(director: Hugo Fregonese; screenwriters: Sydney Boehm/Francis Cockrell/from the book by Herbert Ravenel Sass; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Robert Golden; music: Roy Webb; cast: Van Heflin (Maj. Neal Benton), Richard Boone (Capt. Foster), Peter Graves (Capt. Dwyer), Ann Bancroft (Katy Bishop), Lee Marvin (Lt. Keating); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Leonard Goldstein/Robert L. Jacks; 20th Century Fox; 1954)

“A superb Civil War western factually based on a little-known incident.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A superb Civil War western factually based on a little-known incident. Sydney Boehm’s screenplay stars Van Heflin as the Confederate officer who, after escaping to Canada from a Union prison camp in New England with several of his comrades, schemes to sack and take over the nearest town across the Canadian border, St. Albans, Vermont, in retribution for Union raids into the South. Excellent Civil War photos are used to create just the right suspenseful mood that reflects the anger of the Rebs that would lead them to want to loot and burn down the peaceful town.

Van Heflin is disguised as a businessman when he comes into town alone to get the layout of the bank and assess the town’s strength. He gets emotionally involved with his attractive widow landlady Anne Bancroft and her son, and eventually with the town’s people. His concern for Bancroft makes his mission all the more difficult and leaves him conflicted. Lee Marvin is the hot-tempered Reb officer who nearly gives the game away by his foolish actions. Richard Boone is the one-armed veteran Union officer and close friend of the widow.

Hugo Fregonese brings out the underlying drama involved and does a nice job building up the suspense until the final massacre of the town. Top of the line cinematographer Lucien Ballard does a fine job creating photographically a brooding mood.

It should be noted that this film served as the model for John Arden in writing his masterful play Sergeant Musgrave’s Dance.

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