"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Outriders (MGM, 1950)










Reb sergeant Joel does the decent thing




 
 
Three Joel McCrea Westerns came out in 1950, four if you count Stars in My Crown. They weren’t the big epic Westerns of his pre-war career like Wells Fargo and Union Pacific. They were smaller, even B-Westerns. But they were still good. McCrea was an excellent Western actor.

The Outriders was written by Irving Ravetch, of Hud and The Cowboys fame, and directed by Roy Rowland, who married the niece of Louis Mayer and, quite coincidentally of course, was promoted from script clerk to directing. This was only his second Western, after the stunning success (not) of the Van Johnson epic The Romance of Rosy Ridge, about which I shudder to talk. Still, he seems to have done a competent job with Joel. The action scenes are well staged.

It’s a Civil War story, with three Reb soldiers (McCrea, Barry Sullivan, James Whitmore) escaped from smallpox-ridden Fort Benton, Missouri prison camp in 1865. After being rumbled by farmer Russell Simpson (Joel says he was a Union soldier at Pittsburg Landing, unaware that the Yankees call it Shiloh), they stumble upon evil Jeff Corey, a Quantrillesque guerrilla leader out for his own ends, basically a bandit. Corey makes them an offer they can’t refuse: they are to go out West and expropriate $1 million in silver (or was it gold, I forget) being transported from Mexico.
 
Good man Joel
 
One of the three is a sergeant, a decent man with scruples - no prize for guessing who took that part. Another is a bloodthirsty type, Jesse (not James but) Wallace – clearly meant to be a Jesse Jamesish figure, and he is played by Barry Sullivan. And the third is the slightly Walter Brennanish old-timer role, James Whitmore, on Joel’s side when the going gets tough. This was only Sullivan’s third Western (after The Woman of the Town and Bad Men of Tombstone) and was a full decade before The Tall Man on TV. I was never a great Barry fan but he’s OK, I guess, as the homicidal and basically bad-egg compadre of Joel. Whitmore is entertaining as he usually was.
 
Bad man Barry
 
There’s a Route 66 moment as a voiceover recounts all the places they travel through to get out West, and then they get to Santa Fe and join up with the wagon train carrying the bullion (hidden under hides). The boss of the train is Don Antonio (good old Ramon Novarro) and he has, naturally, a beautiful woman among his charges (all wagon trains did in Westerns), Mrs. Gort (Arlene Dahl, who was indeed very beautiful and who earlier the same year did another Western, also for MGM, the rather good Ambush with Robert Taylor). Obviously – and we see it coming a mile off - Joel and Arlene will get it together.
 
Very beautiful
 
Mrs. Gort has a young son, Roy, played by Claude Jarman. Jarman was a talented actor and would be absolutely superb as John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara’s son in Rio Grande later that year but sadly he has too little to say or do in this one and cannot shine at all. He is soon sacrificed, drowned in a dangerous river crossing.
 
Jarman sacrificed
 
There are also Apaches and Pawnees to be fought off and much derring-do. Some nice Kanab, Utah locations are well photographed by DP Charles Schoenbaum, to the tune of stirring music by André Previn. However, the majority is shot on very obvious sound stages in the studio and this does detract from the epic sweep. MGM was especially guilty of this.
 
Fine photography
 
There’s a slightly Fordian dance scene with Joel sensuously putting green slippers on Arlene’s feet before waltzing her to a secluded corner of the studio. Daring stuff.
 
Quantrillesque Corey
 
It all comes to an action climax (I mean fighting with Corey’s guerrillas, not Joel and Arlene – please). The bad guys are vanquished and Joel gets the girl – no spoiler here.

It’s all a rather unoriginal but enjoyable Technicolor excursion out West, with plenty of gallopin’ and shootin’. You’ll enjoy.


 
 


 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Hangman (Paramount, 1959)










Robert Taylor's first post-MGM Western




 
 
Since we are discussing late-ish Robert Taylor Westerns like Cattle King or Saddle the Wind for the moment, let’s take a look at his first non-MGM Western, The Hangman. With the studio/star system breaking down in the late 50s, Taylor's contract with MGM expired and was not renewed.  The Law and Jake Wade, in 1958, was the last Western he made for the studio. Taylor now formed his own company, Robert Taylor Productions, and his first outing in the saddle for that outfit was the result of a deal he did with Paramount.
 
