SEMINOLE (director: Budd Boetticher; screenwriters: from the story by Charles K. Peck, Jr./Charles K. Peck, Jr.; cinematographer: Russell Metty; editor: Virgil Vogel; music: Joseph E. Gershenson; cast: Rock Hudson (Lt. Lance Caldwell), Barbara Hale (Revere Muldoon), Anthony Quinn (Osceola/John Powell), Richard Carlson (Maj. Harlan Degan), Hugh O’Brian (Kajeck), Lee Marvin (Sgt. Magruder), Ralph Moody (Kulak), Fay Roope (Col. Zachary Taylor), James Best (Cpl. Gerard); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard Christie; Universal-International; 1953)
“It’s the kind of Western where the white leader is so crazed and the Indian leader so sane, that you root for the Indians.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A superior Western directed by Budd Boetticher (“Ride Lonesome”/”Comanche Station”) from a story by Charles K. Peck, Jr., who also provided the taut script. It’s the kind of Western where the white leader is so crazed and the Indian leader so sane, that you root for the Indians.
The film is framed around a court martial for 2nd Lt. Lance Caldwell (Rock Hudson), who has been charged with treason and murder and is facing a death sentence. He insists on telling what happened in his own words to the military man in charge of the court tribunal Col. Zachary Taylor.
Warning: spoilers throughout review.
Lance is a recent West Point grad returning by horse to his native Florida to be a scout at Fort King. The fort’s rigid commander, Major Degan (Richard Carlson), reprimands him for reporting with a dirty uniform even though Lance explains he was in a skirmish with an Indian. Soon the despotic Degan reveals himself as an Indian-hater, who takes an immediate dislike to his new officer for mentioning the Seminoles are a peaceful people and disagreeing with his decision to have no more peace talks but to go after them in the swamps and wipe them out. The territory has been experiencing Indian raids of late, as the new chief Osceola (Anthony Quinn), who had a white father and grew up as John Powell and was best friends with Lance, is believed to be responsible for inciting the uprising. The reason for the disturbances are that the Seminoles refuse to move out of their Everglades homeland and into a reservation out west.
After reporting to the Major, Lance visits his love interest Revere Muldoon (Barbara Hale) and learns that John turned down a West Point appointment to rejoin his people and now goes by the name Chief Osceola. Revere informs Lance that she is in contact with the chief and is sure he wants to sign a peace treaty. She meets with the chief and tells him that Lance is now at Fort King, and the chief opts for peace despite his hotheaded warrior foe Kajeck (Hugh O’Brian) urging an attack on the fort. But before Revere can reach the fort with the chief’s message, the major takes a patrol out in the swamps to surprise attack the Indians. Instead the Indians massacre the patrol and the only survivors are the major, Sgt. Magruder (Lee Marvin) and another soldier. They report back that a wounded Lance was saved by the Indians. While under Indian care the chief tells his friend that Revere is his lover, which breaks Lance’s heart. Meanwhile the Major believing that Lance is a traitor gets Revere to have the chief and Lance return under a white flag to talk peace, but fails to keep his word and instead beats Osceola up and then throws him into a pit for refusing to sign a bad treaty and puts Lance in the stockade charged with treason. When Kajeck invades the fort and attempts to kill the chief, whom he considers a weakling, with his knife, he’s fought off by Lance, who got free from his cell. The guards arrive to find a drowned Osceola and since Lance is the only one in the pit, he’s charged with murder.
The film picks up at the present and a guilty verdict is delivered. But in the nick of time the truth is revealed and Lance’s life is spared, as the attention now turns to the Major.
REVIEWED ON 8/23/2005 GRADE: A-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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