Friday, May 26, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Last of the Comanches (1953)

LAST OF THE COMANCHES (1953) is a solid Columbia Pictures Western starring Broderick Crawford and Barbara Hale.

At film festivals this spring I had the chance to see Crawford in two of his best-known roles, in BORN YESTERDAY (1950) and ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949), as well as in a supporting role in the classic film noir BLACK ANGEL (1946).

Crawford was a unique screen presence; he reminds me a bit of Edward G. Robinson as far as not being a leading man, per se, yet still being a major star at this juncture of his career.

I was thus curious to see him starring in this Western, which was a remake of the Humphrey Bogart WWII film SAHARA (1943). SAHARA also starred Bruce Bennett, Dan Duryea, and Lloyd Bridges -- who in a neat bit of casting also costars in this remake.

It's 1876 and Indians led by Black Cloud massacre a frontier town, with only a few members of the U.S. cavalry surviving. Sgt. Matt Trainor (Crawford) takes charge of the remaining men (including Bridges, Martin Milner, and Ric Roman). The group heads across the desert toward a fort, meeting up with several people in a stagecoach along the way, including Julia Lanning (Hale).

Ultimately the exhausted, thirsty group takes refuge at an abandoned mission which provides them with some minimal water and shelter. The group puts their faith in a young Indian boy (Johnny Stewart) they've befriended, hoping he'll be able to make it safely to the fort and bring back the cavalry.

This is a good 85-minute film utilizing the familiar Western theme of a disparate group of stranded travelers fighting a common enemy. What it lacks in character development it makes up for with action. Some of the large group of people, such as Hale's lone woman, are more carefully delineated, but for the most part the characters are stock "types."

Crawford's leader is firm but fair, laying down the law but also taking votes at one point on a proposed course of action, and he also rethinks an initial decision to abandon the Indian boy to his fate. His humanity and willingness to reconsider his decision proves critical.

Hale's gutsy woman might be the most interesting character in the film; she doesn't hesitate to speak up for the Indian boy, and she's in the thick of the battle sequences, initially reloading guns but ultimately firing them herself, as the group's numbers dwindle in combat.

There are some nice action sequences, including a set piece in which the group surrounds the ruins where they're holed up with dynamite.

The movie was mostly filmed in Arizona, along with the Buttercup Sand Dunes in California. The color cinematography by Ray Cory and Charles Lawton Jr. is particularly good, with some unique angles -- such as looking up at expectant faces from the bottom of a well -- and superb shots showing off the desert sun and wind.

In an interview at Western Clippings, Hale said that they had many wind scenes planned but it was refusing to blow, so the company sent for wind machines. The desert winds finally kicked up on the very same day the wind machines arrived at the location!

LAST OF THE COMANCHES was directed by Andre De Toth. De Toth also directed THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955), which I'll be reviewing in the near future.

I saw LAST OF THE COMANCHES thanks to the Starz Encore Westerns channel. It was released on VHS by Goodtimes but it does not appear to have been released on DVD in the U.S.


Blogger Kristina Dijan said...

Looks good, another De Toth western I haven't seen! I love SAHARA and always find it interesting to see stories adapted into westerns.

9:56 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

You've got a lot of good De Toth viewing ahead. :) SAHARA is one I haven't seen -- I'm especially curious given that Dan Duryea is in the cast. Was surprised to realize it's a Bogart film I don't have in my collection, will track it down.

Best wishes,

10:16 AM  

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