 
The project had an excellent pedigree. It would be written by John Ford regular Dudley Nichols, from a story by Luke Short, one of the best Western novelists of all. It would be photographed by the Shane-Oscared Loyal Griggs. The art direction was by the great Henry Bumstead. It would have as the sheriff the then immensely popular Fess Parker (popular because of ABC's Davy Crockett) backing Taylor up. And it would be directed by Casablanca and Dodge City maestro Michael Curtiz. That’s quite a line-up.
                                                         
Luke Short, Michael Curtiz, Loyal Griggs
             
The fact remains that it looks like a B-Western, almost a TV one. The black and white, for one thing, looked sub-standard in an era when the big studios like Paramount were expected to make Westerns in color. The sets were modest (mostly the very recognizable Paramount Western town) and the budget restrained. There was nothing sweeping about the vistas, nor was there a cast of thousands. Apart from Taylor and Parker there were few big names. Taylor was physically rather showing his age. It was a late and non-Warners Curtiz, and anyway Curtiz never quite ‘got’ Westerns, in my view. And in this one he didn’t even have scope for Curtiz-ish adventure-action or busy crowd scenes (only the washerwomen interlude was recognizably Curtiz).

Still, for all that, The Hangman is a good, tight slightly noirish Western with a hint of bleakness and cynicism, and it repays a watch.
 
Flinty
 
Taylor is Deputy US Marshal Bovard, in a rather fine frock coat, “the toughest lawman in the territory”, who is sent out by uncredited Judge Lorne Greene (in a 15-second appearance), in a rather True Gritty or Hang ‘em Highish way to bring in malefactors. Bovard is nicknamed The Hangman (a soubriquet he does not care for) because those he arrests end on the gallows. He has a past (well, it’s a Robert Taylor Western, so he would); he used to be a lawyer but is now driven to hunt down badmen – there are always more rats, he says. He’s a classic Western loner; there’s no sign of a Mrs. Bovard or a former one. He just wanders the West doing what a man’s gotta do.

His next target is one John Butterfield, an ex-trooper who is said to have taken part in a robbery in which a man was killed. Bovard knows Butterfield is in the town of Twin Forks, and knows he’s fair-haired and tallish but that’s all. The man has changed his name. How will Marshal Bovard find his quarry? Well, Butterfield’s former flame, Selah (pre-Gilligan and very glam Tina Louise) is inveigled into identifying Butterfield. She is working as a laundrywoman on the Army post and Bovard offers her $500 reward (“Everyone has a price”) to pick Butterfield out. She can start a new life.
 
Will she i.d. the culprit?
 
So the stage is set for an intense encounter. Butterfield has married someone else but it’s clear Selah still loves him. Will she take the money and turn him over to the law, or will she help him escape? She is conflicted and hesitant, contrasting with Bovard’s flinty determination.

The sheriff of the town is tall Buck Weston, played by Fess Parker (Taylor wasn’t a short man but he is dwarfed by Parker). Buck takes a shine to Selah. Selah, though, seems to be liking the marshal more and more, though he shows surprisingly little interest. It’s getting increasingly complicated.

And it all verges on the improbable.
 
Sheriff Fess
 
As Butterfield was a teamster in the Army (“gentle with horses and gentle with men,” says his former commanding officer, who is sure the man is innocent) Bovard’s attention is focused on the local freighting business in Twin Forks. Which of the tall blond men working there is Butterfield? Johnny Bishop (pre-Hawaii Five-O Jack Lord), maybe? He has the same initials as Butterfield after all.

So we have quite a whodunnit atmosphere. It’s almost a nineteenth century police procedural.
 
Shocking!
 
There are a couple of comic turns. Mabel Albertson is entertaining as a scandalized old biddy in the hotel and Jose Gonzales-Gonzales is a short limping Mexican teamster who is pals with Johnny and willing to resort to a shotgun to help him. You know Jose, the hotelier in Rio Bravo. Less comic but enjoyable was good old Gene Evans as the big-ox teamster Big Murph, who also helps Johnny. James Westerfield is the freighter boss Herb. So the good Western character actors are there.

There’s the semi-obligatory bathing-in-a-pool scene for Ms. Louise. Funny how in the driest of climates there was always a pool for the heroine to swim naked in.

At one point, Bovard tells Selah some of his backstory, and when he says of himself, “It’s hard to understand a young fellow I once knew,” we find it rather poignant, Taylor being so aged, so very different from the Taylor of Billy the Kid back in the early 40s.

