federal marshal.  Stewart, who is starting to see signs that Devereaux might not be completely balanced, accepts with the proviso that Devereaux must put down his own gun and stick to interpreting the law.  Meanwhile, Devereaux and Stewart are rivals for the affections of Caroline Emmet (Ellen Drew); she decides she’ll marry Devereaux.


Stewart (William Holden) is sworn in as marshal by Devereaux (Glenn Ford).

Devereaux’s first big case concerns his own veterans.  Miners before volunteering, they have returned to their claims to find that Big Ed Carter and the Great Star Mining Co. say they own them now.  In court, it appears to be a matter of miner’s law (in effect before the war) against federal law, now that Colorado is a federal territory, which says that if a claim hasn’t been worked for three years then it is no longer good.  Over Stewart’s objections, Devereaux decides for Great Star and against his veterans, and most of them have no choice but to work for Carter and Great Star for $60 a month.

Meanwhile, outlaw Jericho Howard steals from Carter.  Stewart assembles a posse to give chase, and Devereaux joins it.  When Howard’s sidekick (one of Devereaux’s veterans) is captured, Devereaux gives him a trial on the spot and hangs him while Stewart is chasing Howard.  More men join Howard, and he robs Carter’s safe of $30,000, killing a mine employee in the process.

Dubious evidence implicates Jericho’s younger brother Johnny Howard and five others.  Stewart pursues Jericho and persuades him to come in to save his brother, but they arrive to find that Devereaux has summarily hanged Johnny and plans to hang the five others.  Even Caroline is horrified.  Carter reacts by firing all the Union veterans for fear they’ll help Jericho.  Stewart resigns as marshal.  Even Big Ed Carter worries about the near-civil war Devereaux’s decisions and behavior have created.


Caroline (Ellen Drew) helps Stewart (William Holden) escape from Devereaux’s clutches.

As Devereaux proceeds with the hanging, Jericho Howard’s outlaws arrive and rescue the five, led by Del Stewart.  Devereaux lures Stewart into a trap by getting news to him that Caroline needs help.  But Caroline gets Devereaux’s diary and convinces Doc Merriam (Edgar Buchanan) that Devereaux is unbalanced and they need to get word to the governor in Denver.  Caroline and Doc are helping Stewart escape from jail, when Devereaux arrives, wounding Stewart and blockading the mining camp where the three flee.

The camp all sympathizes with Jericho, Stewart and the veterans.  Devereaux sets fire to the camp and as it burns he sees and goes after Stewart.  As he does, Jericho Howard grapples with him, and a burning building collapses onto Devereaux and Jericho, rendering Devereaux’s removal as judge moot.  He has been removed in a more final sense.


The increasingly psychotic Devereaux in the flaming mining camp.

Glenn Ford, with longish hair and silver brushed into his sideburns, is convincing as the more-and-more unhinged Devereaux.  Stewart is more straightforward, except for his continuing affection for another man’s wife.  Ellen Drew is the weak point in the cast, kind of a low-rent Maureen O’Hara.  Her character’s motivation is not well-developed; initially she looks like she’s just going for the flashier character with higher social status.  A more modern look would probably present Devereaux’s psychosis more as a form of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), rather than irrational megalomania and an uncontrollable fondness for killing.  James Miilican is particularly good as the new outlaw Jericho Howard.

The title is a bit ambiguous, since both the protagonists are from Colorado, but presumably the title refers to Devereaux, who drives most of the action.  Shot at the Ray Corrigan ranch in Simi Valley in southern California. In color, at 100 minutes.


Dick Powell visits with stars William Holden and Glenn Ford during filming of The Man From Colorado.

For another film involving a western commander unhinged by the Civil War, see Robert Preston as Col. Marston in Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier (1955), with Victor Mature.  For another early Glenn Ford western, see him with Randolph Scott in The Desperadoes (1943).  He and Holden had previously starred in Texas, 1941.  Ford’s post-World War II career began taking off a couple of years earlier than this film with Gilda (1946) and other films noir, but his mix always seemed to include westerns, the best of which was probably the original 3:10 to Yuma (1957).  William Holden had been in movies for about ten years (see 1940’s Arizona, for example) and was a couple of years away from his big breakthroughs in Sunset Boulevard and Born Yesterday (both in 1950).  His Oscar as Best Actor came in Stalag 17 (1953).  But he continued to make westerns as well; he’s very good, for example, in Escape from Fort Bravo (1953), directed by John Sturges.  The casting of The Man From Colorado now looks very smart. These guys became big stars.

