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

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Gun for a Coward (Universal, 1957)

Family melodrama

I must admit that, being a child in the 50s and 60s, I tend to think of Fred MacMurray as the patriarch Steve Douglas on ABC’s My Three Sons, and if I think of him on the big screen at all, it’s opposite Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity. Either that or inventing flubber. But he did in fact do quite a few Westerns, starting with his lead role in Paramount’s The Texas Rangers in 1936 and including The Moonlighter (again with Stanwyck) in 1953, and of course he was Lewis to Charlton Heston’s Clark in The Far Horizons in 1955. He wasn’t bad. He rode surprisingly well and had a certain toughness about him, though his menacing walk-down was spoiled by a slightly splay-footed gait.
Fred handles sixguns
Gun for a Coward is a big, rather sprawling Cinemascope Universal Western of the late 50s, with all that that implies. It was directed by Abner Biberman, who later became known as a leading director of TV Westerns, notably The Virginian. As an actor Biberman had had small parts in classy Westerns such as Viva Zapata! and Winchester ’73, so he must have known something about the genre, though Gun for a Coward was, as far as I know, his only big-screen oater as director.
Her three sons
The movie toys with the good old ranchers v. nesters plot and the last reel centers on the equally venerable cattle-drive-to-Abilene plot, but really the film is more of an intense family melodrama that has something in common with Broken Lance, The Furies or The Violent Men, though it lacks the quality of those (Biberman was no Dmytryk, Mann or Maté). Following hard on the hooves of Warners’ The Burning Hills, Gun for a Coward put the accent on young men, with older heads failing to prevail against youthful passion of one kind or another.

It was written by R Wright Campbell, author of PI novels and the first to refer to LA as La-La Land. He wrote another MacMurray Western for Universal the same year, Quantez, but he did mostly TV work. The writing on Gun for a Coward is, well, derivative. Mind, it’s hard to be anything else when writing Westerns: the genre is after all so self-referential. When does an affectionate allusion become a cliché? It’s a tightrope, dudes.

Fred is Will Keough, an elder brother, become the head of the family when daddy died and with a more paternal than fraternal relationship to siblings Bless and Hade. Probably just as well as MacMurray was 50-odd when the film was made while the actors playing his bros were 30 and 20. The idea is that Will is the steady one they all rely on, Bless is the sensitive flower and Hade is the impetuous wild one. Their mother (Josephine Hutchinson) is a rather manipulative woman who smothers and spoils her favorite, Bless. So it’s all set up for intense psychological, not to say Freudian relationships, you know how they do.
The brothers Keough
It’s all made even intenser by one brother falling for another’s fiancée (third-billed Janice Rule, Matt Helm’s partner, in her first Western, later rather good in Alvarez Kelly and Welcome to Hard Times).
Fiancée of one, she falls for the other
The part of sensitive Bless was to have been taken by James Dean, until that accident in the Porsche took a hand, and Jeffrey Hunter was cast, lent out by Fox. Hunter’s big break had of course come the year before with The Searchers, and he was a hot box-office property. He’d also been the Indian Little Dog opposite hero Robert Wagner in Fox’s White Feather in 1955 and one of Raymond Massey-John Brown’s sons in Seven Angry Men the same year. Also in ’57 he was Frank James to Robert Wagner’s Jesse in Fox’s big The True Story of Jesse James, which, however, wasn’t. Later he would be in Sergeant Rutledge and would be Temple Houston on TV. So he had a strong Western pedigree. He’s quite good in Gun for a Coward (of course he’s not a coward at all, it’s all a misunderstanding) but not, I would say, quite at the hauteur the role demanded.
Sensitive son with manipulative ma
The youngest son Hade Keough is played by Dean Stockwell, successfully emerging from popular child star into capable adult actor (and still going strong; I saw him in NCIS the other day – dreadful show but that’s neither here nor there). He’d started Westerns back in 1947 and had had a big part as a small boy in Stars in My Crown in 1950 and Cattle Drive in ’51, both with Joel McCrea. He’s quite good as the tearaway bro, impetuous, rash and hot-headed. He comes to a sticky end though.

