YELLOW TOMAHAWK, THE
(director: Lesley Selander; screenwriters: Richard Alan Simmons/from a story by Harold Jack Bloom; cinematographer: Gordon Avil; editor: John F. Schreyer; music: Les Baxter; cast: Rory Calhoun (Adam Reed), Peggie Castle (Katherine ‘Kate’ Bolden), Noah Beery Jr. (Tonio Perez), Warner Anderson (Major Ives), Peter Graves (Sawyer), Lee Van Cleef (Fireknife), Rita Moreno (Honey Bear), Walter Reed (Keats), Dan Riss (Sgt. Bandini), Adam Williams (Cpl. Frank Maddock), Patrick Joseph Sexton (Lt. Bascomb); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Howard W. Koch; United Artists; 1954)
“Has more bark than bite.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Noted B-Western director Lesley Selander (“Tall Man Riding”/”Revolt at Fort Laramie”/”Fort Vengeance”) cranks out another of his typical action filled fast paced Westerns, though this one has more bark than bite. It tries to say something about violence begets violence, but the message is delivered with the subtlety of a blow by a sledgehammer. It’s written by Richard Alan Simmons and the story is by Harold Jack Bloom. Though it was shot in Technicolor, it was released to television in black and white.
Adam Reed (Rory Calhoun) is one of those no-nonsense Wyoming Indian scouts who seems to think he’s always right, which makes him appear smug though he was meant to be portrayed as a heroic cowboy figure who marches to his own tune. He has formed a strong friendship with Cheyenne warrior Fireknife (Lee Van Cleef), who gives him a present of a bow as an expression of brotherhood and a yellow tomahawk with instructions to present it as a war message to commanding officer Major Ives (Warner Anderson), the commanding officer who ordered a massacre on the Indians that came to known as the Sand Creek Massacre (an actual event), where woman and children for no reason were butchered, and the major is now planning to build a fort on Cheyenne Territory. The message Fireknife wants delivered, is for the major and his soldiers to leave or be massacred in retaliation.
The hard-assed Indian hating major refuses to leave, and the Indians attack. At the end of the day there are eight survivors that include the major, a corporal (Adam Williams), the army engineer surveyor (Walter Reed), a slimy prospector who killed his partners for the gold (Peter Graves), a Mexican Indian scout (Noah Beery Jr.) and his Indian girl friend (Rita Moreno), the beautiful gal from Boston named Kate (Peggie Castle), and Adam.
Adam’s plan is to bring the Major back to the main fort through Cheyenne Territory to face charges of starting up again the Indian war without provocation. But Fireknight tells Adam that he will leave the others alone if he gives him the Major. Adam refuses and a few in their party get picked off before reaching the fort, while Adam vanquishes the Indian attackers including his ceremonial brother.
There’s also an obnoxious love story afoot, as Kate’s would-be husband Lt. Bascomb is killed in the initial attack and she doesn’t seem to mind that too much now that she has Adam’s shoulder to rest her pretty blonde head on.
I usually like Selander’s Westerns, but I found this one spewing a pious lesson on justice that was hard for me to swallow. It forces us to believe that the army just had a few rotten apples and that most of the men wanted to play by the rules with the Indians. History might take a different view, since genocide seemed to be the usual Indian policy.
REVIEWED ON 2/25/2009 GRADE: C+