Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Dakota Incident (1956)

The excellent posts in last weekend's Republic Pictures Blogathon sparked my interest in seeing several of the movies written about.

Colin's post on Republic's DAKOTA INCIDENT (1956) at Riding the High Country particularly caught my attention, given that there are a number of actors I especially enjoy in the cast, namely Linda Darnell, John Lund, Regis Toomey, and Ward Bond.

DAKOTA INCIDENT is what I think of as a "middle of the road" Western. Nothing really special, but a good cast and various character interactions here and there kept me interested. I ended up agreeing with Colin's take: "I wouldn’t say it’s an overlooked classic or anything of that kind, but there’s a good deal to take from it if you appreciate 50s westerns. In fact, I think that’s a comment which could be applied to a lot of Republic’s output – films which are imperfect in many ways yet different enough, with their own look and sensibility, to deserve a little more attention."

Dale Robertson has the lead role as John Banner, a bank robber whose partners (John Doucette and Skip Homeier) shoot him, wanting to increase each of their takes. However, Banner was just playing possum, and he eventually staggers into the dying Western town where the other men are holed up.

After confronting his former confederates, Banner ends up on a stage trip to Laramie with five other people: Amy (Darnell), a dance hall performer, and her loyal accompanist, known only as Minstrel (Toomey); a talkative senator (Bond) who believes peace with the Indians is possible; a prospector (Whit Bissell) lugging a bag of samples; and a man (John Lund) who carefully watches every move Banner makes.

Disaster strikes and after their stagecoach is wrecked, the passengers end up barricaded in a dry wash in the middle of the desert, without horses or water, trying to hold off warring Indians.

Travelers banding together against a common enemy is a traditional Western theme; showing how people under great pressure interact and make decisions is always an interesting story device, as true character is revealed. STAGECOACH (1939), of course, is one of the earlier and best-known examples of this type of Western film.

While watching DAKOTA INCIDENT I also thought of a similar Rory Calhoun Western, APACHE TERRITORY (1958), which came out a couple years later. Both DAKOTA INCIDENT and APACHE TERRITORY feature trapped groups of people, filmed in California's Red Rock Canyon.

Dale Robertson's Banner is less admirable than Calhoun's character in the later movie; there's no ambiguity to the fact that he's an outlaw. His toughness, however, makes him a natural leader when he and his fellow passengers find themselves fighting for survival, and in a way his conduct during the title "incident" allows him to help make up for his past.

John Lund's Hamilton reveals himself as someone who has good reason to hate Banner, who has inadvertently caused Hamilton to have to fight for his life on multiple fronts. If it weren't for Banner, he never would have been stuck in the middle of the desert! And that's just one problem Banner has brought into his life. Even so, the two men find themselves forming an unexpected partnership as the strongest and smartest of the group, and they treat one another with respect.

The showy Amy also proves to be made of tough stuff, wielding a gun alongside the men.

Even the blowhard senator, who is initially ridiculed for not having a realistic perspective on Indian relations, proves to be a man of courage, and in the final scenes, his hope for a better future is vindicated.

The ending is compelling, as it seems there's no way out for the survivors; suddenly an act of God, followed by Banner discovering he simply can't kill one more man, leads to an unexpected resolution. There's also some interesting ambiguity, as Banner has decided he must continue on a path toward redemption, and exactly what that will mean for his future, or Amy's, is unclear.

DAKOTA INCIDENT was directed by Lewis R. Foster. I've seen a handful of Foster's films; I thought THOSE REDHEADS FROM SEATTLE (1953) was pretty bad and EL PASO (1949) was on the dull side, but I enjoyed the low-budget TOP OF THE WORLD (1955).

DAKOTA INCIDENT was filmed by Ernest Haller. It runs 88 minutes.

Thanks to my friend Carrie for providing this movie and to Colin for encouraging me to finally bump it to the top of my "to be watched" stack! So many movies to see, so little time...


OpenID livius1 said...

Firstly, thanks for the mention and the link.
Yes, you seem to have come away with a similar feeling from the movie; certain aspects work very well and it's maybe a pity more emphasis wasn't given to those parts and some of the duller stuff trimmed. Nevertheless, it's not a bad way to pass the time as it stands, and I'm pleased you felt the urge to give the film a go.


11:43 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

You and Colin seem to have liked it better then I did... maybe I was just having a bad day? My principle memories of the film seem to be of a bunch of rather unlikable people yelling at each other in hot surroundings... and oh, also just how very *red* blood looks in Trucolor;-)

4:21 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for calling the movie to my attention, Colin! You sum the movie up well. Could have been better, but some good things scattered throughout.

Maricatrin, I can see how you could perceive the movie that way! I might have been swayed more positively simply because of the cast, especially Darnell and Lund. Let me know what you think if you check it out again! (LOL re the Trucolor blood.)

Best wishes,

12:14 AM  

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