Chill Wills is the colorful ranch foreman Loving (maybe a relation to Oliver, who knows), so that’s good. Iron Eyes Cody has a small part as, you guessed, an Indian chief. And Bob Steele gets an habitual bit-part too. I always like to see their faces even if they don’t say much.

There's nice cinematography (George Robinson) and music (Joseph Gershenson and Henry Mancini).
Good old Chill
There seem to have been budget constraints because the herd they drive to Abilene consists of about a dozen head and footage obviously from other movies is intercut when we need to see more. There should probably have been less psychological interaction and a bit more action. It does seem to drag a bit. The movie seems long, though in fact comes in at 88 minutes which is far from protracted. Au fond, though, there’s a rather sad message to the film that a non-violent and sensitive man can only really fit in properly in the West by showing his virility in a saloon with gun and fists. Fred, fiancée-less, rides off into the sunset while Jeffrey gallops off at the head of his cowhands to hunt down the rustlers, now a real man.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Seven Ways from Sundown (Universal, 1960)

The Barry Sullivan Show

Clair Huffaker wrote Western novels and screenplays, sometimes screenplays from his own novels, as in this case. They were competent and workmanlike and occasionally excellent. Some of them were quite big and famous – The Comancheros or The War Wagon, for example, both with John Wayne, and some were entertaining and exciting, like 100 Rifles or Rio Conchos. Flaming Star was outstanding. In Seven Ways from Sundown he gives us an enjoyable story for Audie Murphy to star in.
C'est Clair
Almost more than an Audie Western (his 20th), this is a Barry Sullivan vehicle. While Murphy plays the straight-and-narrow Texas Ranger determined to bring him in, it’s Barry who plays the charismatic charming rogue who is the object of the hunt, and it is he who steals the picture.
Barry stealing the show
It’s the story of frock-coated outlaw Jim Flood, who has a splendid entrance in the first scene, escaping from a saloon and his pursuers. It is Sullivan, of course. This was the year that he became Pat Garrett on TV, in The Tall Man (he was tall actually) and he’d been in big-screen Westerns since 1943. He was (a very fictional) Tom Horn in 1949 in Bad Men of Tombstone and he’d been an Earpish marshal in Forty Guns in ’57. He had another charming-rogue part in Dragoon Wells Massacre that year too, and he was a regular on various Western TV shows. Seven Ways from Sundown is one of his better oaters.

You can tell Flood is a good-badman because at one point he is nice to a kid and gives him a knife. If you see a character mistreating an animal or child, especially in the first reel, that’ll tell you right off he’s a baddie, but if you see one patting a dog or being kind to a kid, that’s a sure sign he’s on the side of the angels.
Being nice to a boy? Must be a goody.
Huffaker liked colorful names and the movie’s title, it may surprise you to know, is the name of Audie’s character. Audie explains that Mr. Jones, his father,  rather unimaginatively called his sons by numbers, not being bothered to think up names, and so Audie was Seven Jones. Two was also a Ranger but was killed (by Flood as it turns out) and that’s why Seven has joined the Rangers at all, even though he can’t shoot a sixgun. Mama, however, didn’t like only numbers for her sons so she added names, One for the Money Jones, Two for the Show Jones, and so on. That’s how Audie got to be named Seven Ways from Sundown Jones. OK, why not. Presumably (though we are not told) there was Three to Get Ready Jones and Go-Go-Go Jones, though what Five and Six were called is a mystery.
Lt. Tobey
Kenneth Tobey is the carrot-topped Lieutenant of Rangers who, it transpires, is not all he’s cracked up to be. The best thing, though, is that the tough Sergeant Henessey, who takes Seven under his wing and teaches him to shoot a sidearm, is John McIntire. He knows Flood of old and they are almost friends. It doesn’t stop him hunting Flood down though. Sadly, however, Flood shoots at his pursuers from a distance, unaware that the man he has killed is his old pal Henessey. Oops.
Well, son, that there is called a trigger
So it’s a pursuit Western, with Seven and Henessey, then Seven tout seul chasing down badman Flood. Seven acquits himself well and turns out to be tougher and more resourceful than his boyish appearance and rookie Ranger status lead Flood to believe.
Tougher than he looks
Before leaving on the chase Seven just had enough time to fall in love with sultry starlet Venetia Stevenson in the last of only two Western movies she did (the other was the excellent Day of the Outlaw, in which she was good). The best thing about Ms. Stevenson in this one, though, is that she has a dog named Apache which Audie saves from a hawk. Seven Ways from Sundown opines that it's an odd name for a canine, but that's the kettle calling the pot black.
It's lerve. You can't quite see but that's Apache in her arms.
Of course howsoe’er charming or simpatico Barry may be, he is a badman and cannot be allowed to get away scot-free. Hollywood mores dictate that he must perish. Nicely, but he’s gotta go. And Audie duly dispatches him.
Ranger Audie gets the drop on Barry
The ending is very downbeat though, unusually so. It adds a touch of class to an otherwise fairly straightforward B Western. The New York Times review said, rather dismissively, “Undemanding audiences who have seen it all before should find it no more boring than usual” but actually I think it’s rather better than that. But then I am a bit of an Audie fan. And McIntire will raise any Western a notch too.

