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SIEGE AT RED RIVER, THE (director: Rudolph Maté; screenwriter: short story by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater/Sydney Boehm; cinematographer: Edward J. Cronjager; editor: Betty Steinberg; music: Lionel Newman; cast: Van Johnson (Capt. James Farraday), Joanne Dru (Nora Curtis), Richard Boone (Brett Manning), Milburn Stone (Benjy Thompson), Jeff Morrow (Frank Kelso), Craig Hill (Lt. Braden), Rico Alaniz (Chief Yellow Hawk), Robert Burton (Sheriff), Pilar del Rey (Lukoa), Ferris Taylor (Anderson Smith), John Cliff (Sgt. Jenkins); Runtime: 86; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Leonard Goldstein; 20th Century Fox; 1954)
“Under Rudolph Maté’s forceful direction this routine Western sparkles.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Under Rudolph Maté’s forceful direction this routine Western sparkles. It’s based on the short story by J. Robert Bren and Gladys Atwater and written by Sydney Boehm. The film is set in 1864, at the time of Lincoln’s re-election when the Union is shipping by train to the front lines its newest secret weapon the Gatling gun (it automatically fires 250 rounds in a minute).

Warning: spoilers in the next two paragraphs.

James Farraday (Van Johnson) and partner Benjy Thompson (Milburn Stone) are Confederate soldiers disguised as medicine show salesmen, with assumed identities as Boston residents. They organize a well-planned raid on the heavily guarded train and steal the Gatling gun. They now must smuggle it from the north back south in their medicine wagon. On the way they meet Union nurse Nora Curtis (Joanne Dru), whose wagon breaks down in a river crossing and they transport her to the next town where she sets up a hospital. The spies’ contact in the town is killed and Brett Manning (Richard Boone) comes forth to give the coded “Tapioca” message, delivered by song in a dance hall, and it’s agreed that he’ll help them get through Union lines and Indian territory for a heavy price. But the profiteer steals the Gatlin and sells it to Chief Yellow Hawk, who attacks the Cavalry at Fort Smith. Union officer Frank Kelso (Jeff Morrow) has been trailing the spies since they left town and captures Farraday.

The climax has a thrilling Indian and Cavalry battle, as Farraday lets his hatred for the North subside enough in the waning days of the war to help Kelso retrieve the Gatlin to prevent a massacre at the fort. It ends with the Indians driven off and a smitten Nora telling Farraday she’ll wait for him after the war. He promises to come calling and take her back to Atlanta as his wife.

The Siege at Red River steals whole scenes from the 1944 Buffalo Bill. Nevertheless the film is rewarding because it’s so stunningly filmed, Richard Boone makes for an appealing whip-carrying dandy villain, and the final battle scene is so action-packed and well-choreographed.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”