This is an entertaining John Wayne movie, with a good cast. It may not
rank right up there with the great John Ford westerns and other films
The Duke was in, it nevertheless presents the essence of John Wayne
during this phase of his career (call it "mid-career"), and actually
foreshadows the John Wayne we would see for the rest and remainder of
his career. This is a high quality, well-made film --probably a
testament Michael Curtiz's directing-- and the quality of the film, and
its obvious production values, are evident throughout. One way this
shows itself is, although the movie was made in 1961, it really seems
and feels like a much newer movie, made 5 or even 10 years later than
it was. I don't know what to attribute that quality to other than
simply it being a well-made film.
In a way the movie is three movies, consisting of three separate but
connected story arcs, any or each of which could have been beefed up
and expanded into movies unto themselves. The story is thusly layered
with complexity, which keeps it all interestingly moving along apace,
never bogging down. It is also however the source of the movie's only
real flaw. And that flaw is, as other reviewers have noted, the movie's
presentation of a dubious and flawed historical chronology. And it
isn't just little anachronisms like repeating rifles out of time. There
is a complete confusion of historical eras and historical settings.
Even though the story is set in 1843, its time seems to vacillate
throughout, in one arc staying true to the story it is or purports to
be, a story set in the antebellum south, but then jumping in another
arc to a story appearing to be more similar to the further-western and
decades later Indian wars, circa the 1870s. It seems as if there was
lot of trouble deciding which of those two kinds of stories the movie
was telling, a story about events in the antebellum south or a
shoot-em-up story of the western Indian wars. It is likely a problem of
scriptwriting, having had numerous "treatments" or rewrites by more
than one writer, and those seams show. My guess is ultimately director
Michael Curtiz and producer George Sherman must have decided that the
typical ticket-buyers for this movie would be fans of John Wayne
westerns, and that target audience would not be comprised of history
majors or even history buffs, or be ones to get hung up on historical
details, so they just let the historical flaws slip through.
There is one unintentionally funny moment in the movie. About mid-way
through, watch for the blood-curdling scream by the bed-ridden lady
(Joan O'Brien?) at the outpost when she looks out the window and sees
the supposed Indian raiders crossing the river. It is truly a classic
and world-class movie scream. I wonder how many takes that took.
One of the movie's three story arcs features Lee Marvin. This is a
pre-Cat Ballou, pre-Dirty Dozen Lee Marvin who at this point in his
career wasn't really yet a bigtime Hollywood household name, at least
not like he would later become. Marvin turns in a marvelous
over-the-top performance as a gun-dealing rapscallion, in my opinion
flat-out stealing every scene he's in. That's no small feat,
considering in all of his scenes he was playing directly off against
John Wayne, who almost fades into the woodwork in the comparison.
Actually Wayne sublimates himself quite well. He knew how to be a team
player, and the chemisrty between Wayne and Marvin is good.
Unfortunately this story arc is really nothing much more than a
side-story than anything else, so Marvin's role is quite limited. Too
bad. I would've liked to have seen a lot more of Marvin in this film.
It would have been a better movie for it.
Lee Marvin, John Wayne and Marvin appeared together again two years
later in John Ford's Donovan's Reef, with Marvin again playing a lesser
This movie pops up regularly on the Encore Westerns channel. I've seen
it there about 5 times over the last 6 months. Watch for it.