The excellent John McIntire

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Alamo (Buena Vista, 2004)


Producer Ron Howard and director/co-writer John Lee Hancock (replacing Howard who had been slated to direct but fell out with Disney) must have thought long and hard before embarking on their version of The Alamo. John Wayne had sunk 13 million 1960 dollars into his project and it had proved less buoyant than the Titanic. By the nature of the beast a big budget is required – all those Mexican soldiers – and there can have been little guarantee of a return for the 2004 one. The final battle took a month to shoot. At 51 acres, the set was the largest and most expensive built in North America to date. There is a story that one of the reasons the budget was so high was that a pack of Doritos fell out of an extra’s pocket when he was ‘shot’ and the scene had to be redone. The extra may have not received his full salary that day. In fact the 2004 The Alamo cost over $140 million to make and it recouped about $25m worldwide in the two months after release. Oops.
Not a great money-maker
Still, the story is so very American and so very Hollywood – do damn heroic - that generation after generation can’t resist it. In 1911 Gaston Méliès directed The Immortal Alamo and DW Griffith and Christy Cabanne did it in 1915 in Martyrs of the Alamo. Universal had a go with Glenn Ford as The Man from the Alamo in 1953 (though that was only indirectly an Alamo retelling), Republic had Arthur Hunnicutt as Davy Crockett and Sterling Hayden as Jim Bowie in The Last Command in 1955, Disney had Fess Parker as Crockett and Kenneth Tobey as Bowie in the mission on TV in 1956, and Duke was Crockett and Richard Widmark Bowie in the 1960 turkey, The Alamo. There have also been songs and comics and the Alamo in Texas has become the tourist attraction par excellence for Americans.
Big set
All these versions, including the 2004 one, reinforced the popular myths about the Alamo and have brave American defenders of the Alamo resisting hordes of greasy Mexicans led by the corrupt and evil dictator Santa Aña/Santa Anna – although one of the dramatic weaknesses of the Wayne version was that Santa Anna hardly appeared at all (and the movie took almost as long as the historical 13-day siege did). All the films center their stories almost exclusively on Crockett, Bowie and Travis. The 2004 one is at least the most historically accurate.

Billy Bob Thornton is a colorful and winning Crockett, playing his fiddle (a tune actually written in 1855 but never mind) on the ramparts to drown out the Mexican military band blaring out el degüello. He has no coonskin cap and explains to Bowie that he only wore it in the coldest weather and because “that feller who was me in a play” wore one so he occasionally felt obliged to. It’s a nice little excursion into the idea of Western myth versus reality. Thornton is the best thing about the movie.
Billy Bob is Davy - sans coonskin cap
Jason Patric gives us a consumptive/malarial/pneumoniac Bowie coughing up blood into his spotless hankie. We used to call it a hankie. This Bowie was really very poorly. There is the slightest of hints that ‘other’ diseases were also involved.

