THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER (aka: THE BURNING ARROW)
(director: Gordon Douglas; screenwriter: James R. Webb; cinematographer: Peverell Marley; editor: Folmer Blangsted; music: Max Steiner; cast: Guy Madison (Miles Archer), Frank Lovejoy (Sgt. Baker), Onslow Stevens (Grover Johnson), Ron Hagerthy (Johnny McKeever), Helen Westcott (Ann McKeever), Vera Miles (Jennie McKeever), Dick Wesson (Cullen), Fay Roope (Lt. Col. Kilrain), Lane Chandler (Poinsett), Steve Brodie (Ryan), Ralph Brooks (Wilhelm), Neville Brand (Morgan), Henry Kulky (Smiley), James Brown (Conner), David Alpert Griffin), Fred Carson (Chief Thunder Hawk); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: David Weisbart; Warner Brothers; 1953)
“It was the biggest grossing Western in 1953 and is considered by many as the best 3-D Western of the 1950s.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The film was released in theaters in the 3-D format. It was the biggest grossing Western in 1953 and is considered by many as the best 3-D Western of the 1950s. The film’s star, Guy Madison, was at the time starring in the popular TV series Wild Bill Hickok. Strangely the film is famous for Wilhelm’s scream, as cavalry soldier Wilhelm (Ralph Brooks) gets an arrow in the leg he shrieks loudly from pain. This scream was used afterwards by many Hollywood films. Though the routine screenplay by James R. Webb is nothing to do a war dance over, the superb direction by Gordon Douglas (“San Quentin”/”The Big Land”/”Rio Conchos”) is something to get excited by.
It’s set in the Colorado territory in 1867, and tells us because the railroad is coming to the territory the Cheyennes led by Chief Thunder Hawk are set to attack in two weeks in opposition. Lt. Col. Kilrain (Fay Roope), the commander of Fort Bellows, summons ex-Union captain Miles Archer (Guy Madison), who was an expert Indian scout during the Civil War and is now a rancher, to rescue two white women abducted by the Cheyenne in 1962 after they butchered their parents before the probable Indian war begins in 2 weeks and the rescue would not be possible. Archer rejects the assignment initially, but changes his mind when he learns the girls, Ann (Helen Westcott) and her younger sister Jennie McKeever (Vera Miles), are the sisters of his military pal Johnny McKeever (Ron Hagerthy). The colonel assigns to Archer the experienced Sergeant Baker (Frank Lovejoy) and has the motley bunch of misfit guardhouse prisoners volunteer. Since all are charged with minor offenses, they opt to get their prison time off their record by going on this dangerous mission. Also volunteering is Johnson (Onslow Stevens), a civilian artist from the East, drawing the soldiers and telling the frontier story to readers back home. The prisoner recruits, forming the guardhouse brigade, include the philander Ryan (Steve Brodie), the inventive drunk thief Cullen (Dick Wesson), the drunk Smiley (Henry Kulky), the rotten apple Morgan (Neville Brand) and the aristocratic professional soldier from the South named Poinsett (Lane Chandler).
The rescue party rescues the girls, but find they don’t wish to return. Ann fears what the other women would say about her captivity, while Jennie is set to marry Chief Thunder Hawk and calls herself a Cheyenne.
Things get hectic for the rescuers as the Cheyenne pursue and start picking off the troopers one by one. It reaches a boil when the rescue party learn that the soldiers at Fort Bellows were massacred and their best hope for survival is if Baker and Ryan, sworn enemies, can reach nearby Fort Darby and get help. Meanwhile Archer and his guardhouse brigade must fight off at Feather River several attacks by Chief Thunder Hawk. It ends on a happy note, with victory and Archer asking the grateful Ann to marry him–which seemed hardly believable and only contrived to make a plot point about a shamed white woman made clean again to return to her own kind by our brave and decent hero.
The location shots by Marley are stunning, the Technicolor is pleasingly lush, the Indian-trooper action sequences are well-executed and Guy Madison acts like a star. I always wondered why Madison didn’t have more success in movies.
REVIEWED ON 7/31/2013 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/