50 Westerns From the 50s I decided I needed to bump it to the top of the stack!
DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE proved to be as enjoyable as advertised, with a terrific cast, a good story, and excellent location filming.
Actor-writer Warren Douglas, who also has a small role in the film, based his screenplay on a story by Oliver Drake. (It's rather interesting to note that lead actor Dennis O'Keefe also wrote screenplays.) The general theme of a disparate group of travelers banding together to survive Indian attacks is familiar to anyone who's watched STAGECOACH (1959)...or APACHE TERRITORY (1958)...or DAKOTA INCIDENT (1956)...or THE STAND AT APACHE RIVER (1952)...or any one of probably scores of movies with that theme. It's simply one of the great Western plot conventions, allowing for maximum character development and drama; the pleasure is seeing how different filmmakers approach the material.
DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE is a particularly enjoyable film in this subgenre. The story kicks into high gear from the first minutes, as we meet Marshal Bill Haney (the excellent Trevor Bardette), who's escorting a pair of accused criminals (Barry Sullivan and Jack Elam) across the desert to trial.
The small law enforcement convoy soon meets up with Captain Matt Riordan (O'Keefe), the only survivor of an Indian attack on his regiment; Jonah (Sebastian Cabot), a nasty and self-centered type who's more interested in selling guns and whiskey to Indians than in helping others who need it; and a stagecoach whose passengers include Mona Freeman, Katy Jurado, and Casey Adams (also known as Max Showalter).
Warring Indians constantly attack the traveling party, gradually picking off members of the group as well as their horses. With everything at stake, true characters are revealed.
Link and Tioga (Sullivan and Elam) prove to be among the bravest of the bunch. Tioga kindly cares for an orphaned little girl (Judy Stranges) the group finds hiding at a burned-out way station, while Link forges a friendly relationship with the marshal, playing cards with him every time they stop to rest.
Link also seems to be the only man in the group capable of taming pretty but bratty Ann (Freeman), who was once the captain's flame and is now in a relationship with Phillip (Adams). Link understands and accepts Ann as the flawed person she is, whereas the captain and Phillip seemingly each fell for a more idealized woman who didn't really exist.
I'm a big fan of O'Keefe -- last year he tied for my most-watched actor -- but he has the less showy role as the stalwart Cavalry officer. Sullivan pretty much steals the movie as the genial Link, whether he's playing cards with the marshal, reassuring Tioga and little Susan, or sparring with Ann. It's a great part, and Sullivan makes the most of it...and then, if possible, Elam occasionally steals the movie from Sullivan.
One cautionary note, the violence aimed at the horses was the one issue I had with the film; there's a scene with a horse about an hour into the movie which was jaw-droppingly shocking, and I fear it wasn't special effects.
Harold D. Schuster keeps the film moving along at a good clip, with an 88-minute running time.
The movie looks terrific; it appears the entire film was shot on location. Cinematographer William Clothier, who shot many John Wayne films, photographed the film in CinemaScope in Kanab, Utah.
The film also has a robust score, by Paul Dunlap; the Roger Wagner Chorale is heard on the soundtrack.
The supporting cast includes Hank Worden and Jon Sheppod.
A bit of trivia: little Judy Stranges, who plays Susan, would grow up to costar on the TV series ROOM 222 (1969-74), where she was billed as Judy Strangis.
DRAGOON WELLS MASSACRE has had a Region 2 DVD release in Germany. I enjoyed the film very much and hope we can look forward to a U.S. DVD release at some point in the future.
At the time of this writing, it can be seen on YouTube. It could disappear at any time so anyone interested in seeing it there should make haste.
Look for more on this film from Toby in the upcoming Allied Artists Blogathon at 50 Westerns From the 50s. The blogathon is scheduled for January 29-31.