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Cleaning Up Kansas
bkoganbing7 May 2006
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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"We've got a saying down in Texas, ma'am. . ."
ejgreen7714 March 2005
John Wayne's first "A" film at Republic is a good story carried by a strong cast. One year after Stagecoach, he still takes second billing after Claire Trevor in their third of four pairings together. They worked extremely well together, and remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Walter Pigeon is given the part of the heavy, Roy Rogers gives the finest acting performance of his entire career, and veteran character actors Gabby Hayes and Marjorie Main round out the cast. Veteran director Raoul Walsh keeps the story moving and gives emotional depth to the characters that was unusual for Republic films at the time.

Set in pre-Civil War Kansas, when both Northerners and Southerners were scrambling to settle Kansas and decide its political position on slavery, the story revolves around an uneducated Texas cowboy, Bob Seton (Wayne), who finds himself in conflict with local schoolteacher Will Cantrell (Pidgeon) over both the job of Marshall in Lawrence, Kansas, and the hand of the local Southern banker's daughter, Miss Mary McCloud (Trevor). When Seton appears to have won not only the job, but also Mary's heart, Cantrell decides that the way to power lies through lawlessness, and forms a band of freebooters who ravage both Northern and Southern settlements, causing destruction and terror in Kansas.

While the film is not totally historically accurate, it does do a good job of portraying the viciousness and ruthlessness of pre-Civil War Kansas. It is told from the Northern point of view, and is a nice contrast to Errol Flynn's Santa Fe Trail, which came out the same year (1940) and portrays similar events in "bleeding Kansas" from a Southern point of view.

Part-Western, part-Civil War movie, Dark Command is one of Wayne's best early starring roles. Fans of his, or of the genre's will not be disappointed.
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Quantrell, "Bloody Kansas" and W.R.Burnett.
theowinthrop21 April 2004
If the South can make a case that the abolitionist figure John Brown was not a martyr but a maniac, murderer, and traitor, the North can point to the so-called pro-Southern guerilla leader William Clarke Quantrell or Quantrill as a bloodthirsty killer and thief, and the trainer of a generation of criminals (i.e., his followers included Cole Younger and Frank James...and maybe Jesse James too). The fact is that Bloody Kansas was where the violence that became our Civil War began, and it lasted there for more than the four years of the actual war. There are few movies that tackle this story. SEVEN ANGRY MEN and SANTA FE TRAIL gave us versions of Brown's story. There is a film called THE JAYHAWKER (with Fess Parker and Jeff Chandler) about a pro-Southern fighter in Kansas. And there are about four mentioning Quantrell, though none are totally factual. Most though do touch on the one event of his career that everyone recalls: the massacre at the town of Lawrence, Kansas in August 1863. Lawrence was the center of the abolitionist movement in the state, and it's leading citizen was James Lane, a particularly violent anti-slavery fanatic who became first Senator from the state. Quantrell was responsible for ordering the deaths of nearly 150 men and boys, but failed to get Lane (whom he wanted to burn at the stake) - the Senator managed to hide in the field of corn in the back of his farm. Quantrell barely survived the war - he was shot in the back, trying to flee Federal troops in Kentucky where he had gone in a ridiculous plan to reach Washington and assassinate Lincoln (little did he know someone else had similar plans).

This film culminates in the attack on Lawrence - but here Quantrell is beaten back, when Seaton (John Wayne) reaches the town to warn the citizens that the guerillas are on their way. In short, DARK COMMAND shows that the sacking of Lawrence was a failure. Regretably it was a success.

Quantrell (here Cantrell) was a teacher at one point of his career, but he was also a thief and murderer before he found he could turn himself into a guerilla chief. His patriotism is still questioned. Southern leaders like General Sterling Price never fully trusted him - they suspected his motives and goals, and did not like the unregimented nature of his followers. Still, however, they let him have his semi-independent command. To be fair the North too could have violent "allies" in their cause. Witness the actions, in 1862, of General John Turchin, who let his Federal troops loot a southern town. Turchin was sidetracked for awhile, but back on the battlefield later in the war.

Keeping in mind,then, that the film does take liberties with the historical record, it remains the best film about Quantrell. It does capture the spirit of sectionalism that rent Kansas society apart, and it does capture the nature of Quantrell and his opportunism. In Walter Pigeon it has an interesting surprise. Pigeon is (with Robert Montgomery and Franchot Tone and Robert Young) one of the leading second string leading men at MGM in the 1930s and 1940s, usually in comedies. In his case he also was teamed (by accident, as it turned out) with Greer Garson in a series of films from MRS. MINIVER onward. Here he has one of his rare western roles (another is as the sheriff in THE GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST with Eddy and MacDonald), and one of his few villains (another would be Morbeus in FORBIDDEN PLANET). He is quite effective - witness the scene when he addresses the jury at the trial of Roy Rogers - a jury he has individually intimidated in a nightrider disguise - repeating the word "pain" again and again. This performance is the central one, though Wayne's Seaton is suitably relaxed and a balance to Pigeon. Roy Roger's young McCloud is a surprise too - as he shows a hurt anger in much of the film. Highly unusual for him. Claire Trevor gives her normal good performance - she has a nice chemistry with Wayne, and also does well with Pigeon. In the support one can name Gabby Hayes, Marjorie Main (ultimately a sad performance, reminding one of her similarly unhappy mother of a monster in DEAD END), and Porter Hall as the stubborn banker father of Rogers and Trevor. Even Raymond Walburn has some funny moments, one as a non-paying customer of Hayes.

