Tag Archives: Jeff Chandler

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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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-Confedrates 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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Broken Arrow

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 18, 2014

Broken Arrow—James Stewart, Jeff Chandler, Debra Paget, Basil Ruysdael, Will Geer, Arthur Hunnicutt, Jay Silverheels (1950; Dir: Delmer Daves)

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In 1870, former Union soldier and scout Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) is a prospector in Arizona Territory, where Cochise’s Apaches have been at war with the Americans for ten years.  Jeffords gives a wounded Apache boy medical attention, and is spared by Geronimo when he attacks another band of prospectors.  In Tucson, Jeffords is asked to scout for Col. Bernall against the Apaches and declines, tired of war and fighting.  He makes a bet that he can get five mail riders through Apache Territory and spends a month learning Apache language and culture.  He is supported by his friend Milt Duffield (Arthur Hunnicutt), who manages the mail and offers to be the first rider.

Juan, Jeffords’ teacher in Apache ways, speaking of Cochise:  “Remember this: if you see him, do not lie to him… not in the smallest thing.  His eyes will see into your heart.  He is greater than other men.”

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Not even Tom Jeffords (James Stewart) is safe in Apache Country.

Jeffords makes a trip to Cochise’s stronghold to ask for the chief (Jeff Chandler, in one of his signature roles) to let the mail riders through, promising that they will carry no military information.   After getting to know Jeffords, he accedes to the request.  Meanwhile, Jeffords meets Apache maiden Sonseeahray (Debra Paget, everybody’s favorite 1950s Indian maiden).

One-armed Gen. Oliver O. Howard (Basil Ruysdael) comes west and joins Col. Bernall on a raid into Apache territory.  Bernall rushes into an Apache ambush and his column is all but wiped out by Cochise’s forces.

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Jeff Chandler as the wise and powerful Cochise.

Back in Tucson, Jeffords gets into fights with Indian haters, particularly with Ben Slade (Will Geer), whose ranch was burned by Apaches with his wife still in the ranch house.  As Jeffords is about to be lynched, he is rescued by Gen. Howard.  Although Jeffords is suspicious at first, Howard explains that, motivated by his Biblical beliefs, he wants to make peace with the Apaches, and he wants Jeffords to set up a meeting with Cochise.

Jeffords goes to Cochise, who calls in other Apache leaders for the conference with Howard. Meanwhile, Jeffords marries Sonseeahray. The Apache leaders vote for a provisional peace with a three-month trial period and Cochise symbolically breaks an arrow, but Geronimo (an uncredited Jay Silverheels) leads a dissenting Apache faction that will continue to raid. During the trial period, Geronimo attacks a stage, but Jeffords leads Cochise’s men in a rescue. Ben Slade’s son leads Jeffords and Cochise into a trap to kill him; Jeffords is wounded and Sonseeahray is killed, as are Slade and his son. Cochise remains committed to the peace, and it endures—for now.

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Jeffords (Stewart) and the young Apache maiden (Debra Paget).

Cochise to Jeffords: “As I bear the murder of my people, so you will bear the murder of your wife.”

Tom Jeffords (closing narration):  “His words meant very little to me then, but as time passed, I came to know that the death of Sonseeahray had put a seal upon the peace.  And from that day on wherever I went—in the cities, among the Apaches, in the mountains—I always remembered my wife was with me.”

The film was a breakthrough in its time because it depicted Indians in a sympathetic light.  Director Delmer Daves had a background as an anthropology student, and some scenes of Apache ceremonies and beliefs have an interesting anthropological bent.  In the 65 years since its release, however, it has sometimes been criticized because some of the Indian roles, including Cochise and Sonseeahray, are played by white actors.  Jeff Chandler as Cochise is the ultimate noble savage, depicted as a far-sighted civil leader and a great military mind.  He received an Oscar nomination for the Best Supporting Actor for his work here.  Daves went on to create several more excellent westerns during the 1950s.

This film was the forerunner of such Indian-sympathetic films as A Man Called Horse (1970), Little Big Man (1970) and Dances With Wolves (1990).  It’s not perfect; it can seem a little stiff and politically correct for modern times, but it still makes good watching.  And mostly it’s historically accurate, as it claims in the opening narration, describing a peace reached in 1872.  That peace lasted only until 1875, when the Apaches were forced onto a reservation. Cochise died in 1874, still friends with Jeffords.

The Apache wedding words pronounced over Sonseeahray and Jeffords, often used since in many weddings of whites, are not authentic in the sense that they are not part of a traditional Apache ceremony.  They were written for this film.

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The movie was shot in 1949 but released in 1950, after Stewart’s first western with Anthony Mann, Winchester ’73.  Both were very successful.  Stewart at 41 is 26 years older than Debra Paget, who was 15 when filming began.  Based on Elliott Arnold’s novel Blood Brother, Albert Maltz wrote the screenplay but was blacklisted as one of the Hollywood 10, and the screenwriting credit is given to Michael Blankfort as a front for Maltz.  Music is by Hugo Friedhofer.  Shot in Technicolor (but not widescreen) in Sedona, Arizona.  93 minutes.