Patrick Wilson is Travis. It was to have been Ethan Hawke but he dropped out. Wilson’s OK and has a vaguely Laurence Harvey look about him, though his hat isn’t as good.
All three of these figures, Crockett, Bowie and Travis, actually had soiled reputations needing a spot of burnishing, but that is not dealt with. And there is no questioning of the Americans’ God-given right to take Mexican land and be damned to the effrontery of the greasers for objecting. At least the 2004 movie has blacks preferring the Mexican side – slavery was illegal in Mexico.

Dennis Quaid is an earnest and even tortured Sam Houston, desperate to help the defenders at the Alamo but citing Wellington (a nice contrast to Santa Aña’s claim to be the Napoleon of the West) and plumping for a cautious holding strategy.
Quaid is Sam
Emilio Echevarria is a splendidly evil (if slightly elderly and rather cartoonish) Santa Anna. Some of his officers are more decent types (though not all). They all finish badly anyway. At least they speak subtitled Mexican Spanish and not pidgin English.
Not a nice chap
One good thing, though: I think they did the mounting tension/despair well as the men wait for what they know to be a certain and grisly death.

Well, you could miss this treatment of the great American myth and not miss much. But it is at least the best one so far.

Stalwart defenders

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Yellow Mountain (Universal, 1954)

Weak top stars but good supporting cast

The Yellow Mountain is a mid-50s color B Western from Universal. Starring as it does Lex Barker and Howard Duff, it is a tad on the weak side.
A woman's unclaimed lips waited for the taking, eh?
Mr. Barker was very popular at the time: his last outing as Tarzan had been the year before. But he wasn’t too good in Westerns. He’d had small parts in several before this, had led in the semi-Western Battles of Chief Pontiac in ’52, and had had second billing after Randolph Scott in Thunder over the Plains in ’53, but this was his first starring part in a proper oater. Later he would be Old Shatterhand in those Karl May tales. But he wasn’t really cut out for ridin’ the range. In The Yellow Mountain he is supposed to be Andy Martin, a hard-as-nails adventurer and mining engineer who knocks ultra-heavy Leo Gordon down no fewer than three times in the course of the movie, a rather implausible likelihood. I would have preferred Glenn Ford, say. Robert Mitchum would have been great. But he was busy with Marilyn for Fox on the River of No Return at the time.
Lex trying to be a tough Westerner
Similarly, Howard Duff, though part of the Hollywood glitterati in the mid-fifties with his then wife Ida Lupino (a superb actress), was never really a top star, and the Westerns he did were routine, or worse. He starred opposite Yvonne De Carlo in the pretty dreadful Calamity Jane and Sam Bass, that kind of thing, and he was Black Jack Ketchum, Desperado in ‘56. The Yellow Mountain was his fourth outing in the saddle (though as a scheming saloon and mine owner in a fancy silk vest he didn’t actually mount up). He does play the part with some pzazz and comes across as a charming-rogue type of guy but I would have preferred, say, Lyle Bettger, who did blond besuited derringer-wielding saloon owners to perfection.
Howard Duff tries to put one over on villain John McIntire. A doomed effort.
The ensemble was directed by experienced Universal hack Jesse Hibbs, and as such it has pace, and it was shot in excellent color in Mojave Desert locations by George Robinson, who had spent most of his time behind a Universal camera (he’d started back in the early 1920s) and had worked for Paramount on The Plainsman. Visually, most of these Universal Westerns of the 1950s were very attractive. The writing (George Zuckerman and Russell S Hughes) is workmanlike rather than inspired, though, and the story a bit on the predictable side. Well, it was a Universal B Western.

