(director: Francis D. Lyon; screenwriter: Dan Ullman; cinematographer: Carl Guthrie; editor: George White; cast: Joel McCrea (Dr. John Brighton), Barbara Hale (Anne Barnes), Brad Dexter (Cass Dobie), Douglas Dick (Mel Dobie), Gloria Talbott (Maria Smith), Michael Pate (Charlie Smith), Anthony Caruso (Jim Hawk), Esther Dale (Mrs. Fitzgerald), John Pickard (Marshal Bill), Verna Felton (Mrs. Waynebrooke), Mimi Gibson (Louise Brighton); Runtime: 80; Allied Artists; 1957)
“A classy western.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A classy western. It makes the most out of its human interest story, as the script by Dan Ullman slowly builds up to its climactic action scene. Joel McCrea gives an outstanding performance as a moral person, who must do what is right even if it means placing himself in danger.
While heading to California in 1870 in a party of covered wagons, Dr. John Brighton’s (Joel McCrea) wife dies during childbirth but the baby girl survives. John buries his wife in the nearby small frontier Oklahoma Territory town and is too tired to continue west. A kindly old woman, Mrs. Fitzgerald (Esther Dale), looks after the baby whom he names after his wife Louise, and she allows him to use her house to open his medical practice.
After 5 years the doc is considered to be a respected member of the community, but Louise has grown to be too frisky for the fragile Mrs. Fitzgerald to handle. So she gets the busy doctor the attractive 18-year-old Indian maiden, Maria Smith (Talbott), to take care of the child. This sparks gossip in town that doc is having an affair with her. Maria does love doc, but he only thinks of her as a young and vulnerable girl. Also interested in the doc is the young widow, Anne Barnes (Hale), who owns one of the biggest ranches in town.
Warning: spoiler to follow in the next two paragraphs.
The villains are the cattle baron brothers, Cass and Mel Dobie (Brad Dexter and Douglas Dick). They get greedy when they discover oil on the Indian Charlie Smith’s (Pate) property and plot to take over his place. The film builds on the growing hatred between doc and Cass.
When Mel is seen by Charlie taking samples from his land and is asked to leave, he answers by firing at Charlie. But Charlie, in self-defense, kills him with his knife. When Charlie turns himself into the marshal, he is held in jail for his own protection. Meanwhile, Cass vows to make Charlie pay for his brother’s death. He brings up slurs about the Indians and has half the town agreeing with him. But doc comes to Charlie’s defense and gets into a deadly gunfight with Cass, where he gets winged in the arm but kills Cass.
REVIEWED ON 8/18/2001 GRADE: C+