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DUEL AT DIABLO (director: Ralph Nelson; screenwriters: Marvin H. Albert/Michael M. Grilikhes; cinematographer: Charles F. Wheeler; editor: Fredric Steinkamp; music: Neil Hefti; cast: James Garner (Jess Remsberg), Sidney Poitier (Toller), Bibi Andersson (Ellen Grange), Dennis Weaver (Willard Grange), Bill Travers (Lt. McAllister), William Redfield (Sgt. Ferguson), John Hoyt (Chata), Eddie Little Sky (Alchise), John Crawford (Marshal Clay Dean), Kevin Coughlin (Norton), Ralph Nelson (Col. Foster), Richard Farnsworth (Wagon driver #1); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Fred Engel/Ralph Nelson; MGM; 1966)
“Fails to make much hay with the racial questions that were raised.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Action-packed cavalry-Indian Western, with an underlying racial theme. Director Ralph Nelson (“Lilies of the Field”/”Father Goose”/”Soldier Blue”) gives us some of the bloodiest footage of the sixties, but fails to make much hay with the racial questions that were raised. Writers Marvin H. Albert and Michael M. Grilikhes present an ambitious and complex script that talks about the mistreatment of Indians and how the whites can’t accept a white woman with a half-breed baby—treating her as poorly as they do the Apaches. But the film leaves us with a confused message about racism that gets lost in all the blood-letting.

Out in the desert, ex-army scout, Jess Remsberg (James Garner), rescues white woman Ellen Grange (Bibi Andersson, Swedish actress and Ingmar Bergman regular), who had been a captive of the Apaches for more than a year, and brings her home to her ungrateful storekeeper husband, Willard Grange (Dennis Weaver), at Fort Creel. Hubby says his wife should have killed herself rather than be a squaw. Not accepted by hubby or the townspeople, wifey flees that night to rejoin the renegade Apaches led by Chief Chata (John Hoyt). The Indians escaped from the reservation and are on the warpath for their freedom.

Young gung-ho Lieutenant Scotty McAllister (Bill Travers), sporting a thick Irish brogue and with the ambition to be a general, the next morning leaves through Indian territory with a shipment of arms and a bunch of raw troops for nearby Fort Concho to further arm Colonel Foster (Ralph Nelson, the director in a cameo). Eager-beaver McAllister is accompanied by a dandy black man, a former trooper named Toller (Sidney Poitier), who now breaks in horses for the army. Also along is Jess, volunteering to be a scout. Jess has revenge on his mind, as his Comanche wife was scalped by a white man and he now carries her pouch as a reminder to get the one who did this savage act. Willard also tags along with store supplies he wishes to sell in Fort Concho, seeking protection from the troops.

For the second time Jess rescues Ellen, as he spots her while scouting. Ellen is leaving an Apache camp with a half-breed child she gave birth to while in captivity. When Jess returns to the cavalry patrol, he finds the Apaches under Chata ambushed the troops and inflicted great casualties. Scotty sends Jess to Fort Concho to get reinforcements, while the troops are pinned down at Diablo Canyon. In town, Jess forces it out of the crooked Marshal Clay Dean (John Crawford) that it was Willard Grange who scalped his wife in a fit of rage and Jess quickly returns to Diablo with fire in his eyes for Willard.

It’s an old-fashioned but cheerless Western that has an appealing Garner as star, and is further aided by a stirring score by Neil Hefti and some stunning location shots by cinematographer Charles F. Wheeler.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”