The movie’s world premiere was held in the Nusho Theater in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  Jeff Chandler and Jay Silverheels would reprise their roles as Cochise and Geronimo in The Battle of Apache Pass (1952), a sort of prequel to this film.  Another western classic depicting Cochise as a gifted military leader is John Ford’s Fort Apache (1948).

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The Jayhawkers!

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 23, 2014

The Jayhawkers—Fess Parker, Jeff Chandler, Nicole Maurey, Henry Silva, Leo Gordon (1959; Dir: Melvin Frank)

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Yes, this was initially one of those westerns with a title ending with an exclamation point (!).  No, it’s not a particularly good sign here, either.

Fess Parker spent the middle years of the 1950s as the most celebrated frontiersman in the American media:  Davy Crockett on a series of Disney television specials, some of which were also released as movies.  He inspired a craze for ersatz coonskin caps and other Crockett regalia and toys among children in the U.S.  In the 1960s he would go one to great success as Daniel Boone, also on television.  Handsome, silver-haired Jeff Chandler.spent most of the 1950s as a leading man in movies, including a number of westerns, either as the noble Apache chief Cochise (Broken Arrow, The Battle of Apache Pass), an Alaska gold miner (Roy Glennister in 1955’s The Spoilers), or a cavalry officer (The Great Sioux Uprising, Two Flags West, War Arrow, Drango).  Two years after the release of The Jayhawkers! Chandler would be dead at the age of 42.  Now it might seem strange to see Fess Parker as the good guy and Chandler as the villain, but Fess Parker was a big name in westerns in the 1950s.

Here Parker plays Cam Bleeker, a former Missouri raider who breaks out of a federal prison and makes his way back to his farm in Kansas.  It is just before the Civil War, when raids and counter-raids back and forth across the Missouri-Kansas border gave the area the nickname “Bleeding Kansas.”  Bleeker finds his farm, but not his wife, who has died while he was imprisoned. Collapsing from wounds received during his escape, he is nursed back to health by Jeanne Dubois (Nicole Maurey), a French (!) widow with two small children, who now owns the farm.  While recuperating, he bonds with the family and learns about how his deceased wife ran off with another guerilla leader, who then abandoned her.  Left to survive however she might, she took to alcohol and other forms of degradation and died of pneumonia.

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Jeanne Dubois (Nicole Maurey) nurses an escaped convict back to health.

The military governor of Kansas recaptures Bleeker and makes him an offer.  Prominent among those with their own agendas for Kansas is Luke Darcy (Jeff Chandler), who has his own quasi-army of Jayhawkers and wants to set up his own republic of Kansas.  If Bleeker will go undercover, join Darcy and deliver him alive to the governor, Bleeker will have his own freedom.  Bleeker further learns that Darcy is the man who had debauched his dead wife.

Bleeker gains access to Darcy by saving Jake (Leo Gordon), one of Darcy’s men, from hanging.    Darcy is not a trusting man, and his gunslinger Lordan (Henry Silva) has suspicions, too.   Meanwhile, Bleeker works his way up in Darcy’s forces, reading from his small library and debating principles with Darcy.  Lordan goes back to Bleeker’s farm near Knight’s Crossing, meets Jeanne, attacks her and learns the some of the truth about Bleeker’s motivations.   He then makes arrangements for the local sheriff and a posse to find Bleeker during a brief visit there.

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Lordan (Henry Silva) assaults Jeanne but doesn’t have time to finish.

Bleeker continues to have his ups and downs within Darcy’s organization; when Lordan presents his evidence, there is a shootout, ending with Jake dead and Lordan fleeing.  Darcy leads a raid on Knight’s Crossing, in which Jeanne’s daughter is trampled by a horse, and Bleeker insists on taking her to a doctor in Abilene.  While in Abilene, Bleeker learns that there will be an unusually large cattle sale there, with more than half a million dollars coming in on the train.  He organizes a raid and a trap for Darcy.

Now in favor again with Darcy, Bleeker is to plan and lead the raid on Abilene.  Jeanne, staying in Abilene with her daughter, goes to Topeka to coordinate the trap with the governor.  Lordan sees her there and is suspicious.  Bleeker smuggles guns into Abilene in hay wagons, and Darcy’s men enter the town by twos and threes.  As the train arrives, so does Lordan, and he exposes Bleeker’s plan to Darcy.  Bleeker and Darcy fight it out in a saloon while the trap closes.  Finally Bleeker takes down Darcy, who will be hung.  Rather than let him hang, Bleeker shoots Darcy and therefore can’t deliver him to the governor alive, as promised.  The governor nevertheless pardons him, and he goes back to the farm with Jeanne.

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Bleeker (Fess Parker) and Darcy (Jeff Chandler) finally have it out in a bar in Abilene.

