Monday, May 29, 2017

Tonight's Movie: The Indian Fighter (1955) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Kirk Douglas stars in the title role as THE INDIAN FIGHTER (1955), recently released on a beautiful Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Douglas plays Johnny Hawks, a wagon train scout who has a friendly relationship with Chief Red Cloud (Eduard Franz).

Although Johnny does fight an Indian early in the film, to save the life of the unworthy Wes Todd (Walter Matthau), Johnny is really more of an Indian lover, as is commented in the film.

Johnny is uninterested in settling down as a farmer and husband, despite the overt attempts of widowed Susan Rogers (Diana Douglas, Kirk's ex-wife) to tame him, and he also regrets the frontier being opened to settlers, though he knows he can't stop it. He risks his life to broker peace between Indians and settlers, and when last seen has chosen to make what one assumes is a less "conventional" life with the Indian maiden Onahti (Elsa Martinelli).

THE INDIAN FIGHTER is a solid Western, though I wasn't especially taken with it. I think my reticence mostly has to do with personal preferences rather than the film's quality. I'm just not a Kirk Douglas fan; I keep trying more of his movies, hoping I'll find "the one" which is the key to interesting me in his career, but his personality simply holds little appeal for me. I suspect if this had been a Western starring, say, Robert Mitchum, I would have loved it.

Given my feelings on Douglas, his character's aggressive, even violent pursuit of Onahti was particularly problematic for me. As is noted in the commentary, some of that wouldn't be filmed today!

I'm also not much of a Matthau fan, though I really liked his film CHARLEY VARRICK (1973) earlier this month and was hoping to find this film similarly appealing; with him playing a pretty hardhearted villain here, that left me cold as well.

Those who are fans of the two lead actors shouldn't hesitate to check out the film, which is handsomely produced and has a fine supporting cast.

The film's best attribute, and it's a big one, is the gorgeous scenery; the widescreen movie was filmed entirely on location in Oregon by Wilfrid M. Cline, and it's worth seeing the film purely for the beautiful visuals.

The movie has a solid supporting cast, including a trio of "juniors": Alan Hale Jr., Lon Chaney Jr., and Elisha Cook Jr.

Amusingly, Hank Worden and Harry Landers play multiple roles, as both Indians and military men; I didn't notice until I listened to the commentary track, so they pulled that off successfully. Also in the film are familiar faces like Walter Abel, Ray Teal, Frank Cady, and Michael Winkelman.

Diana Douglas (HOUSE OF STRANGERS) was an intriguing bit of casting, given that she and Kirk had parted ways a few years earlier and he was remarried to Anne, who remains his wife to this day. Diana Douglas has one of the most interesting roles in the movie, as a forthright woman who likes what she sees in Johnny and pursues him, despite his protestations that he's not the marrying kind. In the end it seems she's likely to end up with Hale's apple farmer; they're both seen in the photo at the left.

I found the score by Franz Waxman a bit ostentatious at times, while pleasing in other moments. The screenplay of this 88-minute film was by Ben Hecht and Frank Davis.

The movie was directed by Andre De Toth, a fine director who made good films such as the Joel McCrea Western RAMROD (1947), the Dick Powell film noir PITFALL (1948), and CRIME WAVE (1954), a Sterling Hayden movie which easily makes my list of all-time favorite film noir titles.

The Blu-ray extras consist of a gallery of five trailers, including one for THE INDIAN FIGHTER, plus a commentary track by Toby Roan. Roan, a good friend of this blog, also recently did a track for Kino's superb Roy Rogers release, SUNSET IN THE WEST (1950).

Roan's commentary is typically interesting, filling viewers in on actors' backgrounds, the history of the real Chief Red Cloud, the selection of the movie's Oregon location and construction of the fort, and fun little anecdotes such as horse-hating Matthau being given to cursing his horse in Yiddish. I enjoyed my second time through the movie with the commentary more than my first viewing!

