Monday, July 19, 2021

Tonight's Movie: Escape From Fort Bravo (1953) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

It's hard to believe I haven't reviewed a movie screener for three weeks now!  Our trip out of state earlier this month was followed by a massive work crunch when I returned home.

I have a really wonderful stack of Blu-ray and DVD releases to review this summer and am excited to get back to that!

First up: A Western I like better every time I see it, ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953). It was recently released on Blu-ray by the Warner Archive Collection.

I first reviewed this film after watching it on DVD in 2007. A decade later I revisited it at the Lone Pine Film Festival; it was shown thanks to its extensive location work in nearby Death Valley. I enjoyed that screening so much that I created a photo gallery post of stills from the film, using images which hadn't been available the first time I wrote about the movie.

In 2017 I described ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO as "romantic, suspenseful, and action-packed, with a pair of wonderful, attractive leads and a terrific supporting cast."  My latest viewing of the movie cemented that impression. 

Set during the Civil War, the film tells the story of an isolated cavalry outpost in the southwest which serves as a prison for Rebel soldiers.

William Holden plays Captain Roper, whose tough, no-nonsense persona is seemingly contradicted by the rose garden he carefully tends behind his quarters.

When Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker) arrives at the fort to visit her friend Alice (Polly Bergen), daughter of the commanding officer (Carl Benton Reid), Carla immediately makes an overt play for the handsome Roper. Is it attraction, or is something else going on?

It's soon clear that Carla knows a Confederate officer, Captain Marsh (John Forsythe), who has been carefully plotting an escape...

The story culminates in a particularly exciting, nerve-wracking desert confrontation, as Union and Rebel soldiers alike unite to try to survive a deadly Indian attack. This sequence is expertly staged by director John Sturges.

As noted in my 2007 review, the movie plays a bit like a John Ford Cavalry film, including starting off with Stan Jones' "Yellow Stripes," a song also heard in Ford's RIO GRANDE (1950). The two films share in common Civil War and cavalry themes, not to mention a red-headed leading lady.

ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO soon establishes its unique aspects, including Parker's romantically assertive heroine and the aforementioned climactic action sequence, which I feel is really outstanding. All in all this is a very well-done 99 minutes of Western entertainment.

I'd add that the film has risen in my estimation since my first viewing, including a deeper appreciation for the supporting cast, which includes William Demarest, William Campbell, Richard Anderson, and John Lupton. As for Holden and Parker, they are superbly matched and a pleasure to watch from start to finish.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is an outstanding presentation of Robert Surtees' widescreen filming, shot in Ansco Color. While there was one scene midway through which strangely went out of focus just as it faded out, for the most part this is an extremely attractive Blu-ray.

I haven't been able to put in my older DVD for a comparison but I feel confident this Blu-ray is an upgrade. A DVD Beaver review of the DVD backs this up, with grainy screencaps and a reference to it being a "terribly filthy print."

The Blu-ray is a crisp, clear print with beautiful color. The bright red letters of the opening credits let the viewer know immediately that a special viewing experience is ahead. I feel sure Eleanor Parker's gorgeous, colorful gowns by the great Helen Rose haven't looked better since the movie was first released.

There are some obvious soundstage exteriors, mostly used in night scenes, but much of the film was shot outdoors in New Mexico and the previously mentioned Death Valley. The fort scenes were shot at Corriganville using the set originally built for John Ford's FORT APACHE (1948).

A final interesting note is that Frank Fenton's screenplay was based on a story by Phillip Rock and actor Michael Pate. That very same year Pate had a memorable acting role as the Indian chief Vittorio in HONDO (1953).

The lone Warner Archive Blu-ray extra is the movie trailer.


Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the Warner Archive Amazon Store or any online retailers where Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Walter S. said...

Laura, good write-up of a really good War of the Rebellion/Western. William Holden was quite a versatile actor and 1953 was a good year at the box-office for him. Holden's other movies released that year were: STALAG 17, THE MOON IS BLUE, and FOREVER FEMALE. He was already a star and he was at the cusp of superstardom.

William Holden has always been a favorite actor of mine. On another note, the part of the Confederate Lieutenant was portrayed by Richard Beedle, who was Holden's younger brother(Beedle was the family name). Richard Beedle was killed in an airplane crash off the coast of Peru in 1964.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

John Sturges had his own fine collection of westerns.(You can throw Bad Day at Black Rock in that group.) He may not be Ford or Mann but always enjoyed his work. It has been a long time since I saw this film but I vividly remember the climax and found it quite harrowing. Not only for how novel the attack was but I sensed the helplessness of the Holden and crew.

Thanks for a reminder.

7:23 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks Walter! Holden did have a good 1953. I like him a lot. The fact that his characters seemed to have a higher-than-normal average of being killed off adds to the suspense late in this film (grin). I was unaware of the connection with Richard Beedle and appreciate you sharing that. How sad about his early passing.

Chris, I've enjoyed a number of Sturges' Westerns as well. Glad to stir your memory regarding the climax which is quite memorable. Hope you can catch the film again soon.

Best wishes,

11:33 PM  

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