The story depends on the attractiveness of Darcy, and Chandler plays him well.  But Darcy is not written very consistently, and although Bleeker is sometimes taken with him and his big ideas, we are not so fond of him.  His views on women seem very unenlightened in our feminist age, and they must have been at least somewhat offensive in the 1950s.  There seems to be no reason for Jeanne to be French in frontier Kansas, and Nicole Maurey wasn’t well known enough to make her much of a draw.  She joins several more notable French women in westerns:  Denise Darcel in Westward the Women and Vera Cruz, Capucine in North to Alaska, and Jeanne Moreau in Monte Walsh.  This is watchable but not all that memorable, and the inconsistencies in tone and story can be frustrating.  The movie is not often seen these days.

Henry Silva had a good run as a persuasive villain in several good westerns in the 1950s.  Look for him in The Tall T with Randolph Scott and Richard Boone, The Law and Jake Wade with Robert Taylor and Richard Widmark, in The Bravados with Gregory Peck, and Ride a Crooked Trail with Audie Murphy.

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Perhaps the best element of the movie is the score by Jerome Moross, who had also done the music for The Big Country.  If the theme sounds familiar, it was later reworked by Moross as the theme for the television program Wagon Train.  If the terrain doesn’t remind you much of Kansas, that’s because it was filmed in southern California.  The excellent color cinematography is by Loyal Griggs, who did Shane.  Available on DVD since 2012.

For more Fess Parker on film, see him in Disney’s Old Yeller (1957), with Dorothy McGuire.

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The Spoilers (1955)

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 28, 2014

The Spoilers—Jeff Chandler, Anne Baxter, Rory Calhoun, John McIntire, Ray Danton, Barbara Britton (1955; Dir: Jesse Hibbs)

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This is the fifth and most recent version of Rex Beach’s oft-filmed novel of claim-jumping, fraud and larceny in the Alaska gold rush of 1899.  Like some of the other frequently re-made stories from the earlier years of the movies (The Virginian, Whispering Smith), this one hasn’t been done again in 60 years, as tastes in stories and forms of entertainment have changed.  This story and various of its elements (the culminating fight scene, the female saloon owner in love with the good guy, the shared mine ownership, the con-man claim-jumping mastermind) obviously influenced better Alaska gold rush movies such as 1954’s The Far Country and 1960’s North to Alaska.  The 1930 version of the story with Gary Cooper is apparently lost; the 1942 version with John Wayne and Randolph Scott is generally thought to be the best, especially its climactic fight scene.  This one is watchable but not exceptional.

As the movie opens, the arrival of Roy Glennister (Jeff Chandler) and his partner Dextry (John McIntire) on the boat from Seattle is anticipated by his girlfriend, saloon owner and dance-hall girl Cherry Malotte (Anne Baxter).  There have been a number of claim-jumping incidents recently, and nobody knows where the new gold commissioner Alexander McNamara (Rory Calhoun) will come out on these things.  When the steamer arrives, Cherry is chagrined to find that Glennister has apparently been keeping company with the new federal judge’s attractive young niece, and she and Glennister have an explosive break-up.  Concern over claim-jumping dies down as the new judge generally seems to find for the original claimants.  But when Glennister and Dextry are served with a warrant about a competing claimant, we start to see that McNamara is crooked and has hired a fake federal judge.  He intends to take Glennister and Dextry’s existing $80,000 in gold and take another $250,000 from their claim while they wait for their case to be heard.  It never will be.

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Cherry Malotte (Anne Baxter) gets to know Alexander MacNamara (Rory Calhoun); Dextry (John McIntire) and Glennister (Jeff Chandler) defend their mining claim.

Originally Glennister takes a more law-abiding view than Dextry, but at this point he sees that things are crooked and stacked against them.  They try to take the gold from their sequestered safe, and the marshal is killed in the process—shot in the back by Cherry’s dealer Blackie (Ray Danton, who had a short-lived but memorable career as a bad guy in the 1950s before drifting into mostly television work). Blackie is apparently playing his own anti-Glennister game because he wants Cherry, too.  Glennister is blamed for the marshal’s death and thrown into jail, where McNamara plots to allow him to escape and then shoot him down in the process.  Cherry hears of the plan and aids a real escape for Glennister.  Glennister and Dextry violently take back their mine while McNamara is distracted by Cherry in town.  Blackie is killed in a train crash during the recovery of the mine, but not before admitting his killing of the marshal.  Glennister confronts McNamara and they engage in a lengthy fist fight that virtually destroy’s Cherry’s Northern Saloon.  McNamara’s gang is apprehended (including the comely faux-niece), and Glennister and Cherry are back together.

Chandler gives a serviceable performance, as does Calhoun.  The best are probably Anne Baxter and John McIntire (who had played the principal claim-stealer in the previous year’s The Far Country).  Anne Baxter’s most famous role was in All About Eve, of course, but if you’d like to see her in another good western, check out Yellow SkyIn color.

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The films are based on Rex Beach’s 1906 novel, which was in turn based on the exploits and machinations of real-life Nome crook and claim-jumper Alexander McKenzie, who served three months in jail before being pardoned by Pres. McKinley in 1901.

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