(director: Lesley Selander; screenwriters: Richard Alan Simmons/Martin Berkeley/story by Fred Freiberger & William Tunberg; cinematographer: Gordon Avil; editor: John F. Schreyer; music: Arthur Lange/Emil Newman; cast: Robert Stack (Lt. Billings), Joan Taylor (Wanima), Charles McGraw (Sgt. Clarke), Keith Larsen (Taslik), Peter Graves (Trooper Tolson), Robert Wilke (Trooper Grady), Walter Reed (Trooper Allison), John Doucette (Trooper Charnofsky), Douglas Kennedy (Trooper Clancy), James Parnell (Trooper Martin), Paul Richards (Trooper Perkins); Runtime: 89; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard W. Koch; United Artists; 1953)

“Gorgeously filmed in Death Valley.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Veteran B-Western director Lesley Selander (“Fort Yuma”/”The Yellow Tomahawk”/”Outlaw’s Son”) helms this suspenseful cowboy and Indian tale. It might the best of Selander’s later films. It’s gorgeously filmed in Death Valley at the National Monument in California. The story is by Fred Freiberger & William Tunberg and the screenplay by Richard Alan Simmons and Martin Berkeley.

Lt. Billings (Robert Stack) and Sgt. Clarke (Charles McGraw), of the frontier outpost Fort Kirk, are ordered to take a small patrol to deliver a treaty to the nearby trading post, where it will be picked up by Lieutenant Kirby. The treaty must be delivered to Chief Gray Cloud within nine days, or there will be war. But Kirby and his men have been killed by Gray Cloud’s renegade son Taslik (Keith Larsen) who does not want peace with the white men. Billings doesn’t know of Taslik’s foul deeds and asks him to guide the troops to Gray Cloud. Taslik takes them through the desert and leads them along without water, even sabotaging their supply in barrels. His sister Wanima (Joan Taylor) has been secretly accompanying the party and feeding her brother water and helping him sabotage the water supply.

Several mishaps later Taslik is confronted by Billings, but not before all the horses are set loose. Taslik explains his actions by saying that he’s certain the treaty will be broken and shares a different view of white men than his father. Billings, even though led around in circles, is determined to complete his vital mission. But his patrol is weary, angry and thirsty. Soon trooper Tolson (Peter Graves) kills Taslik. In order to locate water Billings sends trooper Clancy (Douglas Kennedy) ahead to the village, but Wanima follows and shoots him. She’s wounded in the assault, and later the detachment stumbles onto the two fallen bodies in the desert. Billings wants her kept alive to show her father that they desperately want peace and this angers the men further, as they want to kill her. Wanima spitefully takes the men to an abandoned gold mine instead of to a spring as promised. The troops prefer to stay here and take the gold and go on a mutiny, but Wanima, in order to save bloodshed, relents and takes them to a spring. That night, trooper Tolson and two others kill the loyal troopers and attempt to steal the gold. But Sgt. Clarke bravely holds the two remaining mutineers, Tolson and Grady (Robert Wilke), off, while Billings and Wanima go to Gray Cloud’s village and arrive just in time as the war drums are playing and the men have on their war paint.

War Paint Poster