(director: Robert Webb; screenwriters: Leo Townsend/Delmer Daves/from the story by John Prebble; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: George A. Gittens; music: Hugo W. Friedhofer; cast: Robert Wagner (Josh Tanner), John Lund (Col. Lindsay), Debra Paget (Appearing Day), Jeffrey Hunter (Little Dog), Eduard Franz (Chief Broken Hand), Hugh O’Brian (American Horse), Iron Eyes Cody (Indian Chief), Noah Beery, Jr. (Lt. Ferguson), Milburn Stone (Commissioner Trenton), Virginia Leith (Ann Magruder), Emile Meyer (Magruder); Runtime: 102; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert L. Jacks; 20th Century Fox; 1955)
“Sympathetic to the Indian plight.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
White Feather follows Broken Arrow in being another rare Western in the 1950s that was sympathetic to the Indian plight. Delmer Daves directed Jimmy Stewart in Broken Arrow (1950), and is the screenwriter for this film that is adapted from a story by John Prebble. Debra Paget is in both films playing an Indian squaw. It’s a superior and well-meaning liberal Western with Daves using almost the same script as before, but under Robert Webb’s uninteresting helm it loses a lot of its luster. It’s based on a true story that took place in 1877 that tells how the last of the Cheyenne warriors surrendered to the cavalry. To the film’s credit, the Indians for a change in a Hollywood Western are treated as human beings and not as cartoonish characters.
Colonel Lindsay (John Lund) is the even-tempered head of Fort Laramie, who questions newcomer Josh Tanner (Robert Wagner) about the dead prospector he found on the trail and what brings him out west. Josh is a surveyor hired by a real estate firm to stakeout territory nearby in Indian territory, and is returning from school back east to the area he lived in as a child. He’s warned by the colonel and Lt. Ferguson (Noah Beery, Jr.) that no white man is to cross the river to Cheyenne Territory, unless they want to get killed like the prospector and risk starting up an Indian war. The colonel is on edge waiting to sign a peace treaty already agreed to by all the tribes except for the warrior Cheyennes led by Broken Hand (Eduard Franz). The Indians are forced to leave their hunting grounds in Wyoming and move to farm land down south so that the whites can take over their valuable land that has gold.
Josh gets a room in the general store of its Indian hating owner Magruder (Emile Meyer), and begins a platonic friendship with the owner’s sweet and lonely daughter Ann (Virginia Leith). He also strikes up a friendship with Chief Broken Hand’s warrior son Little Dog (Jeffrey Hunter) and best friend American Horse (Hugh O’Brian). While Josh is busy striving for peace, Little Dog’s sister Appearing Day (Debra Paget) chooses to be with him as his squaw and as a result is given the boot from her tribe. American Horse goes into a jealous rage and kills a soldier at the fort trying to take back the squaw that was promised to him.
It leads to an exciting conclusion, where Josh confronts Little Dog and American Horse to make sure the peace treaty goes into effect.
Jeffrey Hunter steals the acting honors with a realistically frightening performance as the brave warrior who refuses to leave the hunting grounds without a fight. The film is also noteworthy because of Lucien Ballard’s excellent photography.
REVIEWED ON 9/11/2004 GRADE: B-