FORT DEFIANCE (director: John Rawlins; screenwriter: Louis Lantz; cinematographer: Stanley Cortez; editor: Thomas Pratt; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Dane Clark (Johnny Tallon), Peter Graves (Ned Tallon), Ben Johnson (Ben Shelby), George Cleveland (Uncle Charlie Tallon), Tracey Roberts (Julie Morse), Iron Eyes Cody (Brave Bear), Craig Woods (Dave Parker), Bryan Hightower (Hankey), Dnnis Moore (Lt. Lucas); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Frank Melford; United Artists; 1951)
“Exciting revenge action-packed western.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Rawlins (“Sudan”/”Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror”/”Dick Tracy Meets Gruesome“) directs this exciting revenge action-packed western that piles on the melodramatics, adds on a contrived unconvincing romance, has a predictable climactic shootout with the film’s villain and also manages to get in the familiar western sequence of Indians circling a stagecoach that is rescued by the Cavalry. Cinematographer Stanley Cortez’s lush visuals captures the beauty of the Arizona desert; while Louis Lantz’s uneven script falters at times with melodramatics that are not all that convincing, but overall is decent writing for a B-film.
It’s set in the town of Fort Defiance, Arizona at the end of the Civil War. Ben Shelby (Ben Johnson) was a member of the Union Army’s volunteer Arizona unit and was the only survivor at Tennessee Ridge, where his brother died. The battle came three months before the war ended. The reason the men lost their lives was because Johnny Tallon (Dane Clark)deserted rather than deliver a message for reinforcements.
Ben decides to go after Johnny rather than return straight home to his wife. He arrives at Johnny’s remote desert ranch outside of Fort Defiance and encounters Johnny’s younger blind brother Ned (Peter Graves) and his elderly Uncle Charlie (George Cleveland). He befriends both and learns in town that Johnny died while robbing a bank. The neighboring Navajos under chief Brave Bear (Iron Eyes Cody)steal the Tallon’s cattle, and they go on the warpath because they have been ordered to a reservation in the Oklahoma Territory.
Ben agrees to Uncle Charlie’s offer to be partners on their good grazing ranch, but Uncle Charlie is killed by the ruthless saloon owner Dave Parker (Craig Woods) whose brothers were killed in the same volunteer Arizona unit as the one Johnny deserted. Charlie nobly sacrificed his life so Ned and Ben can escape, as Ben takes him to Navajo Canyons where Parker’s men refuse to enter because of the Indian threat. When Johnny shows up alive at his ranch with his outlaw partner Hankey (Bryan Hightower), they kill two of Parker’s men who are there as part of a burial detail and the third is sent to tell Parker that Johnny’s back.
Johnny joins his now disillusioned brother at the Navajo Canyons and we witness the following: a few fistfights between Johnny and Ben, Johnny offering to give his brother $5,000 he got from the robbery to go to San Francisco to get an eye operation but is turned down, a stage attacked by the Indians, one of the passengers is a saloon whore with a heart of gold named Julie (Tracey Roberts) who was given a ticket out of town by the decent ladies in town, and Ned blindly falling in love with the dance hall gal and nearly proposing while the Indians are attacking.
When the boys survive the Indian attack and are back in Fort Defiance, Parker and his men have a shoot-out with Johnny. Everything ends in a pat way, as all the bad guys get what’s coming to them and all the good guys get what they deserve.
REVIEWED ON 9/28/2010 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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