Friday, January 10, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Fort Yuma (1955)

FORT YUMA is a Cavalry Western distinguished by Technicolor location shooting around Kanab, Utah, but a depressing and overly violent storyline made it unsatisfying viewing.

Lt. Ben Keegan (Peter Graves) hates all Indians, especially Sgt. Jonas (John Hudson), a military scout who is also an Apache Indian. Hypocritical Ben secretly has an Indian mistress, Francesca (Joan Taylor), who also happens to be the sister of Jonas.

Ben and Jonas are tasked with delivering a missionary schoolteacher (Joan Vohs) to Fort Yuma, but the trip is interrupted by warring Indians.

I've enjoyed Peter Graves in several Westerns this year and admire director Lesley Selander, but this film just didn't sit well with me. There was little that was uplifting from a relationship standpoint, and a lot of people meet unhappy ends.

The film is from Bel-Air Productions, and I found that this movie was similar to the other Bel-Air Westerns I've seen to date, REBEL IN TOWN (1956) and FORT BOWIE (1958), in being excessively dark and/or violent. FORT YUMA and REBEL IN TOWN share the same screenwriter, Danny Arnold.

According to IMDb, the film was originally not approved for release under the Production Code and several scenes which were deemed to be excessively violent were edited out. If I found the 78-minute release version of the film too violent for my tastes, I can't imagine what the original version was like!

It's also worth noting that this was released the same year as Selander's SHOTGUN (1955), which I mostly liked but again found overly violent.

Joan Taylor of EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS (1955) was perhaps the most interesting character in the film. That said, she and Graves have a disturbing scene where he belts her to the ground and she gets up and kisses him!

Actress Joan Vohs was familiar to me from an early MAVERICK episode, "The Long Hunt." The cast also includes William "Bill" Phillips, James O'Hara, and Addison Richards.

FORT YUMA is available in a nice print on DVD-R in the MGM Limited Edition Collection. Amazon Prime users can stream the movie on Amazon Instant Video for no additional charge.

Additional Peter Graves Westerns reviewed in the last few months: FORT DEFIANCE (1951), ROBBERS' ROOST (1955), WICHITA (1955), and CANYON RIVER (1956).


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

Oh dear! I do believe that this was one of my
Still it's nice to see so much Lesley Selander in
cyberspace,especially with Toby's recent post on
Tim Holt!
Selander and Bel-Air did tend towards excessive violence
in their films,I suspect that they were catering for the
drive-in crowd. After THE YELLOW TOMAHAWK and FORT YUMA
were hacked to pieces by the censor they did tone things
down somewhat.
QUINCANNON FRONTIER SCOUT is a much less violent film
as is THE BROKEN STAR where Selander and Bel-Air let
humor filter into the mix.
Nevertheless I do really like FORT YUMA I guess I like
Westerns where people with racist agendas have to re-
examine their previous attitudes. (SANTA FE PASSAGE,
I also liked the rather touching father/son relationship
between Bill Phillips and James O Hara (brother of Maureen)
Joan Vohs was also excellent as the missionary...light years
away from her role as an alcoholic in CRY VENGEANCE.
Laura,if you found FORT YUMA violent I do not know what you
will think of CRY VENGEANCE although I must say that the
violence in that film is more emotional.
I have to agree somewhat that Selander does seem to be
seeing how much he can get past the censor in a lot of his
films. The brutal fight between Rod Cameron and Jeff York in
SHORT GRASS,the whipping scene in COW COUNTRY and a really grim
scene in an otherwise top-notch swashbuckler THE HIGHWAYMAN.
In THE HIGHWAYMAN poor Cecil Kellaway of all people, is tortured
with a hot iron in an extremely unpleasant scene.
To backtrack to a thread way back,many thanks for your replies
on the MAN BAIT feature.
There are a few names that I forgot to mention regarding American
stars in British B movies,namely Dan Duryea,Jeff Morrow,John Ireland
and Skip Homier. Ireland made quiet a few Brit B movies and even had
a British TV crime series too.
NO ROAD BACK an above average crime caper starring Homier also
had the attraction of co-starring a young hopeful named Sean Connery!
I am sure there are others that I have forgot to mention.
Laura,it is great to see you give such a fine review to an
obscure Western like FORT YUMA,I love the way you bring these
forgotten titles to people's attention.

4:37 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John!

