Sunday, March 25, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Seminole (1953)

SEMINOLE is a handsomely produced, solid Universal Western directed by Budd Boetticher.

Lt. Lance Caldwell (Rock Hudson) returns home to Florida from West Point. He is ordered to serve under Major Degan (Richard Carlson), a martinet who intends to drive the Seminole tribe out of Florida.

Osceola (Anthony Quinn), the half-white leader of the Seminole tribe, is a childhood friend of Lance's, and both men love Revere Muldoon (Barbara Hale). Revere acts as a go-between conveying messages between the army and the Indians. Osceola hopes for peace, but Major Degan is blinded by his rigid views of the Indians.

The recently released Universal Vault DVD is visually impressive. Universal's distinctive candybox Technicolor of this era is seen to stunning effect during the opening credits, with red, pink, and blue letters dazzling against the background of the Everglades. There was a brief flaw midway through the film, but otherwise, like the Vault release of TOMAHAWK (1951), it's a beautiful DVD.

The film itself has excellent production values, including location shooting in the Everglades. A quicksand sequence was obviously filmed in a soundstage, which is a poor visual match for the exterior shots, but otherwise the film looks quite realistic, with flies noticeably buzzing around the actors in the swamp scenes. The colors of the Indians' costumes and war paint look particularly fine in this film.

Hudson and Quinn both give strong performances, and the interracial romance between Quinn and Hale adds a somewhat unusual element of interest. Lee Marvin provides a dash of color as a sergeant who's ordered by Major Degan to keep a watchful eye on Lt. Caldwell, but the sergeant seems just as uncertain about the major at times.

My main criticism of the film is simply that it's tiresome to watch someone act like an idiot for an extended period of time. Major Degan (Carlson) is cut from the same cloth as Col. Thursday in FORT APACHE (1948), and that character is the reason FORT APACHE is my least favorite of Ford's Cavalry trilogy. If anything, Degan is even worse than Col. Thursday, with no apparent redeeming qualities; at least the misguided Col. Thursday loved his daughter! Both leaders let their hatred and "by the book" thinking needlessly endanger the lives of their men.

As regular readers know, I'm quite a fan of Richard Carlson, but his performance struck me as a bit over the top; I wondered if a more subtle interpretation might have been more effective, although his acting choices were somewhat limited by his dialogue.

SEMINOLE was filmed by Russell Metty. The supporting cast includes Hugh O'Brian, Russell Johnson, and James Best. The running time is 87 minutes.

In addition to the DVD, SEMINOLE can be seen on Encore Westerns, where it will next be shown on March 29 and May 7, 2012.

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