Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Cavalry Scout (1951) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

I've been curious to check out the Monogram Cowboy Collections from the Warner Archive, and I had my first look at one of the sets when I began watching Volume 1 this evening.

The Archive has now released eight Monogram Cowboy Collections with stars such as Johnny Mack Brown, Jimmy Wakely, and Rod Cameron. Volume 1 consists of nine films, with four starring Brown, four starring Wakely, and the final title with Cameron. I plan to review the Brown and Wakely films one or two at a time in the coming days, but tonight I started off with Cameron in the title role as a CAVALRY SCOUT (1951).

I've wanted to see the Cinecolor Western CAVALRY SCOUT for a while now, simply on the basis of its cast. In addition to Cameron, whose Westerns such as PANHANDLE (1948) and STAMPEDE (1949) were so entertaining, CAVALRY SCOUT stars Audrey Long (DESPERATE), James Millican (THE SILVER WHIP), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing of DALLAS), and James Arness. That's a group of people any fan of Westerns would enjoy spending time with.

Cameron plays Kirby Frye, a civilian scout whose mission is to help the army keep ultra-lethal Gatling guns out of the hands of Indians. He's assisted by Lt. Spaulding (Davis), and the men build a good working relationship despite Frye's past as a Confederate soldier and their current rivalry over lovely Claire (Long).

Millican plays a seemingly respectable shipper who is smuggling the guns into Indian territory, with Arness as his henchman. Will Kirby and the army be able to stop them before it's too late?

I'll get the negatives out of the way first: the dialogue is fairly pedestrian, and at times the line deliveries are surprisingly stilted, threatening to turn the movie into amateur hour, though it never quite drops over the cliff. Eddy Waller's too-hammy General Sherman comes closest to turning the movie into unintentional comedy.

Otherwise, despite the awkward line reading here and there, I really enjoyed CAVALRY SCOUT. The script by Western specialist Daniel Ullman tells a good story, and director Lesley Selander keeps things moving along in a brisk 78 minutes.

The strapping Cameron is a fine Western hero, believable as a man who knows what he's doing in the outdoors, and also possessing a nice sense of humor. I've liked every one of his Westerns seen to date and look forward to more in the future.

Long looked somewhat different to me in this film than in previous movies such as DESPERATE or BORN TO KILL (1947) -- maybe it was the makeup job? -- but she plays an interesting character, an independent businesswoman who is quick thinking and admirably feisty when needed.

In addition to Millican, Davis, and Arness, familiar Western bad guy John Doucette turns up in the cast as -- of course -- a bad guy.

Cinecolor has its drawbacks but I really liked the look of this movie, which was largely filmed out of doors. The faded reds and browns of Cinecolor landscapes just don't look like anything else, and I rather enjoy that. The look alone wordlessly tells the knowledgeable viewer the era in which the film was made. The movie was photographed by Harry Neumann.

I also appreciated this movie's outdoorsy, fresh air feel; I don't think I spotted a single back projection or phony exterior in a soundstage. The movie didn't feel as cheaply made as some lower-budget Westerns; some effort was put into the film's look. The movie was partly shot in the San Jacinto Mountains, which was a nice change from more familiar Western locations.

Other than a few random speckles at the start of the opening credits, this was a fine print, given the inherent limitations of Cinecolor. There were no extras on the disc.

I really appreciate the care the Warner Archive takes making available lesser-known Westerns such as CAVALRY SCOUT so that they may be enjoyed by new audiences. All in all, despite a few clunky moments, I found CAVALRY SCOUT to be a fast-moving and enjoyable Western.

Stay tuned for additional reviews from the Monogram Cowboy Collection Vol. 1 coming in the future.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD collection. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered at the Warner Archive website.


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