Finally, take note that this film is based on a tale by W.R.Burnett. Forgotten by most of the public, he was an above average pulp novelist who gave the world LITTLE CAESAR, HIGH SIERRA, and WHITE HEAT. Usually he did prototypes of film noir (especially WHITE HEAT), so DARK COMMAND is a pleasant surprise that he could handle westerns as well as crime.
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Fascinating Wild West Moral Fable
bmatt1 July 2000
Although 'Dark Command' reads like a 'Who's Who' of Westerns (John Wayne, Roy Rogers, Gubby Hayes, Clare Trevor etc), the real 'star' is its writer - William Riley (WR) Burnett.

He created a vivid moral fable of the wild west - William Cantrell (Pidgeon)gives up the role of good School teacher to become a ruthless bushwacker and gunrunner. In the opposite corner is the illiterate Bob Seton (Wayne) who keeps the Faith and becomes town marshall. Both want to achieve things and get the same girl before the Civil War strikes(Trevor)

Seton stands up for right even if it means losing friends and the girl, whilst Cantrell will stop at nothing to make a difference and as his Mother (Main) remarks "the Devil is walking with you". The title of the movie must say it all for W R Burnett.

The picture is not only gripping but hilarious and good hearted in parts. Gubby Hayes is superb as Seton's Dentist/Barber/Butcher and is responsible for most of the humour and keeps your interest when the film starts to fade.

For Western fans, 'Dark Command' is a must - to see Wayne, Rogers, Hayes & Trevor together should not be missed. But general moviegoers should try and catch it if they can - to see the work of the man who (amongst others) penned 'Little Caesar', 'High Sierra', 'The Alsphalt Jungle' and of course 'The Great Escape' (all great titles!)and frankly any movie that has the line "Jumping Catfish - I can give up Barbering!" has got to be worth a looksee.
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Duke in 'Bloody Kansas', in his first Republic 'A'-List Feature!
Ben Burgraff (cariart)6 September 2006
After the spectacular success of John Wayne in "Stagecoach", Republic realized they actually had an 'A'-list star...still making 'B' movies! While Duke was on loan to RKO for "Allegheny Uprising" (continuing to 'farm out' their biggest star out to major studios would provide a MAJOR source of cash for the small studio), Republic worked on creating their first 'major' western, borrowing MGM's Walter Pigeon, top Warner director Raoul Walsh (who'd directed Wayne's failed initial 'starring' role, "The Big Trail", ten years earlier), Claire Trevor (in what would be her third teaming with Wayne in two years), rising star Roy Rogers (who'd inherited the "Singing Cowboy" roles a dubbed Wayne had played in the thirties), and ever-popular Gabby Hayes (a frequent Wayne co-star for nearly a decade).

The result of all the assembled talent was a well-crafted, if still modestly-budgeted film, showcasing Duke's charisma and 'star' quality. As an illiterate but straight-talking Texan in Lawrence, Kansas, Duke wins the hearts of the townspeople and (eventually) banker's daughter Trevor, over intellectual schoolteacher William Cantrell (Pidgeon, playing a variation of infamous Southern guerrilla fighter William Quantrell). With the beginning of the Civil War, Cantrell, showing the signs of insanity his mother (the ever-wonderful Marjorie Main) had warned him of inheriting, recruits an 'army' of mercenaries, dons a stolen Rebel uniform, and burns and pillages, with Duke in pursuit, climaxing in a last-ditch defense of Lawrence.

While very 'fast and loose', historically, "Dark Command" is great fun, and the Wayne/Trevor chemistry was never more enjoyable!
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Poor as a history lesson; good as a movie
mensa325 April 2000
"Dark Command" is, of course, one of the Essential Westerns, since it puts up Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes and JOHN WAYNE on the screen at the same time--not to mention teaming up the Duke with Claire Trevor, his lady from "Stagecoach." It's also a transitional film, mixing in elements (and actors) from the long line of Republic horse operas of the 1930s with themes, leads, and a director more in line with the "A" pictures of its day. The real star is the heavy, Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon), who begins as a schoolteacher and ends as a cynical partisan leader with no real allegiance. John Wayne is no slouch here, but his role is too much the conventional good guy to allow him to outsize Pidgeon. Roy Rogers actually gets to kill a guy, and Gabby Hayes plays something more than a caricature.