Historical note:  The only Confederates vs. Yankees battle out west during the Civil War took place at Glorieta Pass in northern New Mexico Territory in March 1862, early in the war.  The Sand Creek Massacre against Black Kettle’s Southern Cheyennes was perpetrated by Colorado volunteers under Col. John Chivington in Nov. 1864, about 40 miles from Fort Lyon in Colorado Territory.  So the action depicted at the start of the movie appears to be entirely fictional.

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Gun Fury

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 30, 2014

Gun Fury—Rock Hudson, Donna Reed, Philip Carey, Leo Gordon, Pat Hogan, Roberta Haynes, Lee Marvin, Neville Brand (1953; Dir: Raoul Walsh)


Three of the principal characters in this western from the early 1950s are still wallowing in the aftermath of the Civil War. Ben Warren (Rock Hudson in an early starring role) fought for the Union, has had more than enough killing and now wants only to marry his fiancée Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) and live on his large California ranch.  He doesn’t even wear a gun any more.  Jennifer is from Atlanta and is anxious to start a new life where the the desolation of Sherman’s March is not remembered.  And Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) is an embittered former Confederate, now an outlaw in the southwest.

As the film starts, Jennifer is on a stage carrying a large amount of gold and two former Southern gentlemen, along with a cavalry escort.  They stop in Haynesville, Arizona Territory, where Jennifer is meeting her future husband Ben.  He joins the stage passengers, and after it takes off Ben and Jennifer discover that the two Southerners are the noted outlaws Frank Slayton and Jess Burgess (Leo Gordon), and their new cavalry escort are Slayton’s men.  They rob the stage and think they’ve killed Warren, and Slayton abducts Jennifer, for whom he has developed a fascination.


Strangers on a stagecoach:  Slayton (Phil Carey), Burgess (Leo Gordon), Warren (Rock Hudson), Ballard (Donna Reed), and a real stranger.

Slayton and Burgess have a falling out over the abduction, and Slayton leaves Burgess tied to a corral post for the buzzards.  Meanwhile, Warren discovers he isn’t really dead and takes one of the stagecoach horses in pursuit.  He releases Burgess, and they join forces to pursue Slayton for vengeance and to rescue Jennifer.  They are joined by an Indian Johash (Pat Hogan), whose sister was also taken by Slayton’s men in an earlier raid on Taos.


Frank Slayton (Phil Carey) leaves Jess Burgess (Leo Gordon) to die.

As Slayton and his men get closer to the Mexican border, Burgess and Warren find a couple of his men buying supplies in a town and kill one of them.  Now Slayton knows they are following.  He stops by a village notable for its cantina and Mexican ladies of easy virtue, where Slayton has a girl Estella Morales (Roberta Haynes).  He has Jennifer cleaned up and has his way with her, although the camera doesn’t show that very explicitly.  Estella is enraged at being abandoned so casually.  Slayton makes a deal with Warren and Burgess: he’ll trade Jennifer back to Warren in exchange for Burgess.  Although Warren isn’t minded to make that trade, not trusting Slayton in the slightest, Burgess insists he can take Slayton.  It doesn’t work, and Burgess is killed.

Now it’s Warren and Johash against Slayton and the remainder of his band of outlaws.  Estella tries to get Slayton and is killed for her pains.  It comes finally, as we knew it would, to former pacifist Warren and the ruthless outlaw Slayton.  Just when it looks like Slayton has the advantage, it turns out he has forgotten Johash, and Slayton ends with a knife in his back.  Warren and Jennifer ride off to their California ranch.


Jennifer Ballard (Donna Reed) is fit to be tied; Ben Warren (Rock Hudson) seeks vengeance.

This is one of three movies from 1953 in which director Raoul Walsh used his new discovery Rock Hudson. (The Lawless Breed and Sea Devils are the other two.)  None of them are particularly memorable.  Like Hondo, this film was made in the 3-D process that was all the rage that year, and the camerawork, especially in the second half, shows the usual evidence of that in the angles of thrown objects, striking rattlesnakes and such.  Carey as the sociopathic outlaw Slayton and Leo Gordon as the vengeful Jess Burgess give the best performances in the cast.  Leo Gordon was just breaking into movies, the same year that he played Ed Lowe (Geraldine Page’s despicable husband, shot by John Wayne) in Hondo.

