(director: Andrew V. McLaglen; screenwriters: from the story by Stanley L. Hough/James Lee Barrett; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Robert Simpson; music: Herbert Spencer; cast: John Wayne (Col. John Henry Thomas), Rock Hudson (Col. James Langdon), Lee Meriwether (Margaret Langdon), Marian McCargo (Ann Langdon), Roman Gabriel (Blue Boy), Ben Johnson (Short Grub), Harry Carey Jr. (Soloman Webster), Tony Aguilar (Gen. Rojas), John Agar (Christian), Merlin Olsen (Cpl. Little George, CSA), Melissa Newman (Charlotte Langdon), Jan-Michael Vincent (Lt. Bubba Wilkes CSA), Edward Faulkner (Capt. Anderson, CSA), Dub Taylor (McCartney); Runtime: 119; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Robert L. Jacks; 20th Century Fox; 1969)

“Theme of reconciliation between North and South is well-realized.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoilers throughout.

A patriotic driven Western set right after the Civil War ends. Andrew V. McLaglen (Victor McLaglen’s son) directs as a homage to John Ford westerns, but shows few signs of having the same talent. It is based on a story by Stanley L. Hough. James Lee Barrett, a close pal of John Wayne and a regular writer of his films, provides the screenplay. William H. Clothier photographs the overwhelming southwestern vistas making the location shots almost as colorful as Rock Hudson’s plumed Confederate hat. The film’s theme of reconciliation between North and South is well-realized, though this routine western sags in spots as if held down by weighted saddle-bags. The big surprise is that not only does Rock hold his own with the Duke, but puts in a more spirited performance.

As the war ends, Union Army Colonel John Henry Thomas retires and takes his adopted Cherokee Indian son Blue Boy (played stiffly by L.A. Ram quarterback Roman Gabriel) and the surviving men from his company to Mexico (including stock characters such as an ornery cook and tough-minded but good-hearted soldiers), where they bring a herd of 3,000 wild horses they sold to representatives of Emperor Maximilian’s government for top dollar. This sale is consummated after Union purchasers try to chisel the Colonel in the horse-trade. At the same time, Confederate Army Colonel James Langdon (Rock Hudson) burns down his plantation rather than to sell out to carpetbaggers and takes a band of discontented Confederate soldiers and their families by wagon train to exile in Mexico as guests of Emperor Maximilian. Among the party is Little George (played by Merlin Olsen with more oomph than his L.A. Ram teammate), a young junior officer (Jan-Michael Vincent) who is pining after the Colonel’s resistant 16-year-old daughter Charlotte, and the Colonel’s always grimacing wife Ann and his pretty widow sister-in-law Margaret (Lee Meriwether)–around for a sort of love interest to John Henry Thomas, though nothing ever materializes. At one point in the wilderness, Margaret is garbed in a gown that Yves St. Laurent could have created.

In the course of their expedition to Mexico, the two opposing sides meet up and fight off Mexican bandits together. This brings some good will, though the Southerners are still despondent they lost the war. They celebrate together a Fourth of July party hosted by the Rebs and rekindle their allegiances with a good-natured drunken brawl. Blue Boy and Charlotte fall in love by just looking at each other, and in the name of racial harmony their romance prospers–meant to be taken as an optimistic sign the country is becoming united after the war. The problem was their romance was unconvincing and awkwardly achieved.

Unfortunately for Colonel Langdon’s rebs is that their arrival in Durango, Mexico, coincides with the Juarez revolution, and they are given a feast and then taken prisoners by General Rojas (Tony Aguilar). Rojas orders Langdon to ride out to Thomas’s camp and get him to surrender the horses to the revolution or else all the Southerners will be shot. After opting for saving human lives over making money and not getting mixed up in a foreign country’s war, the two colonels have had enough of Mexico and cross the Rio Grande back to the ‘good old’ USA.