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When transplanted Texan Bob Seton arrives in Lawrence, Kansas he finds much to like about the place, especially Mary McCloud, daughter of the local banker. Politics is in the air however. It's just prior to the civil war and there is already a sharp division in the Territory as to whether it will remain slave-free. When he gets the opportunity to run for marshal, Seton finds himself running against the respected local schoolteacher, William Cantrell. Not is what it seems however. While acting as the upstanding citizen in public, Cantrell is dangerously ambitious and is prepared to do anything to make his mark, and his fortune, on the Territory. When he loses the race for marshal, he forms a group of raiders who run guns into the territory and rob and terrorize settlers throughout the territory. Eventually donning Confederate uniforms, it is left to Seton and the good citizens of Lawrence to face Cantrell and his raiders in one final clash. Written by
The character of Will Cantrell is loosely based on the real life Confederate guerrilla leader William Quantrill. Like Cantrell, Quantrill was born in Ohio, taught school in Lawrence, Kansas, became a guerrilla fighter on the Confederate side and burned Lawrence to the ground. However, the Confederacy eventually distanced itself from him and later revoked his commission and disowned him, because of his band's propensity for executing prisoners, massacring civilians, looting and raping. The real Quantrill died not at the hands of "Bob Seton" but during an ambush by a Union cavalry unit, Unable to escape on account of a skittish horse, he was shot in the back and paralyzed from the chest down. He was brought by wagon to Louisville, Kentucky and taken to the military prison hospital, located on the north side of Broadway at 10th Street. He died from his wounds on June 6, 1865, at the age of 27. See more »
Throughout the film, Colt Single Action Army revolvers (commonly known as Peacemakers) are used by various actors including John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and George 'Gabby' Hayes. This revolver was not produced until the 1870s. The film is set in the late 1850s and 1860s. See more »
Opening credits prologue: In those years, 1859 and on, in the dusk before the nation plunged into the red night of civil warfare, the plains of Kansas were an earlier battleground. Down from the north, down to Kansas: up from the south, up to Kansas, came hordes - each bent on voting the territory into the Union as its own. The battle cry of the day was - - "On to Kansas." See more »
After John Wayne became an A picture star with the release of Stagecoach a year earlier, Republic didn't know quite what to do with him. In fact they put him back in some Three Mesquiteer films for a while. I'm sure it took a little negotiating on his part, but Republic finally decided to give him an A film under its own banner. Which set a pattern for his career over the next decade. The Duke would do at least one prestige film a year for Republic, but Herbert J. Yates would make just as much money loaning him out to the big studios also.
This is not the story of William Quantrill. In fact like Inherit the Wind where the real life Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan are given pseudonyms, Quantrill here is named Cantrell. He's played quite well by a loan out from MGM, Walter Pigeon.
Pigeon in essaying Cantrell has captured the character of a man desperate to succeed and not particularly caring about what he has to do. His character is conveyed in the scenes he has with Marjorie Main as his mother. When she and Pigeon talk about the family of outlaws they left in Ohio, his background is vividly portrayed. Their words and the way they deliver them give us what Piddgeon's real nature is.
In fact Pigeon was heading towards the height of his career. Next year in How Green Was My Valley and the year after in Mrs. Miniver he was in back to back Best Picture Oscar winners. Not too shabby for that man.
John Wayne gets his third film with Claire Trevor which almost qualifies them as big a screen team as the Duke with Maureen O'Hara. She was in his breakthrough film Stagecoach and Alleghany Uprising with Wayne. Later on she was also in the cast of The High and the Mighty as one of the passengers on that nearly ill fated flight.
The Duke sits real tall in the saddle in his role as Bob Seton, the man who had a host of sayings from Texas. He's got an appropriate acolyte here as well in Roy Rogers who made one of his few departures from his own B western films at Republic. Rogers is Claire Trevor's younger brother in Dark Command with Scottish banker Porter Hall as their father.
Pigeon's ruthlessness is never more graphically demonstrated than when he both defends Rogers in court after Rogers murders a northern man in Lawrence, Kansas with Pigeon as his defense attorney by day. But as a night rider he and his gang intimidate the prospective jurors with the inevitable results.
Look for some good performances by both Gabby Hayes and Raymond Walburn in roles that were tailor made for the talents of each.
The film is directed by Raoul Walsh who gave John Wayne a first chance at stardom in The Big Trail back in 1929. That film flopped for many reasons, but John Wayne eventually made it to the top. Not too many folks in Hollywood get a second chance, but Wayne sure made the most of is. For reasons though that I can't explain, he and Walsh never worked together again. Odd because Wayne was definitely the kind of action star Walsh worked with best.
Although John Wayne is the hero and he's his usual Duke, the film really turns on Pigeon's performance as Cantrell. It's the most complex part in the film and it's a bit of offbeat casting for him. Still I recommend it to John Wayne fans wherever they be.
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