(director: William Dieterle; screenwriters: from story by George W. George/John M. Lucas/George F. Slavin; cinematographer: Charles B. Lang; editor: Warren Low; cast: Alan Ladd (Capt. Brett Sherwood), Arthur Kennedy (Lane Waldron), Lizabeth Scott (Chris), John Ireland (Quantrell), Francis McDonald (Marshal Roberts), James Bell (Dr. Terry), Neville Brand (Dixon), Jeff Corey (Skee), Jay Silverheels (Little Crow), Iron Eyes Cody (Ute Indian); Runtime: 84; Paramount; 1951)
“There’s nothing special about this oater.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Warning: spoilers throughout.
A standard Civil War story set in the mountains of Colorado in 1865. Captain Brett Sherwood (Alan Ladd) is a former Confederate officer who rode with General Pickett; Arthur Kennedy is Lane Waldron, a former Confederate soldier who was in a Union prison and was paroled out West with the condition he remain neutral; and, John Ireland is the renegade Confederate General Quantrell. He is someone fighting a brutal guerrilla war in order to establish a Southern empire out West and to make himself rich, using the Ute Indians as his allies. His raiding parties scalp their victims.
The pleasures derived from this Western are from the beautiful vistas captured by Lang’s camera and in Alan Ladd’s heroic role, as he changes sides from a villain to a good guy. He teams up with Kennedy and his wife Cris (Lizabeth Scott), to fight off Quantrell. There is also a well-staged shootout to end the film on.
There are no surprises in this oater, but it’s watchable fare. It is surprising how soothing and how nostalgic these 1950s westerns can be for some, who fondly recall the days of double-features.
In the first scene, a gold assayer gets shot. Lane is accused by a mob in town and they try to string him up, even as the marshal warns them they don’t have sufficient proof. Brett from his perch atop a mesa shoots the hanging rope freeing Lane, as the two ride off together pursued by the mob. Lane swears he didn’t do the killing, that he was only in the assayer’s office to stake a claim on a gold mine he found. After seeing Brett’s Confederate gun, which holds the same cartridge shells found at the crime scene, he realizes that Brett killed the assayer; and, he decides to bring Brett back to the marshal in town to free himself of the murder charge and go on to claim the gold mine he found. But Brett jumps him and the two fight it out, with Lane breaking his leg. Brett will explain later on, that he killed the assayer because he cheated him out of a claim once before, and he cheated many others.
Brett meets Quantrell and quickly becomes disillusioned, seeing that he is on his own and the Confederacy is secondary to him. Also, Brett realizes the war is almost over and the South can’t win anymore, so there is no reason to keep fighting. He, thereby, tries to keep Lane and his wife alive, as Quantrell wants to kill Lane. But Brett tempts Quantrell by telling him of Lane’s gold mine and that by killing him he won’t find the gold.
The other twist in the story is that Brett falls for Cris and she, after initially hating him, begins to show her love. Though, she stays by her husband’s side more out of duty than love.
There are villains galore. My favorite is Jeff Corey. He is the wormy Quantrell soldier who tries to rape Cris, but she shoots him in self-defense.
When Cris brings a doctor to the hideout to mend Lane’s leg, Brett tells them that they better get help because in the morning Quantrell plans to shoot the doctor and the couple, and attack them. Brett now sides openly with Lane. They send the doctor to town to get help, but he comes back as a dead man slung over his horse.
There’s nothing special about this oater but, by golly, you all get to see the cavalry riding in to save the day; and to me, that’s when you know for darn sure that you are watching a genuine Western.
REVIEWED ON 5/15/99 GRADE: C