FORT MASSACRE (director: Joseph M. Newman; screenwriter: Martin Goldsmith; cinematographer: Carl Guthrie; editor: Richard V. Heermance; music: Marlin Skiles; cast: Joel McCrea (Sgt. Vinson), Forrest Tucker (McGurney), John Russell (Travis), George N. Neise (Pvt. Pendleton), Denver Pyle (Collins), Susan Cabot (Piute Girl), Francis McDonald (Old Piute Man), Anthony Caruso (Pawnee), Irving Bacon (Charlie the Trader), Claire Carleton (Adele), Larry Chance (Moving Cloud), Robert Osterloh (Pvt. Schwabacker), Guy Prescott (Pvt. Tucker), Rayford Barnes (Pvt. Moss); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter M. Mirisch; United Artists; 1958)
“Great acting by Joel McCrea.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Superior off-beat psychological “B” movie western that features great acting by Joel McCrea and a well-written screenplay by Martin Goldsmith. Director Joseph M. Newman (“The Gunfight at Dodge City”/”This Island Earth”/”The Big Circus”) doesn’t interfere with the actors, but doesn’t have the skill to take advantage of the story’s potential greatness. It’s lushly filmed in CinemaScope.
Sgt. Vinson (Joel McCrea) is the hardnosed Indian-hating member of ‘C’ Troop, who takes command of the remaining troops after they are ambushed by Apaches and their commanding officer, a lieutenant, is killed. The few survivors include a bunch of disgruntled veterans such as the anti-authoritarian Irishman named McGurney (Forrest Tucker), a thirty-year-old new recruit who is a college grad drifter named Travis (John Russell) and the unpleasant whiner Pendleton (George N. Neise). Following orders to go to Fort Crane, Vinson first ambushes about fifty Apaches on a war party who are at a waterhole. Outnumbered four to one, the soldiers take heavy casualties but win after a long fight. When the last Apache surrenders, Vinson kills him and the men even think more unkindly of their gruff leader than before. Vinson decides to push on to Fort Crane by taking a dangerous shortcut through hostile restricted Indian territory rather than wait for reinforcements at the secure waterhole after privates Tucker and Moss, the only survivors of the massacred main column, show up at the waterhole.
Vinson is curious about Travis and engages him in conversation. He learns that Travis is confused about what to do in life and can’t make a decision, therefore he joined the army to become a man. Travis gets to talk to a still grieving Vinson about how he misses his gentle wife who was raped and butchered by Indians five years ago and made a decision to shoot her two youngsters rather than surrender them to the Indians.
When Vinson leads his ten survivors through hostile Indian territory, they seek shelter in a desert cliff dwelling where an elderly peaceful Piute and his pretty 17-year-old granddaughter (Susan Cabot) have taken shelter. One of the men dubs the place Fort Massacre, and that’s where the troopers confront another war party of about twenty Apaches in a battle that has tragic consequences and could have been averted if Vinson’s consuming hatred of Indians didn’t get the best of him and he loses control of his mind forcing one of the surviving soldier to take matters into his own hands.
REVIEWED ON 9/30/2008 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