Monday, May 09, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Fort Bowie (1958)

Not long ago I saw a few minutes of FORT BOWIE on the Encore Westerns Channel. I thought it looked like an interesting cavalry Western, especially as I'm a fan of lead actor Ben Johnson; so when I learned there was a brand-new widescreen DVD in the MGM DVD-R program, I picked it up immediately.

Unfortunately, the film proved to be quite a disappointment. I usually find things to enjoy even in weak films, and it's fairly rare for me to simply out-and-out dislike a film and give it an unqualified thumbs down. This is one of those times.

The movie's got Ben Johnson on horseback and crisp black-and-white location photography in Kanab, Utah, but that's about all I can say for it.

The film begins with a rotten-to-the-core cavalry major (J. Ian Douglas) leading a massacre of Indians bearing a white flag, and it doesn't improve much from there. A lot of screen time is given over to violence that's not your typical Western shoot-'em-up style, what with the Indians hanging men upside down and roasting them alive. There's also a great deal of focus on hand-to-hand combat.

Other than Ben Johnson's Captain Thompson, most of the characters are dishonorable in one way or another, and even worse is that they're poorly scripted and badly acted. I had no patience for the bigoted major's ranting, and the performance of Jan Harrison as the petulant wife of the fort commander (Kent Taylor) made me wince. The dialogue Harrison had to deliver didn't help matters; the screenwriter tries to redeem her in the final scenes, but she was too much of a nasty idiot for it to be truly believable.

The supporting cast includes Jana Darvi (also known as Maureen Hingert), Peter Mamakos, Jerry Frank, and Barbara Parry.

FORT BOWIE was directed by Howard Koch. The photography was by Carl Guthrie. The film runs 80 minutes.

FORT BOWIE will be shown again on Encore Westerns on May 14th and June 6th, 2011. Encore shows a pan and scan version of the film.

The widescreen DVD is very nice; if only the movie were as good as the print!


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