It’s a tale of gold mining in Nevada, with mucho skullduggery going on. The good news is the casting: the arch-villain Bannon, Duff’s rival as saloon and mine owner, is the splendid John McIntire and his chief henchman is the equally fine Leo Gordon. What a pair. And on the good guy’s side there is William Demarest as Jackpot, the cranky old-timer owner of a no-good mine, and the glam Mala Powers, protégée of Ida Lupino and Rose of Cimarron shortly before, is his daughter Nevada, love-interest for first Mr. Duff, then Monsieur Barker. It’s a top-drawer line-up.
William Demarest is Barker ally Jackpot
Bannon isn’t too far from Gannon, the charismatic villain McIntire played in Universal's The Far Country the same year and I wish the names had been identical. I like to think that James Stewart’s opponent in Canada had started his crooked ways in Nevada, though as the McIntires are shot to death in the last reel of both movies that would perhaps have created the odd problem of continuity.
Mala Powers
The many brawls are unconvincingly staged and they needed Yak Canutt or someone good on the stunts (it was Carl Andre in fact).

Kermit Maynard is the (uncredited) bartender and Denver Pyle (equally uncredited) cleans Demarest out at poker in the saloon, so you can have fun spotting great character actors.

Leo wears that short blanket jacket he often sported (actors were often obliged to provide their own costumes and maybe that jacket was Leo’s own). Duff has a pocket pistol which is almost a derringer. So all in all this is quite a fun Western with much to recommend it, though The Far Country it wasn’t.

In the mine - gold!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

4 for Texas (Warner Bros, 1963)

Perfectly dreadful

“The contempt in which all concerned must have held their audience should not be encouraged by willingly viewing this drivel.” Brian Garfield, as so often, is spot-on with this judgement. The fault lies mostly with Frank Sinatra and Robert Aldrich: Sinatra because although we all know he could act really well, we also know that he usually didn’t bother, lazily dashing off scenes and refusing to do retakes, with complete and cynical disregard for the audience, and Aldrich because he allowed it. Sinatra did five Westerns, all very bad. Aldrich directed six Westerns, but only one of them was good (Ulzana’s Raid); a couple were just about OK though flawed (The Last Sunset and Apache); one was an overblown farrago (Vera Cruz); and two were absolutely dire (The Frisco Kid and 4 for Texas). Aldrich co-wrote and produced 4 for Texas as well as directing it, so should come in for a good chunk of the blame.
Of course everyone loves Dean Martin. Not only did he have the voice of an angel drinking honey (tragically he does not sing in this movie) but he also had a twinkle in his eye and he was the living embodiment of the word simpatico. But even he is clearly just going through the motions here, probably taking his cue, as per usual, from Sinatra.
Dino drinks tea?
Two and two make four, and the other couple of the title are, to complement Sinatra and Martin, the mammary marvels Anita Ekberg and Ursula Andress. Both were dreadful actors (especially Ekberg) and the idea of Sinatra’s spindly character falling for the huge, overweight Ekberg, wobbling fatly across the set, is ridiculous.
Sinatra probably standing on a box
It’s set in Galveston and tells of two rival gamblers and saloon owners. Charles Bronson is the bad guy (or even-worse guy one should say because there aren’t any goodies) and Bronson’s acting ability fits right in with that of the bigger stars – i.e. none was shown, if indeed, in certain cases, any ever existed. Any decent actors are wasted: Bronson shoots Jack Elam even before the opening titles have finished. One-Reel Jack was used to getting killed early in a Western but this is silly. Hardly worth turning up. (He did it again in Once Upon a Time in the West but at least that opening was longer and gave Jack a chance to shine). Richard Jaeckel and Bob Steele appear briefly but sadly are also squandered in bit parts.
Bad guy Bronson
The Three Stooges have a singularly unfunny cameo.

And why on earth did the movie have to have a runtime of over two hours?

The only good thing is that there are quite a few derringers.