Donna Reed is beautiful but nothing special as Jennifer (she’s more notable in Hangman’s Knot and Backlash later in the decade, for example), and Rock Hudson was never a dazzling actor, but he was more wooden here than he would be later in his career.  Lee Marvin and Neville Brand have early roles as members of Slayton’s gang, but they have neither enough lines nor enough camera time to distinguish themselves here.  Roberta Haynes is modestly interesting in a limited role as Mexican spitfire Estella, but one does feel that actual Mexican Katy Jurado could have done it better, and that the smoldering Linda Darnell did do it better in My Darling Clementine.


The script by Irving Wallace and Roy Huggins is fine, based on Kathleen George’s novel Ten Against Caesar.  Warren has interesting exchanges with lawmen and townsfolk of the small towns he and Burgess go through in their pursuit, as he tries without success to get some help.  The title of the movie doesn’t mean anything in particular, which was common enough with westerns of that era.  One does expect better camera work from the experienced director Walsh; camera placement and angles here often telegraph what’s coming.  The one-eyed Walsh could not himself see the 3-D results of his work, but he had done better westerns—Colorado Territory, for example.  Shot on location in Sedona, Arizona.  83 minutes.

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The Outriders

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 13, 2014

The Outriders—Joel McCrea, Arlene Dahl, Barry Sullivan, James Whitmore, Ramon Navarro, Claude Jarman, Jr., Jeff Corey, Ted de Corsia (1950; Dir:  Roy Rowland)


A good cast in a better-than-average Civil War-era wagon train-with-gold western (e.g., Virginia City, Westbound).  Will Owen (Joel McCrea), Jesse Wallace (Barry Sullivan) and Clint Priest (James Whitmore) are the outriders of the title.  At the start, they are Confederates held as prisoners by Yankees in Missouri.  They escape, only to be caught by Keeley (Jeff Corey), a Quantrill affiliate whose dirty exterior and expressionist makeup advertise his moral dubiousness.  Keeley.forces the three, since Owen is the only one in the band who knows the Santa Fe Trail, to go to Santa Fe, where they are to join a wagon train to St. Louis laden with Yankee gold.  It is led by Don Antonio Chaves (silent film star Ramon Novarro), who politely refuses their offer to accompany his train.  He does have a stagecoach carrying war widow Jen Gort (Arlene Dahl) and her youthful brother-in-law Roy Gort (Claude Jarman, Jr.) to St. Louis. 

Keeping their distance initially, Owen, Wallace and Priest shadow the train until they are able to rescue it from attack by Apaches; then Chaves welcomes them.  Owen becomes the trail guide and honcho, all the while planning to leave the train to be attacked by Keeley once they reach Cow Creek in Missouri.  Aside from the usual wagon train complications (storms, horse stampedes, yet more Indians, fording a raging river, near mutiny by the drovers), Owen and Wallace both develop a romantic interest in Jen Gort; Owen’s misgivings about his deception deepen.  While fording a swollen river, young Roy Gort is drowned.


Widow Jen Gort (Arlene Dahl) and her young brother-in-law Roy (Claude Jarman, Jr.).

As they near the attack point in Missouri, Owen gets the news that the war is over.  Wallace doesn’t care, and presumably neither does Keeley.  They just want the gold whether the war is over or not.  Owen leads the defense against the now-outlaws, his former colleagues.  Wallace escapes the train to join the raiders, both Keeley and Chaves are killed in the early moments of the attack, and Owen’s military tactics start to turn things in favor of the train until his final confrontation with Wallace.  And he and Jen ride off into the sunset together.

This is a watchable film, although not much seen these days.  The print I saw (on Encore Westerns) was serviceable but not great.  At this point McCrea is in the final stage of his career, appearing solely in westerns.  But he’s good, if getting to be a little long in the tooth, here.  He’s been a star for almost twenty years but still has more than a decade to go in movies.

OutridersMcCreaFrancis OutridersGrp3

Still of Joel McCrea and Arlene Dahl; McCrea, James Whitmore and Barry Sullivan shadowing the wagon train.