Now for the history: There wasn't really a time warp in 1861 Kansas that allowed people to get Colt Model 1873 revolvers, which everyone in the movie except Claire Trevor seems to pack. Sergio Leone got away with it in "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," though, so I will forgive Mr. Walsh. Cantrell is VERY loosely based on William Quantrill, a Confederate guerrilla leader who actually burned Lawrence, KS, during the Civil War. Thirty years after "Dark Command," John Wayne would play a former member of Quantrill's Raiders in "True Grit."
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John Wayne+Raoul Walsh+Republic=Great western
BrianG30 September 1999
Few people did westerns better than John Wayne, few directors did them better than Raoul Walsh, and NO studio did them better than Republic--and when you put the three of them together, the results are pretty near unbeatable.

This film, based on the raid on Lawrence, Kansas, during the Civil War by the Confederate guerilla Quantrill, bears little relation to the actual event--but if you want a history lesson, turn on the Discovery Channel. Instead, just sit back and marvel at the rousing action sequences that Republic was renowned for, enjoy the sea of great old cowboy actors (Gabby Hayes, Harry Woods, Wally Wales, Trevor Bardette, Glenn Strange, etc.), check out the performance of a young Roy Rogers (he's actually very good), and enjoy the talents of masters like Wayne and Walsh at their prime--and remember that this is the kind of movie people are talking about when they say, "They don't make 'em like they used to."
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A Wish for Walsh's Last Command
wes-connors28 August 2007
John Wayne (as Bob Seton) stars in a Civil War-era film wherein he runs for Marshall of a Kansas town, against wicked schoolteacher Walter Pidgeon (as Will Cantrell). Of course, they are rivals for the attention of a woman - beautiful Claire Trevor (as Mary McCloud). Roy Rogers adds additional charm as brother McCloud. The story is rather more ordinary than intriguing, but the western scores on several fronts…

First, the direction by Raoul Walsh is outstanding. The production is well-mounted; it includes the expected exciting climax, but that's not all... Even better than the climatic ending is a spectacular sequence involving a stagecoach. Don't miss it! The indoor scenes are great, too. Watch the scenes in the Barber Shop, for example: witness the sets, direction, and photography. The placement of characters and objects, along with the great street outdoors, provide terrific visual depth.

The story doesn't do the production justice, however. And, some of the performances are merely adequate; and, sometimes they seem unfocused. Mr. Pidgeon's is probably the most consistent of the main players. Mr. Wayne and some of the players might have improved with some additional worked on their characterizations; and, if the story was sharper, "Dark Command" might have been a truer classic.

******* Dark Command (1940) Raoul Walsh ~ John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Walter Pidgeon
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Again, the Texan Wins
LA_Songs10 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
John Wayne (playing Bob Seton, a cowboy from Texas) and Claire Trevor (playing Mary McCloud) paired marvelously in this movie. The love at first sight ended happily, despite the detour of another marriage. Set in the times of the American Civil War, the story told of turmoil, courage, uncertainty and unswerving love.

When Bob Seton arrived in this small town from Texas, he meant to just pass by this Kansas town on his way to something big. However, some children singing a patriotic song along the road stopped him, and together with him and his carriage, the entire traffic on the street. Mary McCloud (Trevor) happened to be in this traffic, so she rode forward on her horse to urge Bob's carriage along. That was their first meeting, from which Bob never pulled away.

To stay, Bob had to find a job, and the office of local Marshall happened to be up for re-election. So Bob decided to try his luck. Unfortunately, his competition, Mr. Will Cantrell, the ambitious schoolteacher, and also a cunning killer, saw Bob's competition at two levels, professional and personal. Will was also waiting for the opportunity to take the office of local Marshall, and also was openly and actively seeking Mary's favor. Mary treated Will as a friend, but not as an object of love.

The Civil War broke out at this time. While Mary was half-heartedly led to marry Will, her life was not a happy one. Being from the South, the McCloud family was under pressure from the towns folks to move out, especially after Mary's brother Fletch (Roy Rogers) killed a man in a bar fight, but was acquitted by the jurors in court. Meanwhile, Cantrell was riding all over Kansas with his guerrilla collecting his spoils as his personal gain. Once discovered by Bob, Cantrell led an all out attack on the town. Under Bob's leadership, the defense was successful. Bob killed Cantrell in the fight. Curiously, Cantrell's mother (Marjorie Main) was on Bob's side. While lying on a sofa, she raised her hand to block Will's shot at Bob.

Bob took Mary McCloud, riding westward to Texas, back to his own ranch to set up his own family.