Well, I shall not reveal to you, dear e-reader, the outcome of this crime mystery, for of spoilers shall there be none. You must watch it yourself to know the ending. And who shall win the fair Selah? Will Butterfield return to his former love? Will Sheriff Buck wed her? What about the marshal? Ah, that would be telling.

All I can reveal is that a couple go off in a buckboard to California, in true Tin Star style.

Well, that's all on Robert Taylor for a while but we'll be back with Westward the Women and Many Rivers to Cross later on. So long, pards.

Pedro isn't joking
 


 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cattle King (MGM, 1963)










Robert Taylor rules the range




 
 
As I said in a recent post on Saddle the Wind, I always like Robert Taylor (left) in Westerns. I know he is probably more usually thought of as an MGM leading man in wartime romance-dramas or in the legendary Middle Ages but in fact he grew up on the plains of Nebraska, rode well, loved the West and always wanted to be in Westerns. He had been Billy the Kid in 1941 but really started to concentrate on proper films (Westerns) in the 1950s. In the early 50s Westerns like Devil’s Doorway, Ambush and Westward the Women were really classy. There followed Ride, Vaquero!, Many Rivers to Cross (review soon), and The Last Hunt. At the end of the decade we had The Law and Jake Wade, Saddle the Wind and The Hangman (review also coming soon). It was a good Western CV. By the 1960s, however, he was showing his age – he was 52 in Cattle King and despite suspiciously black hair looked older. He wasn’t well. A chain smoker, he was to develop lung cancer and die in 1969.

Taylor is the big rancher of the title, a little as he had been in Saddle the Wind. Hollywood liked titles like Cattle King or Cattle Empire (that one had Joel McCrea as the Emperor). Barbara Stanwyck was the Cattle Queen of Montana. Rich cattlemen are often the baddies in Westerns, acting arrogantly against the interests of the brave small homesteader. Here too, the small ranchers are generally the good guys, but local cattle king Sam Brassfield (Taylor) is decent, honorable and more than half on their side - like rancher Donald Crisp in Saddle.
 
 
The real villain of the piece is a perfectly splendid Robert Middleton as Big Clay Mathews. What a good Western actor Middleton was! He handled besuited badman roles especially well. He was famous as a non-Western screen villain in the likes of Desperate Hours, The Court Jester and as Edwin Stanton The Lincoln Conspiracy, his last film role (he passed away the same year, 1977) but he also did a large number of big- and small-screen oaters from the mid-50s on, starting with a 1955 episode of Gunsmoke and a part as Charlie Siringo in the Elvis Western Love Me Tender in ’56. Watch him as Rufus Henshaw in Red Sundown (he was the ruthless rancher in that one), as horse theft maestro Dutch George in a 1956 episode of Gunsmoke, as the smiling but bad outlaw pal of Jack Palance in The Lonely Man, as one of Richard Widmark’s outlaw gang in The Law and Jake Wade (also with Taylor), or indeed in any number of other roles. He was superb as the Clantonesque Charlie in Day of the Badman with Fred MacMurray. He was always terrific. He doesn’t let us down here as the hefty (he was never slim) rich man who will stop at nothing to get his way and bring Brassfield down.
 
 
 
 
The splendid Robert Middleton
 
Cattle King is an early 60s Western but in many respects it’s a 1950s one: it’s played straight in the classic tradition. The Brassfield part could have been taken by James Stewart, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda or a number of other Western leads of the time. But Taylor does it really well, bringing the right degree of Western grit and decency to the part.
 
Tough but decent cattleman
 
He is well supported, notably by Ray Teal as his foreman Ed (I have always been a great Teal-ist) and a young Robert Loggia, rather good as a firebrand Mexican top hand on Brassfield’s Teton Ranch (it’s a Wyoming story). Larry Gates has a prominent part and is rather presidential as Chester A Arthur (he would be President again, Hoover this time, in Backstairs at the White House on TV). President Arthur comes out to Wyoming to visit Yellowstone and avert a range war at the same time if he can. He and rancher Brassfield bond.
 
The President drops in for dinner
 
I also thought Malcolm Atterbury was terrifically good as the cantankerous but gutsy homesteader Abe Clevenger. It’s a memorable part. Atterbury was a regular of TV Western shows but also often featured in feature films, from Man Without a Star in 1955 to Cattle King in ‘63 - his last, more’s the pity. I remember him in the Audie oater Hell Bent for Leather (Middleton was in that one too).
 