With the possible exception of the beautiful Arlene Dahl, the cast is excellent, although Whitmore is mostly obscured by a wig and false beard.  Novarro, once one of the biggest stars in silent films, is very good, playing Chaves with depth and smoothness.  Perennial villain Ted de Corsia is one of Keeley’s henchmen.  In a career of minor supporting roles, Jeff Corey would show up eighteen years later in both Butch Cassidy (as a friendly sheriff) and the original True Grit (as Tom Cheney, the killer of Mattie Ross’s father).  Claude Jarman, Jr., now remembered exclusively (if at all) for The Yearling, managed about this time to appear with all three of the major western film stars:  with John Wayne (Rio Grande), Joel McCrea (The Outriders) and Randolph Scott (Hangman’s Knot, another good Confederates-at-the-end-of-the-Civil War western) before his career fizzled.  Of the three, Randolph Scott was the biggest box office star in 1950.  In fact, he was the biggest male box office star in Hollywood that year.  In color, just over 90 minutes.

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Nicholas Chennault ~ March 24, 2014

Dallas—Gary Cooper, Ruth Roman, Raymond Massey, Leif Erickson, Steve Cochran (1950; Dir:  Stuart Heisler)


Clunky writing and unduly lurid names mar this otherwise ambitious effort.  In color and with Gary Cooper, this obviously had a good budget for a western in 1950.  It starts with a cameo appearance by Bill Hickok (Reed Hadley) as a marshal in Springfield, Missouri, who helps Blayde Hollister (Gary Cooper—see about the florid names?) stage his own death so that he won’t be followed by “wanted” posters in trying find the nefarious Marlow brothers. 

U.S. Marshal Martin Weatherby:  “But Marshal! This – this outlaw; if you don’t arrest him, I shall!”

Wild Bill Hickok:  “Outlaw?  Let me tell you something, son.  This ain’t Boston.  We had a war down here and you’ll find men in high offices who are thieves and cutthroats.  You’ll find others who are branded outlaws that are only fighting for what’s their own.  There’s those known as bad men and those as are bad men.  You better learn to tell the difference!”


Hollister, Weatherby and Hickok:  Instructing the inexperienced marshal.

Hollister is an unreconstructed Civil War veteran hunting evildoers who burned his place and slaughtered his family in Georgia during the war.  He befriends Martin Weatherby (Leif Erickson), an apparently incompetent U.S. marshal from Boston.  Weatherby’s on his way to Dallas to aid the family of his fiancée, Tonia Robles (Ruth Roman), and Hollister persuades him to change places, since Weatherby is not only inappropriately dressed but incompetent with a gun. 

Raymond Massey is the oldest and chief of the nefarious Marlow brothers, William, Cullen and Bryant.  Bryant (Steve Cochran) wears a Union kepi and two guns on two belts; he’s the most obvious and open gunman among the Marlow brothers.  William is apparently a respectable businessman, while actually being the mastermind of the Marlow operations.  Hollister kills Cullen soon after arriving in Dallas, and the question is how he’ll get the other two brothers. 

Tonia Robles:  “Do you know what Texas means?  It’s an Indian word for friends.  It’s a big land with room for everyone.  And you could be a part of it in time.”


The Marlows temporarily capture Hollister, and he shoots it out with Bryant.  Bryant tells him it was William who lit the fires in Georgia.  As Hollister heads for town to get William, the oldest Marlow brother gets out on the other side of town while Hollister’s real identity is revealed by one of his former men.  He pursues William toward Fort Worth, where William has been successful in arranging for a posse to capture the infamous Reb Hollister.  William heads back to Dallas to extort as much as he can from the Robles family before he departs for good.

Hollister escapes from jail with the posse in hot pursuit, heading for Dallas, where Tonia’s father Don Felipe has been trying to raise money.  He enters the Robles house disguised as the father, taking out William’s accomplices and getting into an extended gunfight with William.  Meanwhile the posse follows and runs into the rest of Marlow’s men, who are captured.  Of course Hollister wins the fight with William, who is turned over to the authorities.  Weatherby has meanwhile arranged for a full pardon for Hollister, and Tonia has fallen for Hollister as well.  Weatherby goes off to build a railroad.


This is watchable but not terribly memorable.  This formulaic stuff is what Gary Cooper’s career in westerns had come to before High Noon; it had a big enough budget but isn’t remotely among his best stuff.  He’s watchable but not particularly believable.  Ruth Roman may be the best thing in this movie.  (See her in The Far Country; she’s good in that, too.)  It has some modestly comic touches, many of which are intentional.

