Saturday, April 28, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Escape From Fort Bravo (1953)

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO is a rip-roaring action film directed by John Sturges, who would go on to direct such exciting films as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE.

William Holden stars as a Union cavalry officer responsible for keeping order at Fort Bravo, an isolated desert prison for Rebels during the Civil War. John Forsythe is a Rebel captain who cooks up an escape plan, and Eleanor Parker plays a woman who shows up at the fort to attend a wedding but may have ulterior motives.

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO somewhat echoes John Ford's cavalry movies, particularly RIO GRANDE (1950). Aside from their focus on the cavalry, the films share a red-headed leading lady (although RIO GRANDE was shot in black and white!), Civil War themes, and Stan Jones music. (Ford used Jones's music to great effect not only in RIO GRANDE, but in WAGON MASTER and THE SEARCHERS.) FORT BRAVO lacks Ford's extremely deep casts and attention to detail; it also could have stood being a little longer, with a bit more character and romantic development in the early going. Nonetheless, it's a very entertaining movie which builds to a compelling action sequence at the film's climax.

Holden and Parker offer solid performances in the lead roles; Holden's tough captain raising flowers in his small desert backyard provides a particularly interesting insight into his character. The supporting cast includes William Demarest, Richard Anderson, and Polly Bergen in a bit part as Anderson's bride.

The movie was filmed on location in Death Valley. It was shot in color and runs 99 minutes. According to the TCM website, the film was originally filmed in 3-D but was never screened in that format; shot in a spherical 1:37:1 ratio, FORT BRAVO is also credited as being MGM's first widescreen film.

Another unusual bit of trivia is that character actors Michael Pate and Frank Fenton are among the trio credited with the story and screenplay. Neither actor appears in the film.

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO has been released on video. It has not yet been released on DVD; vote here for it to be released in that format.

It can also be seen on cable on TCM.

The trailer is available at TCM's website.

Fall 2008 Update: ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO is now available on DVD.

October 2017 Update: I had the pleasure of seeing this film again at the Lone Pine Film Festival. Please visit my new post Escape From Fort Bravo (1953): A Photo Gallery.

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