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THEY RODE WEST (aka: THE WOOD HAWK) (director: Phil Karlson; screenwriters: DeVallon Scott/Frank S. Nugent/based on a story by Leo Katcher; cinematographer: Charles Lawton Jr.; editor: Henry Batista; music: Paul Sawtell; cast: Phil Carey (Captain Peter Blake), Robert Francis (Dr. Allen Seward), Donna Reed (Laurie MacKaye), Onslow Stevens (Col. Ethan Waters), Peggy Converse (Mrs. Waters), Frank DeKova (Isatai), Jack Kelly (Lt. Raymond), Roy Roberts (Sgt. Creever), Stuart Randall (Chief Satanta), May Wynn (Manyi-ten), John War Eagle (Chief Quanah), Eugene Iglesias(Red Leaf); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Lewis J. Rachmil; Columbia; 1954)
“Sympathetic to the Indians western.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Phil Karlson (“Ladies of the Chorus”/”The Phenix City Story”/”Kid Galahad”)directs this sympathetic to the Indians western. It’s based on a story by Leo Katcher and is written byDeVallon Scott and Frank S. Nugent.

Conscientious young Dr. Allen Seward (Robert Francis), right out of medical school, arrives in the frontier, from back east, to serve in a cavalry unit at Fort McCullough. He’s not trusted because all the recent medical men in this remote fort were drunks and incompetents, who did more harm than good. Seward disobeys an order from the gruff Captain Peter Blake (Phil Carey), an Indian hater, and treats Kiowa on the reservation who are experiencing a malaria epidemic and then advises them to go back to the high ground they were uprooted from by this same cavalry company at great trouble or face further sickness by remaining on the low ground. The irate Blake brings Seward back to the fort, where the fort commander Col. Ethan Waters (Onslow Stevens) confines him to the barracks until his replacement arrives. But the do-gooder sneaks off to help the Kiowa anyway, and when he returns there’s an outbreak of malaria in the fort. Seward is blamed for the men getting malaria and incurs the wrath of the troops, and is called by them a wood hawk (a bird who turns on its own kind).

The peaceful Kiowa ally with the warlike Comanche, who stole ten rifles from the fort. They attack the fort with the Comanches, not trusting the decision-making of Washington that put them in harm’s way when they were contented living on the high ground. The humanitarian doctor only has the support of nurse Laurie MacKaye (Donna Reed), the colonel’s pretty niece, as he tries to use his great medical powers to avert the possible bloody war over the white people’s ignorant Indian policy.

All the characters are one-dimensional and the story is flat, but Karlson does a nice job with the action scenes.

This was promising actor Robert Francis’s starring debut. He afterwards had a major role in The Caine Mutiny (1954) and made two more films-The Bamboo Prison (1954) and The Long Gray Line (1955)before his untimely death at age 25 in a private plane crash in 1955.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”