Atterbury excellent as homesteader Abe
 
Joan Caulfield as Sharleen, Brassfield’s fiancée (who has rather bright scarlet lipstick for 1880s Wyoming ranch life but never mind), Virginian Christine as Ruth, the foreman’s wife who runs the home, and Maggie Pierce as Brassfield’s niece June all are adequate-to-good. I especially liked the way Ruth reprimanded the President for not wiping his boots before entering.

Devon as Bodine
 
The weakest link, sadly because it was a key part, was Richard Devon as the Texas gunslinger Vince Bodine, hired by villain Middleton to kill Brassfield’s crew and otherwise do his dirty business. Characters with names like Bodine or Bodeen were usually evil gunslingers, I don’t know why. But watch out for them. Ten to one they’ll be baddies. However, where it needed a real toughie for the role, Leo Gordon maybe, or Robert J Wilke perhaps, Richard Devon was a TV actor who had bit parts in a few big-screen Westerns. He was unconvincing in a key part in Cattle King, looking, as one reviewer has said, “like an accountant in costume”.

Bodine does Middleton's dirty work
 
The MetroColor is bright and the picture quality on my DVD good. There are some nice (Californian) location shots (DP William E Snyder, of The Man from Colorado fame). There’s quite good Paul Sawtell music. The movie was written by Thomas Thompson, also credited as an associate producer (his only film as such). Thompson was a TV writer (especially Bonanza and Temple Houston) and only wrote two film Westerns – the other was the screenplay for another Robert Taylor Western, Saddle the Wind, in 1958. The script for Cattle King isn’t bad, in fact.
 
Loggia likes women and fighting
 
The ensemble was directed by Tay Garnett, probably most famous for A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court and the 1946 version of The Postman Always Rings Twice, but not really known for Westerns – in fact I think Cattle King was the only big-screen Western he directed. He does a fair job, it must be said and the picture moves along at a brisk trot, with some good action scenes – the final showdown is well handled.

I quite like this picture. It’s no great Western, and it’s certainly not Robert Taylor’s finest, but it rattles right along in a 50s sort of way and is enjoyable. You could certainly watch it.



 

 

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Saddle the Wind (MGM, 1958)










Sibling rivalry




 
 
Made in 1957, released in 1958, Saddle the Wind is a late-ish Robert Taylor Western in CinemaScope and Metrocolor, with Elmer Bernstein music, which has quite a lot going for it.

I am a bit of a fan of Robert Taylor in oaters. He was good in them. He grew up on the plains of Nebraska, rode well, loved the West and always wanted to be in Westerns. He had been Billy the Kid in 1941 but really started to concentrate on our noble genre in the 1950s. In the early 50s Westerns like Devil’s Doorway, Ambush and Westward the Women were seriously good. There followed Ride, Vaquero!, Many Rivers to Cross (review soon), and The Last Hunt. At the end of the decade we had The Law and Jake Wade, Saddle the Wind and The Hangman (review also coming soon). It was a good Western CV. In Saddle the Wind he was already looking more than his age, not as bad as in some of his 60s Westerns, like Cattle King, but still he aged prematurely. He was a chain smoker who would die from lung cancer; maybe the signs were already there. Still, he does tough rancher very well, and ‘man with a past’ too, and Saddle the Wind allowed for both of these.

I also like Julie London. Ms. London was in several Western TV shows and six feature-film oaters, and rather good in them. She starred opposite Robert Mitchum in The Wonderful Country, also directed by Robert Parrish, and was memorable too, for me, in Tap Roots and, especially, Man of the West. I think she was a much better actress than many gave her credit for. Some of the long, silent looks she gives say much. She had a ‘strong’ face and was rather a handsome woman than a softly pretty one. She also had a lovely voice, which she puts to good effect in Saddle the Wind by singing the title song again during the movie to John Cassavetes. She plays an unsmiling saloon girl whom wild younger brother Tony Sinclair (Cassavetes) brings home to the ranch and plans to marry. As he hasn’t warned his older brother Steve (Taylor), her welcome is, not surprisingly, a tad uncertain. The ranch foreman says that maybe the woman will settle the kid down. “Not this woman,” says Steve. “Not this kid.” The omens are not good.

