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DAKOTA INCIDENT (director: Lewis R. Foster; screenwriter: Frederick Louis Fox; cinematographer: Ernest Haller; editor: Howard Smith; music: R. Dale Butts; cast: Linda Darnell (Amy Clarke), Dale Robertson (John Banner), John Lund (John Carter, aka Hamilton), Ward Bond (Sen. Blakely), Regis Toomey (Minstrel), Skip Homeier (Frank Banner), Irving Bacon (Tully Morgan), John Doucette (Rick Largo), William Fawcett (Matthew Barnes), Whit Bissell (Mark Chester), Charles Horvath (Cheyenne); Runtime: 88; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Michael Baird; Republic Pictures Home Video; 1956)
“It lives and dies by its formulaic plot line.”

Reviewed by Dennis SchwartzSimilar in theme but not as good as John Ford’s Stagecoach, where the journey leads to redemption for its flawed characters. It’s stunningly shot by Ernest Haller. The script, in the form of a parable, is by Frederick Louis Fox; Lewis R. Foster handles the directing chores. It lives and dies by its formulaic plot line, and though routine it does a fair job in sketching out its main characters.

Bank robber John Banner (Dale Robertson) is gunned down in the desert by his partners Largo (John Doucette) and Frank Banner (Skip Homeier), John’s brother. But he fakes his death and walks 40 miles to the nearest town, Christian Flats. There he meets up again with his partners and gets into a gun duel with Frank, but instead of killing him orders him to leave town. But in his gun duel with Largo, he kills him.

When the stage that’s set to go to Laramie comes back with everyone killed by an Indian attack, Banner is asked to drive it. Also on board are the loose-living, still garbed in a formal fancy dress, show gal/lady of the night Amy Clarke (Linda Darnell), her loyal showbiz musical accompanist Minstrel (Regis Toomey), windbag preaching Indian loving Senator Blakely (Ward Bond), foolhardy prospector Mark Chester (Whit Bissell), and a falsely wanted bank robber, John Carter (John Lund), going under the alias of Hamilton. For some reason the sheriff blamed bank teller Carter for the robbery Banner committed and he wants to get Banner to confess to the authorities in Laramie so his name can be cleared for posterity. It will become apparent during the journey that all the passengers have a good reason that they must get to Laramie and they all go despite the apparent danger.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

A band of Cheyenne attack and the disparate group is trapped without water in the desert, and must learn to work together to fight off their common enemy. The only survivors turn out to be the two bad apples, Amy and Banner. But they both go through a change of heart and are redeemed by this experience. Amy feels guilty she sent the senator to his death by having the pompous bore back up his beliefs that the Indians were “misunderstood” and could live in peace if we could only powwow with them. Banner, falling in love with Amy and tiring of being a gunslinger, makes a deathbed promise to Carter that he will restore his good name and return the robbery money. God is called into the story line intervening with a miraculous storm in the midst of a clear blue sky, that gives the dying of thirst survivors water. Banner is such a changed man that he can’t kill with his bare hands the last of the Indians that attacks, and is rewarded for this good deed by the Indian returning with two horses for the survivors.

Though the message film seems simplistic and its good intentions can be argued as maintained only by stacking the deck for its PC solution, nevertheless the characters were richly worked out making the routine story more invigorating than the usual oater.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”