As a supplement to his commentary, photos of the location shooting may be seen at Toby's blog, 50 Westerns From the 50s, here and here.

The Kino Lorber Blu-ray is a quality presentation, with a beautiful print and a very nice bonus in the commentary track. Western fans who appreciate Douglas more than I do will definitely want to see it.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


Blogger john k said...

Hi Laura,

I go off-line,in transit,for a few days and the World goes crazy!
Lots of great stuff in Lauraland and I loved your CHARLEY VARRICK
review and like Toby I'm very impressed that you got to meet
Andy Robinson-lovely Bob Steele story BTW.
I have the German Blu Ray of a few years back and it's a stunner.
The French,I believe are soon to release a de-luxe version of the
film as well but I don't know if it will have "forced" subs.
The previous commentator who stated that Siegel lost his mojo
after CHARLEY VARRICK forgot ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ a film much beloved by
myself and Kristina at least!
Speaking of Kristina she is reviewing stacks of Westerns especially
Universal ones,but they are on a thing called Letterboxed-so I've got
to try to figure that out.
Great that you are reviewing more Kino Blu Ray's and I'm certainly more
of a Douglas fan than yourself.As you say the picture quality is wonderful.
Our friend Toby's commentary is great as well.
I still think it would be awesome to have Toby and Blake "team up" to do
one of these voice overs.
I highly recommend Kirk Douglas' MAN WITHOUT A STAR he is such a charmer
in that film.

5:27 AM  
Blogger DKoren said...

I loved this movie growing up. When I rewatched it as an adult a few years back, it didn't hold up for me. I don't recall now if it felt too dated, or if the plot and outcome disappointed me. It's been too long now since that rewatch, and I can't recall!

Nice review, though.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Kristina said...

Haven't seen this one yet, nor RAMROD, nor THE GUNFIGHTER, but love De Toth's noirs and of course HOUSE OF WAX :) so now I'm eager to dig into his westerns. John mentions MAN WITHOUT A STAR which I saw in the last couple weeks, really liked that, and another yes on ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ! (BTW I'm just logging my viewing at Letterboxd, mainly so I can keep track of dates, stats, see what I watch most/least by year end. So far stats confirm I'm pigging out on westerns)

9:50 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi John! Glad you also liked the Bob Steele anecdote and that you're enjoying the Kino reviews! I agree, a joint Toby-Blake commentary would be special. :)

Thanks to you both, John and Kristina, for the recommendation of MAN WITHOUT A STAR. I have my dad's DVD in my "to watch" stack! I'm a big Jeanne Crain fan so I need to see if for that reason also.

Deb, very interested that this didn't hold up for you along with JURASSIC PARK. Always fun to compare notes!

Kristina, you have some treats ahead for you. I've seen RAMROD several times and really like it. Great cast and Don DeFore steals the movie, you'll never look at him quite the same way again. :) You're watching tons of great Westerns!

Best wishes,

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the nice comments on my commentary — that wordplay was unintentional.

I wanted toi like this movie more than I actually did. It'd been a very long time since I'd seen it. De Toth is one of my favorite directors, and I always appreciate the way he can introduce something new to an old idea, which I think he certainly did here with the attack on the fort, etc.

I'm a massive fan of Escape From Alcatraz. Saw it several times in a really dreary shoebox theater just north of Philadelphia. It's probably the movie that sent me backwards into the wondrous world of Don Siegel. Since so much of the movie's in the dark, spring for the Blu-Ray. It makes a big difference.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Glad to be able to spread the good word on the great work you've been doing on the commentaries, Toby! What a treat to find you turning up on multiple discs in recent months. :)

I was quite intrigued that you didn't like the movie as much as you'd hoped. Like you, I really like a number of DeToth films.

I've never seen ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ. Sounds like one I need to see -- I'll be in San Francisco in a couple more weeks and put eyes on it from a distance!

Best wishes,

12:23 AM  

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