This is a marvelous family movie, and I whole heartedly recommend it.
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White Heat Out West
Melvin M. Carter25 January 2004
Mr. Walsh never let historical accuracy get in the way of telling a good rouser about a historical character. This film and Errol Flynn's "They Died with Their Boots On" made the following year for Warner Brothers are prime examples. This is a good Saturday afternoon movie when is what day I first saw it on. Mr. Wayne was still working on his iconic Western Hero image ( which he would nail down perfectly in "Tall In the Saddle" far more impressive than his lummox with a mission performance in "Stagecoach") and to my mind wasn't grating, Gabby Hayes wasn't a total clown, Roy Rogers was actually acting! and Claire Trevor was good doing her part at playing a bland upper class town girl. But Walter Pigeon steals the picture. No namby pamby Greer Garson where are you stuff here! He gets a chance at playing the marauder William C. Quantrill (in this movie called Cantrell)and goes for it. From freeing slaves after killing their owner and selling them to someone else ( Deep real real Deep that scene... ahem) to massacring a Rebel supply train then donning their uniforms and saying he and his growing band are going ' fight for Dixie, Pigeon is a good man to be bad. In a way he seems to be a precursor to Cody Jarret W.R. Burnett and Raoul Walshs' other crazed mamma obsessed bandit. Like Cody he comes from a family of guntoting pyschos who have bad endings. Unlike Cody he is more educated and Mom isn't a gunslinger herself, though Majorie Mains' character could've been written that way. I can hear her raspy voice telling Walter "Ya need ta go to Lawrence and burn it down 'round that Seton fellas ears and git yer woman back boy, how else yer gonna keep these coyotes in line." All in all a good Western with some darker issues bubbling beneath the popcorn.
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Bleeding Kansas
messiercat9 December 2004
Warning: Spoilers
The best of Republic's oaters starring John Wayne. I imagine after the success of "Stagecoach" in 1939 Republic needed to pour in the resources as opposed to the notoriously cheap productions of the thirties, and it shows in this one. This actually is a must see for those interested in several aspects of the genre. wayne is the star but Walter Pigeon has as much screen time. Wayne reunites with director Walsh who gave him his big break in the 1930 epic "The Big Trail". (Walsh was actually going to star in that one but lost an eye prior to production while shooting another movie.) But the best reason to catch this one is the pairing of Wayne with pre Trigger Roy Rogers who callously guns down a guy in a barbershop. Plus, what's up with that strange whoop whoop noise Rogers makes?
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On to Kansas we go.
Spikeopath13 July 2009
Loosely based around a true story, Dark Command sees John Wayne play Bob Seton, an uneducated cowboy from Texas who wins around the people of Lawrence, Kansas to become their town Marshall just prior to the outbreak of the civil war. This angers the previously respectful town teacher, Will Cantrell {Walter Pidgeon}, who after being beaten on the vote by Seton, forms guerrilla groups to raid, pillage and gun run around the Kansas countryside. Seton, now ensconced in the ways of the law, sets about crushing Cantrell and his unfeeling raiders, but there is also another matter at hand. Both men have deep affection for the same woman, Mary McCloud {Claire Trevor appearing with Wayne again after Stagecoach the previous year}, so things are just that little bit more spicy between them as things start to come to a head.

Directed by Raoul Walsh and adapted from the novel by W.R. Burnett {Little Caesar & High Sierra}, the picture also contains fine support from Roy Rogers, Gabby Hayes and features a pleasing score from Victor Young. Tho historically dubious, Dark Command is no less enjoyable for being a creaky distortion of the "Quantrill's Raiders" {re: Cantrell} period in history. Those after a history lesson would be well advised to source from elsewhere in that respect. Catching John Wayne just as he was about to become the towering presence he was, the film also serves as notice to a time when stunts and character interplay were precious commodities. Walsh, ever the sharp eye for action, delivers some wonderful sequences here, horses and carts are a thundering, even careering over cliffs at one point. Whilst the final raid on Lawrence is a blood pumping feast for the eyes. But it's with the feel of the film that it ultimately succeeds as a period piece of note. The mood is dark as the civil war looms, slave trading and gun running sit distastefully with dubious politics, and then the war, with Cantrell and his raiders taking their spoils of war leaving a particularly nasty taste in the mouth. All of which is moodily cloaked in a Raoul Walsh inspired sheen.

A tip top production all round, and a fine cast on form makes Dark Command a must see for Republic Studios enthusiasts. See it if you can. 7/10
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I've killed men for saying less than that!
lastliberal23 May 2007
12 hours into the John Wayne Marathon, we have a tale of Cantrall's raiders, who terrorized Kansas before, during and after the Civil War.

This film was nominated for an Academy Award for John Victor Mackay's art direction and Victor Young's musical score.

John Wayne again appears with Claire Trevor, and a young Roy Rogers as her brother. He is competing with Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon) for her hand, and they go back and forth throughout the movie.

This film was quite a bit darker than the Audie Murphy version of the story ten years later. They even learned to spell the name right (Quantrill).

Good film for a young John Wayne.
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Disappointing and dull
grantss19 February 2017
The movie summary suggested that the movie depicted the life of William Quantrill, the Civil War guerrilla. However, the William Cantrell in this movie has only a passing resemblance, historically, to Quantrill. So, so much for this being an historical drama.

The story itself is pretty boring. It takes forever to get going (and the total movie is only 95 minutes, so it doesn't leave much time for any action). Plus, the thing that took up all the time, the attempt at character-sketching, is token, at best. This is John Wayne, remember - he doesn't do character-drama, just action!