No worries (grin), our tastes are usually more in sync! Some films just cross an invisible line for me regarding violence (Indian torture will usually do it, which was also the issue for me in SHOTGUN and FORT BOWIE). The aspects of FORT YUMA you mentioned, with the racist receiving a wake-up call and the relationship of Bill Phillips and James O'Hara, were the things I liked best (although you just knew watching their scenes that things weren't going to end well...).

You make an interesting point that Selander at times seems to "push the envelope" regarding violence.

I'm glad to know Selander's QUINCANNON is much less violent as I'm really intrigued to see Tony Martin and Peggie Castle costarring in a Western!

I'm also glad you mentioned James O'Hara, who also acted under the name James Lilburn, being Maureen's brother, as I neglected to mention that interesting info. He had nice roles as Father Paul in THE QUIET MAN and as a TV repairman in SUDDENLY (1954).

I love the cast of CRY VENGEANCE so I have to try that one...hopefully before too long!

Thanks also for the additional list of American actors in Hammer noirs. I did pick up Duryea in TERROR STREET at the same time I got MAN BAIT so I'm looking forward to that!

As always, I appreciate your support as I watch and review lesser-known films, John! Thanks so much for being a regular reader and contributor.

Best wishes,

10:15 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Many thanks for your most kind feedback.
A couple of points;the list of American actors in Brit
B movies covered several studios not just Hammer.
Tempean Films and Merton Park Studios made a whole host
of B movies with American leads.
Someone loaned me a copy of ESCAPE ROUTE (aka I'LL GET YOU)
with George Raft-it looks really good;lots of vintage London
locations which I really love.
I think you will really enjoy QUINCANNON FRONTIER SCOUT,
great chemistry between Tony Martin and Peggie Castle.
A shame Martin did not do more Westerns,I found him
most convincing as a rugged frontiersman.
James O Hara (as James Lilburn) was also good in a first
rate Rod Cameron Republic Western SAN ANTONE.
He is teamed with Harry Carey Jr,and Bob Steele. They
play characters called Jim,Dobe and Bob and even treat us
to some lovely Cowboy Harmony along the trail when they
suddenly burst into song!
BTW the MGM MOD of Quincannon is a decent widescreen

6:38 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

This is one I have not seen yet (it has long been on my list), and I enjoyed your review even though I'm guessing from the story description that, like John K., I'd probably like it better than you did. An extra dose of violence doesn't bother me in these 50s films if it makes sense within the subject, and like John, I tend to like Westerns where people with racist agendas have to reexamine their attitudes--though like any movies, they can vary a lot in how well and expressively they handle that theme.

I believe that I usually have a pretty strong sense of the qualities within a director's work if they were specialists in Westerns in this period, and John would probably acknowledge that I do. But I must admit that he is way ahead of me with Selander--even though I know and appreciate some of his films I am still missing far too many and simply haven't thought that much about him. And I think that you and Toby over at 50 Westerns also have much more sense of Selander than I do.

But thanks to all three of you--John's ardent defenses of Selander as well as the many positive comments you and Toby have made, especially as regards the Tim Holts but also your reviews of the Rod Camerons and singling out "Panhandle" among movies you saw last year--I am making it a priority to see more of his movies this year, definitely those three Rod Camerons and will plan to give sustained attention to the Holts. I have "Revolt at Fort Laramie" recorded to watch soon.

Tonight, we watched "Outlaw Son" (1957)--this is another Bel-Air Selander and I thought it was outstanding (as did my wife), very moving and mature, relationship-oriented Western but with plenty of well-staged action. Selander did all of this well, and had a terrific cast led by Dane Clark, Ben Cooper, Lori Nelson and Ellen Drew, all of whom I've always liked. So curious of your opinion of it John, and Laura, if you haven't seen it, it's one I believe you would want to see.

Will hope to know this talented director more by the end of the year--and seems like it means more good Westerns that will be new to me. No matter how well one knows the genre, that's something that just never seems to end.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, belated thanks for the tip on a good James (Lilburn) O'Hara role! SAN ANTONE sounds really appealing -- love the character names! That and QUINCANNON both sound really good. And since I love London I'm sure I'd be interested in I'LL GET YOU as well -- I checked and discovered it's in one of my VCI "Forgotten Noir" sets!

Best wishes,

12:39 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Blake, thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I'm going to be very interested to hear what you think as you delve more deeply into Selander's work.

I recorded OUTLAW'S SON the other day -- like you, I love the cast!

Regarding the film's theme of re-examining attitudes, I was thinking it's kind of interesting that a similarly themed non-Western was one of my favorite films last year -- THREE STRIPES IN THE SUN (1955) where a soldier slowly grows past his wartime resentment towards the Japanese and gets to know and love them as individuals.