This is very much a story of fraternal rivalry. The basic idea is that Steve Sinclair is a reformed gunfighter, a lightning-fast killer who has hung up his irons and wants to ranch in peace. He is against violence, and in fact doesn't shoot a gun in the whole movie. His young brother (Cassavetes was eighteen years younger than Taylor) is full of vim ‘n’ vinegar and fancies himself as the gunfighter his bro was. He thinks that Steve’s current reluctance to shoot and ask questions later is either cowardice or decrepitude or maybe both. It’s not the first time such a plot was used but it is pretty well handled.
 
Intense - and growing -sibling rivalry
 
There’s an even bigger rancher than Steve is, Deneen, who owns two thirds of the valley, with Steve having the other third. Everyone seems to respect Deneen mightily and he is a kind of patriarch. He’s played by Donald Crisp, a John Ford favorite who was, in my view, too posh and English for Westerns. He just about gets away with it as a lordly valley owner. It was in fact Crisp’s last Western. Like Steve, Deneen is against guns and killing, and when the hotheaded Tony manages (more by luck than skill) to kill a gunslinger who had come looking for Steve, in the saloon, Deneen is rather cross. The gunslinger proved himself to be an odious bully in the opening sequence of the film so the viewer has little sympathy for him, but when Tony laughingly and callously treats his pals to celebratory drinks at the bar, with the corpse still lying on the saloon floor, our sympathies switch and Tony becomes the bad guy.

Good news, though: Deneen’s foreman is Ray Teal. Sadly he has too small a part but still, it’s Ray alright.

There’s the old-as-the-hills plot of big rancher vs. small homesteader. The farmers want to put up wire while the rich ranchers want to keep the range open. The symbolic opposition homesteader is the half-crazed Civil War veteran Ellison, played, very well, by good old Royal Dano. He has come out with his clan in a wagon train and intends to fence off and farm land right in the middle of the valley. Steve is polite but firm: no way, he says. He tells them to leave by the next day and rides away. Then drunken Tony rides down on the settlers’ camp and havoc is the result. Principled Deneen lines up alongside the farmer. Tony kills Ellison in town. The crisis nears.
 
Royal Dano very good
 
In town there are scruffy urchins, the costumes are dirty, we see a scythe hanging. The town is roughly built and in the scenery is slightly Shane-like. It’s well done and authentic. Visually the film is attractive: Colorado locations were nicely shot by pioneer George J Folsey, who had started with Lasky in 1914 and who has the distinction of being nominated for thirteen Oscars and winning nary a one. However, the picture is marred by MGM’s annoying habit of doing longshots on location but close-ups on a sound stage with back projection of the scenery. If it had been technically better and seamless it would have been OK but it’s glaring, and the constant flitting from location to studio in the same scene is distracting.
 
Verging on the kitsch but attractive
 
Director Robert Parrish was a child actor who became a sound man (he worked for John Ford on Stagecoach and Drums Along the Mohawk), then an Oscar-winning editor, then a director. He did not specialize in Westerns by any means but he did direct Robert Mitchum in The Wonderful Country, and he stood in when Nicholas Ray was ill on The Lusty Men, with Mitch again. His best (in fact, only) work as sole director of a ‘proper’ Western was Saddle the Wind. He does a good job, I must say.
 
Robert Parrish
 
I say ‘sole’ director: in fact John Sturges directed parts of the movie. I don’t know the story here, whether Sturges replaced Parrish or vice versa. Perhaps a reader knows and can tell us by leaving a comment. One commentator has said that Sturges just re-shot a few scenes in the studio because MGM was afraid that Robert Taylor was looking too old under the Colorado sun, but I don’t know.
 
Almost Shane-ish
 
The script has its moments, such as the extended metaphor of leather (if you watch it you’ll see what I mean). It was by Rod Sterling (who would do The Twlilight Zone the following year but whose only Western movie this was) and Daniel Fuchs (again, his only Western) from a Thomas Thompson story. Thompson was a very experienced TV writer (especially Bonanza and Temple Houston episodes) who only did two big-screen Westerns, both for Robert Taylor. There is a clear anti-violence agenda. The movie is quite talky for a Western so it's good that the screenplay had some quality. 
 
(Melo)dramatic
 
There’s a hint of overacting here and there and a touch of melodrama. Cassavetes was James Deanishly intense and also dynamic but not entirely natural in a Stetson. It was his only Western movie, and probably just as well.