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Dodge City

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 7, 2013

Dodge City—Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Alan Hale, Bruce Cabot, Ann Sheridan, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Victor Jory (1939; Dir: Michael Curtiz)

Movie stars didn’t get much bigger than the team of Flynn and De Havilland in 1939.  Although this was the fifth of nine Warner Brothers movies they made together, it was also their first and perhaps best western.  It obviously had a big budget, being filmed in Technicolor at a time when most movies, and certainly most westerns, weren’t.  (For purposes of comparison, the other big color movies that year were Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz—pretty heady company.)  The director, the Hungarian Michael Curtiz, had been responsible for Flynn and De Havilland’s most successful movies, such as The Adventures of Robin Hood (also in color the previous year) and, of course, Flynn’s earlier breakthrough, Captain Blood.


Flynn is Wade Hatton, and the movie explains his accent by saying that he’s an Irishman with wanderlust and a background in the English military in India.  He fought in the Civil War for the South, and as the movie starts he and pals Rusty Hart (Alan Hale) and Tex Baird (Guinn Williams) are finishing a stint as buffalo hunters for the railroad that has just been completed to Dodge City.  After a run-in with Jeff Surrett (a young Bruce Cabot), they return to Texas while Dodge City itself falls into chaos and lawlessness, under the corrupt domination of saloon owner Surrett.  (His saloon is called The Gay Lady, and features Ann Sheridan in a modest role as his presumably eponymous headliner.)  Interestingly enough, the bad guys are Yankees, and the good guys are southerners, a reversal of the usual situation in westernsalthough there have always been some exceptions.

dodgecityFacingDown Facing down bad guys.

A bit later, Hatton is the honcho for a trail herd coming up from Texas to Dodge City along the Chisholm Trail.  Coming along are Abbie Irving (Olivia de Havilland) and her neer-do-well brother, whose parents have died.  The brother is a drunk who is killed when his constant careless shooting causes a stampede, and Abbie blames Hatton for his death.  Obviously, that relationship will be repaired by the end of the movie.  After (a) Surrett is clearly responsible for the death of a competing buyer for Hatton’s cattle, and (b) out-of-control gunfire results in the death of a boy on a Sunday School outing, Hatton agrees to clean up the town and make it safe for decent people, women and the Pure Prairie League.  Abbie goes to work for Joe Clemens (the name an obvious homage to Mark Twain); Clemens is the crusading anti-Surrett newspaper editor of the Dodge City Star (Frank McHugh), the sort of part you can easily see Thomas Mitchell playing if he hadn’t been busy getting his Best Supporting Actor Oscar for being Doc Boone in Stagecoach that year.  McHugh is fine, though, until he is whipped and then killed by vile Surrett henchman Yancey (the reptilian Victor Jory).  Ward Bond shows up in an early (and brief) role as Yancey’s unconvincing alibi.  (See him also in a fleeting role in the same year’s Frontier Marshal.) 

When Hatton and Abbie get the goods on Yancey and Surrett for Clemens’ death, the climax of the movie is a shootout on a burning train.  Ultimately, of course, Hatton, Rusty and Tex kill Surrett and his minions in the shootout, saving everybody a lengthy and uncertain trial.  The end of this movie sets up the next western for Flynn and De Havilland, with Col. Grenville Dodge asking Hatton to spend his honeymoon cleaning up the mining town Virginia City which is, if anything, in worse shape than Dodge City had been.


De Havilland with Flynn as sheriff (smaller hat, baby blue tie).

Hatton’s initial wide-brimmed hat in this movie is unusual.  Note how he changes hats to one with a smaller brim (along with changing all his other attire) when he becomes sheriff.  The baby-blue string tie is a stretch; it probably should have been black.  Flynn, especially the younger Flynn, is always watchable, but some don’t find him very convincing in westerns.  De Havilland makes a lively western female lead and has her usual good chemistry with Flynn on screen.  The accounts say that she had a miserable time making the movie, and would have preferred the Ann Sheridan dance hall floozy role, even though Sheridan didn’t actually have much to do.  Of course, this film hasn’t much to do with the real history of cleaning up Dodge City. 

Written by the young Robert Buckner, who also wrote Virginia City and Santa Fe Trail (both Flynn western vehicles), as well as Jezebel, The Oklahoma Kid, Knute Rockne, All-American, Yankee Doodle Dandy and The Desert SongVirginia City, the follow-on, when it gets made, is not an actual sequel and has Miriam Hopkins instead of Olivia de Havilland as Flynn’s romantic interest.

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