4 for Texas is complete junk, an early 60s commercial Western of the worst kind, and should be avoided at all costs.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

West of the Divide (Lone Star, 1934)

Duke learns his craft

In 1933, after the six B but not-at-all-bad Westerns the young John Wayne did for Warners, he embarked on the long series of sixteen formulaic oaters released by Monogram under producer Paul Malvern’s Lone Star logo. They were low-budget black & white second features, at under an hour, and they are all very similar indeed. Most were directed by RN Bradbury, Bob Steele’s dad, who had a good eye for locations and a fondness for snappy camera action. They had Duke’s pal Yakima Canutt doing the stunts and bit parts, and they were shot by DP Archie Stout. West of the Divide was the fourth of these.
A lot of fun
Monogram was usually where actors ended up, not where they started, but work was work and if you watch the Lone Star Westerns you can see Wayne learning and developing. He is quite physical (in West of the Divide he does a back somersault) and he often did his own fights and horse leaps, though Yak did the hairier stunts.
Duke does his own fights
He is sometimes gauche but always winning and sincere, and he is usually the best actor on the set (though fellow cast members were usually has-beens or never-would-bes). Wayne worked on these pictures, building his skills, mastering dialogue, taking and giving cues better. He wasn’t yet the fine actor he would become (those who say John Wayne couldn’t act have obviously never watched Red River or The Searchers) but he was gradually, and modestly, working towards that. In his biography John Wayne: The Life and Legend, Scott Eyman puts it well: Wayne was not a natural actor by any means but he was a natural star.
Gabby has no prolific beard yet
West of the Divide is a classic example. Duke’s pal is Gabby Hayes, beardless as yet and billed as George Hayes. Gabby and Duke spend the first reel sitting down telling each other the plot but before too long they move and some action can begin. It’s the old one about the young man whose farmer dad was killed and who sets out to get his place back and find out who did the dirty deed. We viewers know instantly who the villain was because we immediately see a fellow in a suit with a pencil mustache under his nose (Lloyd Whitlock) so he is obviously the baddy. He wants the whole valley, you know how they do. He has henchmen, naturally, and one of these is Hank (Canutt), so that’s good. Equally obviously there’s a girl, this time Virginia Faire Brown (aka Virginia Brown Faire, take your pick). She was Tinker Bell in the 1924 silent Peter Pan but she also did a lot of silent and talkie Westerns with the likes of Rex Lease, Hoot Gibson, et al.
It was never actually difficult to guess who the villain was
The best thing though is that the sheriff is my hero Earl Dwire. Already 50 when this series started, Dwire was a regular, usually as walrus-mustached sheriff. See for example Blue Steel, The Dawn Rider or Randy Rides Alone. In West of the Divide he’s sheriff again and duly restores law ‘n’ order when Duke has defeated the villain.

There’s a young boy (Billie O’Brien) called Spuds whose cruel father beats him and Duke saves him (in a very good stunt) when his buggy horses bolt. It turns out that this lad is really Duke’s kid brother, who also survived the massacre, so we know that the bros will bond and the little one will become a kind of stepson when big John gets the gal. In fact the kid does the proposing and the accepting in the last reel on behalf of his elders.
Duke finds his kid brother
The boy equally resourcefully removes the lead bullets from the cartridges of his dad’s gun, so when the baddy in a suit grabs it and shoots at Duke in the climactic scene, Duke is unscathed and able to whop the daylights out of the blighter.

Wayne rides his white horse Duke.

West of the Divide (I’ve no idea why it’s called that) is silly, fun and you could do a lot worse.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Allegheny Uprising aka The First Rebel (RKO, 1939)