Crisp has what appears to be a Tunstall-ish death but eventually pulls through so that they can all (except Tony) live happily ever after - though a tougher ending would have been better. The final Steve/Tony showdown is also slightly fluffed.

Still, it’s a big, color Robert Taylor Western and as such is certainly worth a view.

Robert Taylor


Sunday, January 22, 2017

Drums Along the Mohawk (Fox, 1939)



Not Ford at his best
 

 


 

 
 
Yesterday I re-watched Drums Along the Mohawk.

The success of Henry Fonda in Fox’s Young Mr. Lincoln, directed by John Ford, meant that he (Hank, not Abe) was an obvious choice to star in Ford’s next foray into the American past, to tell the story of how the United States were born. And this time it was based on a best-seller, was in Technicolor, had a big budget and there was a large cast. So, directed as the film was by Ford, and starring Fonda as it did, you would assume that this is a must-own, often-watch Western, right?


But it isn’t. It isn’t really a Western, at all for one thing. It’s a revolutionary war story set in rural New York state in which Gil Martin (Fonda) goes off, leaving posh new bride Lana (Claudette Colbert) on the farm, to win independence from the British and their Tory and Indian allies. For another, it’s a slow-moving plodder, with occasional flurries of action, and the script is uneven, rambling and unfocused.


Fonda is superb, although no great demands were placed on him by the script or story. In his biography of John Ford, Scott Eyman makes an interesting point:

Ford would use Fonda in a very different way than he would use John Wayne. Wayne’s characters were earthy and warm, brawlers by temperament, capable of love and rage. Fonda’s characters burned with a cold fire – they displayed strength, but a removed, abstracted, rather asexual strength, tempered by the actor’s instinctive austerity.

However, apart from Fonda, the rest of the acting is pretty middle of the road. La Colbert (who in fact got top billing) thought acting meant pressing the back of the hand to the forehead and sighing. Her performance is desperately old-fashioned. The support actors were only a little better. John Carradine looks splendid as the evil Tory villain in an eyepatch (maybe he borrowed it from Ford) but he has so little to say or do he doesn’t get a chance. Ditto Ward Bond, though he is cheerful. Dear old Russell Simpson was always wheeled out whenever a Mormon or Quaker elder was needed or any kind of minister. He had been 'rediscovered' by Ford after a long career in silent Westerns. Here he is a snuff-taking doctor. John Ford’s elder brother Francis Ford, his career now in a vertical decline, was given a bit part as Joe Boleo, a member of the community. He has a few more lines than usual and a strong Irish accent is noticeable. Chief John Big Tree had been doing his comic “Hallelujah!” Indian chief act for Ford since The Iron Horse and was still to be doing it in
The Searchers thirty years later. Here he gets one or two Hallelujahs.

Gil takes his posh new bride back to the cabin
 
It’s all either corny or bland – not a good combo for a Western. Among the non-Fonda cast, only Edna May Oliver as the old lady shows any depth and is worthy to act alongside Hank. She is strong and memorable. “I’ve got a long face,” she says, “and I poke it where I please.”
 
She pokes it where she pleases

There’s some decent Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan photography (especially during the chase when Fonda is outrunning the Indians to get help), and both received Oscar nominations, though Ford was always ambivalent about color.  Utah stands in effectively for upper New York State. The Alfred Newman score also does the job.

 
Fine photography
 
Gil’s heroic run saves the day: in a scene reminiscent of Francis Ford’s movie The Invaders (John often borrowed from Frank) the troops arrive just as the Indians are climbing the wall of their fort.
 
'New York State'
 
But the characters are two-dimensional and the movie is hopelessly naïve. The women all scream hysterically when the Indians come; both the Indian and the Negro salute the American flag sentimentally (difficult to know what they were getting out of Independence).This is not Ford at his best, by any manner of means.
 
The source novel
 
The script had been through too many typewriters, even that of William Faulkner (though his treatment was the furthest removed from the final product). The story was largely structured by Darryl Zanuck, who tinkered endlessly with the script in a very hands-on way. He wanted, he said in a note, to GIVE A SHOW (Darryl’s caps) and MAKE ENTERTAINMENT. As usual, except on his later movies, Ford himself also made quite radical changes and cuts as he went along. It’s a hodge-podge.

There are moments when you catch yourself wondering, ‘This can’t be John Ford, can it?’