Disappointing, and boring.
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Good enough
SanteeFats26 July 2013
Warning: Spoilers
The plot is decent, the acting is good. The historical accuracy is terrible. John Wayne plays a guy named Seton who runs for and is elected sheriff over Walter Pidgeon, who plays the infamous butcher Cantrell, (not the correct spelling). Cantrell starts out with apparently high ideals but is drawn down by his defeat for sheriff. The fact that the real Quantrill was a scum sucking, back shooting, woman and children killing, monster is not shown in this movie. Claire Trevor, with the strange voice, plays the love interest for both of the main protagonists and of course John Wayne's character wins her. This further estranges Cantrell from, I guess, reality. Finally there is the end scene, however wrong it was, where Lawrence, Kansas is spared, unlike in history. This is not a bad movie other than the many historical inaccuracies.
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Great Tale Of Bloody Kansas
FightingWesterner30 December 2009
Running for town Marshall, lawyer/schoolteacher Walter Pidgeon loses out to John Wayne and begins running guns. When the Civil War breaks out, he begins raiding both sides for personal gain, eventually settling on the side of the south and clashing again with Wayne, this time on a field of battle.

A fairly big-budget Republic Pictures production, Dark Command starts off light-hearted, with Wayne traveling with frontier dentist Gabby Hayes. Soon however, the situation get complicated and pretty intense for the duration of the movie, with sub-plots involving Wayne and Pigdeon's love-triangle with Claire Trevor and the murder trial of Trevor's younger brother Roy Rogers.

Wayne is quite appealing and his political speech near the beginning is quite a hoot. However, Pidgeon is the real standout as the deeply ambitious villain.

Roy Rogers never seemed very youthful in his starring pictures, even the early ones. Seeing him here playing a teenager, serves to remind one just how young he really was.

This is a great film. However, I wish it would have been made a bit later in Cinemascope and Technicolor, with maybe an extra hour to expand and elaborate on the story. It could have transcended "great" and become an event!
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"a fella doesn't get any place unless he tries"
weezeralfalfa28 May 2007
This is director Raoul Walsh's second film with Wayne the male lead. The first, "The Big Trail", was Wayne's first film as a major player, having just acquired a new stage name. Hugely expensive and one of the first talkie westerns, unfortunately, it was a box office bomb, with Wayne unfairly shouldering most of the blame. The present film is a mixed western-Civil War drama/comedy, set in bleeding Kansas. Wayne has plenty of support from a cast of well known actors in this well-paced film. Claire Trevor is actually given top billing, as the belle around which Wayne, Walter Pigeon and a young Roy Rogers revolve. It seems highly implausible that Wayne, as illiterate drifter Bob Seton, should become infatuated with prim snobbish Claire, nor that she could ever consider him husband material. Wayne's persistence in promoting this unlikely union, even after her marriage, is a recurring source of comedy and drama. Initially, another source of comedy is the recently established working partnership between Wayne and Gabby Hayes, a former doctor, reformulated as a traveling dentist, barber and whatever else he can fix for you. Character actor Raymond Walburn also provides a comedic touch as a bug-eyed stammering stuffed-shirt of a judge and apparent mayor of Lawrence, Kansas. Roy Rogers looks rather incongruous as the frustrated brother of Claire, under his father's overbearing thumb, who yearns to be a cowboy or soldier. His hot head gets him into big trouble several times during the film. Wayne, on the other hand, with the backing of Hayes, changes from an apparent hot-head to an honest coolheaded sheriff, despite his illiteracy. Walter Pigeon is the eloquent-speaking legally literate but financially struggling rival of Wayne for the affections of Claire and for the office of sheriff. The striking contrast in personalities and skills of Wayne and Pigeon in their various competitions is another recurring source of comedy and drama. We wonder why Pigeon, with his obvious talent for oratory and knowledge of law, isn't a lawyer rather than a poorly paid schoolteacher? We suspect that he has been a lawyer, but was forced to resign for some transgressions. In engineering Roger's defense in his murder trial, we see the snake that he is behind all that eloquence.

Things get a lot more serious and complicated as the story progresses. Pigeon, as William Cantrell, knows he is a natural leader of men. Frustrated in obtaining a prominent position in the political establishment of Lawrence, he organizes a large band of outlaws posing as Confederate soldiers, as did his historical counterpart, William Quantrell. The film title may suggest this evil gang of thieves and murders, or it may equally suggest the fact that most of the violent and smuggling encounters take place at night. Pigeon faces the difficult task of trying to justify or hide from his new wife his ongoing rapacious activities. The continuing back and forth relationships between Wayne, Rogers, Pigeon and Claire provide much of the drama in the later part of the film. In fact, their tangled relationships remind me very much of those in another western released just the year before: "Union Pacific", another of my favorite westerns.
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Three Western Icons Team Up!
Chazzzzz20 October 1999
This is the only film that stars John Wayne, Roy Rogers, and Gabby Hayes. For that reason alone, it's a must for fans of the genre. Amazingly, the film is also unique in that Roy Rogers actually plays a character different than his normal films. This tends to throw the average viewer off and perhaps tends to diminish the film to some degree.