Hope you'll share your thoughts in some forum as you get to know more of Selander's films!

Best wishes,

12:46 AM  
Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura and Blake,

I am so glad that this older post is still "live"
Blake I enjoyed your reply on Toby's site regarding
Randolph Scott and Boetticher recently and was most interested
to see that you were involved in the remastering of
SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. Also very impressed that you got to
spend some quality time with Budd and Burt Kennedy.
I met Budd some years back at the National Film Theatre
in London and had a chat with him while he signed my
copy of When In Disgrace.
In a short time I never had the time to ask him all the
things that I would have liked to,but he was charming and
friendly. The event at the NFT was the screening of the
remastered version of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.
I was very interested to hear of your opinion of THE OUTLAW'S
SON and glad that you enjoyed it.
I have mentioned before that I felt this was a lesser Selander
let down mainly by a weak supporting cast,although the leads
were excellent with Dane Clark outstanding.
I just felt that the film needed a John Dehner,Leo Gordon
or Lee Van Cleef to give it a bit more zip.
However it certainly shows Bel Air and Selander toning down
the violence,and for that reason I think Laura will really
enjoy it.
Ellen Drew always a favourite of mine looks rather aged after
several years absence from the screen.
Perhaps I should give this film another look especially
considering Blake's glowing review.
For later Bel Air/Selander I much prefer QUNICANNON FRONTIER
I love the humour in both films (John C Higgins wrote both.)
There is a great scene in THE BROKEN STAR where Howard Duff is
trying to get out of paying the money he has taken from land
Baron Henry Calvin. Calvin likes to act as caller at the square
dances that he holds and the pair are facing off each other while
all this is going on. Calvin is pretty benign as ruthless land
barons in Westerns go,he is saddled with two inept henchmen
(John Pickard,Joel Ashley) who in Calvin's words are "two pumpkinheads
incapable of driving a steel spike into snow."
Laura,like me I know that you admire William Lundigan and I note
on the pre-orders on Warner Archive's site there is a forthcoming
Noir with Lundigan titled MYSTERY IN MEXICO,directed by Robert Wise.
This is a new title to me and its sounds rather good.

6:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

John, you made my day with the news of the Warner Archive release of MYSTERY IN MEXICO (1948). I was able to see this a couple years ago thanks to my friend Mel -- my review is here. Very good little movie, just the kind I love to discover, and I'm sure you'll enjoy it too. Jacqueline White and Ricardo Cortez plus location filming in Mexico! (RKO was trying to figure out if they could make movies cheaper in Mexico -- the answer was no.) Makes a nice double bill with Lundigan's FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949).

If you get the John Wayne Collector's Edition of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW you can see Blake speaking in the featurette! :)

I've got to pull out my CAVE OUT OUTLAWS tape -- I've seen that one, but that tape also has THE BROKEN STAR and TOUGHEST MAN IN ARIZONA. More fun to explore ahead! Thanks as always for adding more ideas to my viewing notebook. :)

Best wishes,

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just watched this one, Laura. Personally, I liked it quite a bit and didn't feel the violence was gratuitous in context. Yes, not too many make it to the end in one piece but those who do have been changed, and in a positive way, by their experiences. For me, that's really the clincher; as long as highly negative experiences or violence have an ultimately positive effect on the characters, then I feel it's justifiable.
Graves' character is a deeply unpleasant one, a hypocrite filled with self-loathing and hate. The fact that all that happens alters him - although I would have preferred to see that gone into a little more - makes the payoff worthwhile for me. I guess that's my only serious complaint with the film - the spiritual reawakening/rebirth needed to be underlined more emphatically.


1:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Colin, thanks very much for sharing your take on it. You are making me think I need to put this one on my "try it again sometime" list! I think a big part of my problem (besides the violence) was spending so much screen time with such a dislikeable character -- so I was interested in your thoughts on how Graves' character developed and how that made the film a worthwhile experience.

If you go into this film further at your blog I'll be interested in your additional thoughts.

Best wishes,

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I usually find myself drawn into stories where the characters undertake a journey, both physical and spiritual. The latter is much more important, and much more interesting, for me. That's clearly what happens in the case of Graves in this film - the loss of his command and the sacrifice of Joan Taylor's Francesca complete his reawakening. I don't know how severely the cuts imposed on the film impacted the development of the story but I do wonder if the third act was trimmed more. I say this because I feel the change in Graves, while welcome, is rather abruptly handled.


1:07 AM  

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