Duke takes on the British Empire - and wins

Republic boss Herbert Yates had no sooner signed his only ‘A’ picture star, John Wayne of Stagecoach fame, than he loaned him out to RKO to make a musket-and-tricorn drama about Jim Smith and the Black Boys in 1760s Pennsylvania. Really, Allegheny Uprising shouldn’t be appearing on this blog at all because only by a big stretch can it be called a Western. Still, it’s an American frontier story with Wayne, who has Claire Trevor as co-star (as in Stagecoach and Republic’s big Dark Command a year later), Chill Wills and Brian Donlevy are in it, and it’s a fun actioner with quite a lot to recommend it. So it just scrapes in.
Not a Western in the true sense but fun
You probably learned about James Smith (1737 – 1812 or 1814) at school. He is sometimes considered the first rebel against British rule – indeed the source novel by Neil H Swanson and alternative title to the film are The First Rebel. Naturally, the movie plays fast and loose with history, as they all do, and so I wouldn’t exactly advise watching it to get a true picture of the early stages of the American Revolution. If you want the facts behind the story, try The Black Boys Uprising of 1765 by Dan Guzy. Still, if you want 81 minutes of frontier fun, you could do worse than watch Allegheny Uprising.
The real James Smith and his screen persona
But back to Duke. He’s rather good in this, probably pleased to get away from those damn serials and juvenile Westerns and be a star again, and showing confidence and vim. There was an undoubted screen chemistry between him and Claire Trevor, who plays his tomboy lover, and the fringed buckskin shirt and coonskin cap seem to suit Wayne as well as the Stetson and leather vest. And it’s a rollicking yarn, beautifully shot, in fact, in a black & white that admirably recreates the period setting. The titles over the soundtrack variations on a theme of Yankee Doodle Dandy by Anthony Collins are very charming. The DP was RKO’s Nicholas Musuraca, who was said to “paint with light” and was later nominated for an Academy award. He’d done very many silent Westerns and had worked with Edward Cronjager on Cimarron.
The facts
The British villain is the perfectly splendid George Sanders, wheeled on whenever an Imperialist swine was required (his voicing of Shere Khan the tiger in Disney’s The Jungle Book was a master-stroke). He is an arrogant upper-class clod of a redcoat who despises the common colonial settlers with an undisguised loathing. There’s a more sensible British army officer, though, his superior General Gage (Olaf Hytten). Gage’s predecessor as baronet introduced the greengage to our palates, so respect, dude. Anyway, where were we?

Caddish redcoat Captain Sanders


General Gage
The slightly Mesquiteerish trio who combat Sanders and Gage are happy-go-lucky yet sage - even statesmanlike - Jim Smith (Duke), a bibulous Scotsman, MacDougall (Wilfrid Lawson) and the educated one, the Professor (John F Hamilton). They all enjoy slaughtering Delaware Indians and are crack shots with their muskets.

The real villain, though, isn’t British at all. It’s the evil trader Callendar, played by Brian Donlevy. Though come to think of it, Donlevy was born in Northern Ireland, so I suppose he was British after all. Still, his Noo Yoik accent doesn’t sound too George Sanders-ish. He wants to sell British-made tomahawks to the Indians, a slightly implausible plot device which makes a change from selling guns to them (in Westerns usually a crime somewhere on the scale between incest and matricide). Donlevy was a fascinating man who led a picaresque life of adventure but he was completely unconvincing in Westerns (unless he could be a saloon heavy with a derringer).
Even in a tricorn he manages to look like a hood
The movie was directed by William A Seiter, a Hollywood vet who had started with Selig and been a Keystone cop. He is best known for directing the likes of Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, the Marx brothers and Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers, but occasionally turned his hand to frontier frolics – he directed two Westerns with Randolph Scott, though both, regrettably, were dire.

Well, the heroes foil the plot, save the day and defeat the Brits, so all’s well that ends well. At the end Jim and his pards head off for Tennessee and more adventures, hotly pursued by Claire, determined to nail Jim down to matrimonial servitude.
So now you know
The film got panned. The New York Times said it was “a sprawling, confused costume picture which just seems like a lot of actors dressed up in coon-skin caps, leather jerkins and soldier suits, wandering around on location”. The reviewer added, “John Wayne, in the role of Jim Smith, plays in one grim, monotonous key” and Claire Trevor “is cast in this one as a female nuisance, which she succeeds almost too well in being”.
Actually very good together, malgré The New York Times
The movie didn’t fare too well at the box office either: it came out just as brave little Britain was standing up against Nazi might, and films showing Brits as repressive occupiers weren’t flavor of the month. John Ford did better with his picture on similar themes, Drums along the Mohawk with Henry Fonda, released at the same time and not so anti-British. For me, though, Allegheny Uprising is more fun. Historical tosh, but fun.