The film is not a great one, but it is certainly excellent in all regards. I gave it a 9, and recommend it to everyone.
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The Duke and Roy Rogers
krorie28 January 2006
This fictionalized account of outlaw William Quantrill during the episode in United States history known as "Bleeding Kansas" is an above average account of a dark period in our history and Quantrill was certainly a dark commander--dark meaning evil. Quantrill like most of the bushwhackers (irregular southern sympathizers) and jay hawkers (irregular northern sympathizers)was simply out for personal gain. He didn't give a damn which side won the war. That most of his band of outlaws supported the South, including Cole Younger and Jesse James, mattered little to him as long as they kept their commander's coffers full of gold and the spoils of looting and robbing.

Though the grand finale of the burning of Lawrence, Kansas, is not as spectacular as the burning of Atlanta in "Gone With the Wind," in many ways "Dark Command" is a more realistic, less romanticized, account of the Civil War period. It is certainly less racist than "Gone With the Wind." Much of this is owed to the script based on a novel by the usually gangster oriented writer W.R. Burnett ("Little Caesar," "The Asphalt Jungle")and to the direction of Raoul Walsh.

Making all this gel is an exceptional cast handpicked by Walsh and Republic. Heading the roster is John Wayne who had recently gained acceptance from the Hollywood moguls as a result of his standout performance in "Stagecoach." Republic threw in their cowboy star Roy Rogers and his sidekick Gabby Hayes. Roy, though somewhat miscast, does a creditable job showing a wide range of emotions and gives life to his role of kid brother who wants to be a contender. When Roy and Dale had a show on the Nashville Network in the 1980's, they invited viewers to send in questions they would answer on the air, sending the writer an autographed picture in return. I asked Roy about his being teamed with John Wayne in "Dark Command." In answering the question on the air, it was obvious that he was not pleased with his appearance along side the Duke. Perhaps Republic had pushed Roy into the part holding him to his contract. Whatever the reason, Roy had no need to be ashamed. His performance indicates that he could have succeeded in A movies had that been his desire. Gabby Hayes is in top form and his role not only adds much needed humor to this rather dark film but serves also as a father figure and guiding hand to the man from Texas played by Wayne. Walter Pigeon adds a degree of dignity to his role portraying Quantrill (Cantrell in the film) as a three dimensional character with both good and bad in his nature. Upstaging them all is the divine Claire Trevor who walks away with the show.

This is a Republic picture so naturally the action and stunts are going to be first rate, especially with the likes of Yakima Canutt on the payroll. There is also the gallery of bad guys under contract to Republic who were some of the most despicable heavies in film history. Adding to the authenticity of the movie is music from the period, including two Stephen Foster songs.
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Despite some odd casting, it's a very watchable film
MartinHafer30 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
If you are an old movie fan, you might be very surprised to see Walter Pidgeon cast in the role of the villain. That's because during his long tenure at MGM he so often played nice guys like Mr. Miniver or the kindly Minister in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY. In addition, oddly, Roy Rogers plays a rather ambiguous role--a guy who is both villain and hero. Again, fans of old movies know that Rogers CAN'T be anything other than the hero, but since this was an early film for him, his on-screen persona was not yet set in stone. Also, Marjorie Main plays a surprisingly restrained role--usually she is pretty loud and cantankerous, but here she rather underplays her role as Pidgeon's mother. Now, as for John Wayne, it's no surprise at all that he is the hero--anything else just would have been difficult to accept!

The film itself is a fictionalized variation on the true story of Quantrill's Raiders. Quantrill defied the accepted way of fighting war and waged a form of hit and run gang warfare on the North in the Midwestern US. He and his men were more interested in terrorizing the Northern civilians and making themselves rich off plunder. Because of this, many Southerners hated them and refused to acknowledge that they were on the same side during the war! Eventually, Quantrill and his men were captured and many executed for their actions.

In the case of this film, the leader of the outlaws wearing Confederate uniforms was named "Cantrell" and although there was similarity, there were also many other differences from the true story--such as locating the gang in Kansas and Missouri instead of Kentucky and Ohio (among other places) with Quantrill.

However, despite these differences, this is still a dandy adventure film with the usual ingredients--such as Gabby Hayes for some comic relief, Claire Trevor as the woman who comes between the hero and villain as well as the expected betrayals and final showdown between the two stars (Pidgeon and Wayne). Simple, well acted, predictable (in spots) yet fun--it's similar to other movies such as VIRGINIA CITY or WHISPERING SMITH.
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"Dark Command"(1940) with John Wayne & Roy Rogers
Stormy_Autumn11 February 2006
"Dark Command"(1940). Bob Seton was played by John Wayne, Roy Rogers played Fletcher 'Fletch' McCloud. Fletch's sister Mary was portrayed by Claire Trevor. Walter Pigeon was the very bad guy (who's after the heroin & Kansas) named Will Cantrell. And that great character actress, Marjorie Main, played Mother Cantrell. Gabby Hayes, as a dentist, Doc Grunch, was interested in seeing teeth knocked out and he didn't care whose teeth.

This movie was about Kansas after the Civil War. Creeps like Will Cantrell were trying to take over the state using blood shed for the power. He, also, wanted Mary. The only problem he had? So did the hero, Bob Seton. Who wins? Get the movie and see.

This movie is very good...very well done...very dark. Roy Rogers' holds his own very well in this film with the Duke. It's too bad they couldn't have done more together...and included Dale.

Some very "surprising" facts:

1) John Wayne became a major western star

2) Claire Trevor starred with John in "Stagecoach"(1939). She was well-known for her bad girl images in many movie genres.

3) Roy Rogers did matinée cowboy movies and TV series because he wanted to make sure all children could afford to see them. He enjoyed encouraging kids to live good lives and go to Sunday School.

4) Walter Pigeon did several movies with popular actress, Greer Garson. He, also, did an exciting sci-fi film "Forbidden Planet"(1956) as Dr. Edward Morbius. Anne Francis played his great-looking daughter.

5) Marjorie Main was Ma Kettle. Along with Percy Kilbride, Ma & Pa raised a gaggle of young'uns. She was well-known for comedic and dramatic roles, and she played kind-hearted souls.

6) George 'Gabby' Hayes was a riot for the kids of the 30s through the 50's to watch. He was the 'comic relief' sidekick for Gene Autry. Leaving there, he moved on with John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Randolph Scott. What a guy!
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Cantrell's Raiders
ellenirishellen-6296217 December 2017
Warning: Spoilers
Watched this film after seeing Audie Murphy's Arizona Raidersearlier this afternoon.John Wayne,Roy Rogers,Claire Trevor,Gabby Hayes,and most especially,Walter Pidgeon give outstanding performances in this film based on facts from Quantrill's Raiders and their murderous exploits during the "Civil War".Must say,there's nothing civil about their exploits,killing,raiding indiscriminately.John Wayne's Seton loves Claire Trevor from first sight,but he's sort of a drifter,illiterate,but convinces Pidgeon's Cantrell to teach him reading and writing to enable him to become US Marshall,a position Cantrell also wants.Cantrell manages to convince Trevor to marry him,although she loves the Duke.On their wedding day,Cantrell and his raiders depart and continue their reign of terror.When Cantrell's wife is almost run out of town by vengeful townfolk who finally learn who Cantrell really is,Seton,Wayne,rescues her and escapes to join Cantrell.There's a final showdown in Lawrence,Kansas,and the townsfolk fight back.Thought this film about on a par with STAGECOACH!
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Bleeding Kansas
James Hitchcock28 November 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Although the American Civil War officially broke out in 1861, armed hostilities between supporters and opponents of slavery had been going on for several years prior to that in some parts of the USA, especially in Missouri and Kansas, which became known as "bleeding Kansas". "Dark Command" is a film which explores this period of American history.

The main character is a young man named Bob Seton who arrives in the town of Lawrence, Kansas some time in the late 1850s. The first part of the film is dull and slow-moving, dealing with Seton's unsuccessful courtship of Mary McCloud, the pretty daughter of the town's Scottish- born banker, and his attempt to start a political career by running for Marshal. He also makes the acquaintance of the local schoolmaster William Cantrell who is his rival in both love and politics. Things start to get more exciting when Seton wins the election; John Wayne was always more convincing as an action hero than as a screen lover and as Marshal Seton has plenty of work on his plate. Disappointed by the failure of his hopes for a career in law enforcement, Cantrell decides to take up a career in law breaking and forms his own gang of outlaws to terrorise the district. He is careful, however, to ensure that his identity is never discovered so remains a mild-mannered teacher by day, an audacious bandit chief by night. (Cantrell, as his name might suggest, is based on a real historical figure, William Quantrill).

The area is sharply divided between pro-Northern and pro-Southern factions, and matters come to a head when Mary's hot-headed pro-slavery brother Fletcher shoots a man dead in an argument about politics. Mary offers to marry Seton if he will grant her brother bail, but he has too much integrity to agree, knowing that Fletcher will abscond if given the chance. In desperation Mary turns to Cantrell who manages to secure Fletcher's acquittal, partly through his eloquence but mostly through the simpler expedient of intimidating the jurymen.

Most films from this period with a Civil War theme tended to sit on the fence politically in order to avoid alienating either Northern or Southern audiences; an exception is "Belle Starr" from the following year which is quite disgracefully pro-Southern. "Dark Command" is never quite as biased, but even so the film-makers tend to distort history to make their film more acceptable south of the Mason-Dixon Line. The real Quantrill was a Rebel guerrilla whose activities were initially sanctioned by the Confederate high command. (They eventually disowned him because of his brutal methods). Here Cantrell is simply an opportunist robber with no connection to the Confederate forces but who dresses his men in stolen Confederate uniforms as a disguise. The murderous Fletcher McCloud, who for a time joins Cantrell's gang, is allowed to redeem himself by joining the good guys. (A rare example, during the Production Code era, of a murderer getting away with his crime unpunished and a rare example of the normally clean-cut Roy Rogers playing a criminal). The hero Seton himself turns out to be from Texas, although Wayne does not attempt a Texan accent. (Rogers does give Fletcher a Southern accent, but his efforts are undermined by the fact that Claire Trevor as his supposed sister sounds Northern and Porter Hall as their father Angus is definitely Scottish).

This was the only film which Wayne and Rogers, both major Western icons, made together. It was also the only film Wayne made with director Raoul Walsh apart from "The Big Trail", Wayne's first leading role, from ten years earlier. It has its moments such as the scene near the end when Cantrell's gang attack the town of Lawrence, recreating an actual attack by Quantrill's Raiders. Too much time, however, is taken up with the romantic subplot, especially as Mary never seems a very sympathetic character. Seton may be prepared to overlook her obvious flaws such as her blatant attempts to pervert the course of justice to save her worthless brother or the lack of judgement which leads her to accept Cantrell as a husband. Audiences may be less charitable. In my view this will never really count as a major entry in Wayne's filmography. 5/10
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Republic Goes Epic
dougdoepke22 September 2014
Seton and Cantrell compete for both district marshal and pretty Mary McCloud on the eve of the Civil War.

Generally, the results are uneven, probably due to three big-time leads, each of whom must get adequate screen time. I expect for little Republic, stars like Trevor and Pidgeon were more expensive than usual. However, the romantic triangle (Wayne-Trevor-Pidgeon) gets a lot of dialog time, too much for a title that promises lots of action. Still, Wayne is little short of terrific. It's before he became frozen into the tough-guy icon that didn't demand much besides a growl and a hard-eyed stare. But here, catch his first cozy talk with Trevor. His subtle reactions are perfectly calibrated, proving he could deliver sensitivity when called upon.

Pidgeon too, is excellent as the commanding Cantrell, along with Gabby Hayes providing his usual comic relief and with teeth, no less. Except, I don't think I'll be making an appointment with him anytime soon. And, of course, there's a young Roy Rogers, making an apt impression in a role that's almost a lead, along with the severe Marjorie Main in an odd and inessential role. Anyway, Republic popped for a lot of extras, especially for the last battle scenes. So if the big action's a long time coming, it's worth waiting for. Then too, note how the script avoids denigrating either the Union or the Confederacy in the lead up to the big war. This was very much a feature of many 40's and 50's westerns. After all, a movie's going to be shown in Atlanta as well as New York.

All in all, the film's as much an actor's showcase as it is an epic western, a movie of parts rather than well-blended whole. Nonetheless, in my book, it's John Wayne at his physical and histrionic best, totally convincing as the virile and unaffected young Seton. And if the 94- minutes is somewhat uneven, Wayne certainly is not.
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Slight Revision Of Jayhawkers' Kansas
John T. Ryan28 August 2014
ALTHOUGH WE ALL remember Republic Studios as the home of less than top notch film, there were some notable exceptions. The studio did have an occasional production or two that managed to pull itself up by its bootstraps from the classification of the "Bs". If not exactly an "A" Picture, this production of DARK COMMAND is definitely a high "B+" picture.

THE MOVIE HAS so many amenities that were lacking in the typical Republic fare of Serials and "B" Picture Series Westerns. DARK COMMAND has a really fine cast. Clare Trevor, John Wayne, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George "Gabby" Hayes, Porter Hall, Marjorie Main, Joe Sawyer, Helen Mac Kellar, Raymond Walburn, J. Farrell McDonald and Trevor Bardette head up an unusually large cast; especially for Republic.

OF ALL OF the principal players in the cast, only Wayne, Rogers and Hayes were regulars at the "Thrill Factory"; as Republic was knick-named.

SITTING IN THE chair and manning the megaphone was none other than Mr. Raoul Walsh; who had directed so many successful movies at Warner Brothers.

AS FOR THE story, we have a freely adapted story from out of the old American History book. The place was "Bleeding" Kansas; which had been divided in violent clashes between Free and Slave state advocates for some time before the Civil War.

DURING THE WAR, one William Cantrell did lead a large band of renegades in seditious rebellion against the establishment free State Government as well as against any Federal forces. Origially being endorsed by the Confederate States of America, Cantrell was eventually disowned and condemned by the South; before his being killed by Union Cavalry forces.

THE STORY MAINTAINS enough of a connection to the History Books to make it seem to be authentic. It can surely be said to be no worse than two other of Raul Walsh Historical Dramas for its fanciful treatment of fact. Both Michael Curtiz's SANTA FE TRAIL and Walsh's THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON are prime examples of that.

BUT THIS PRODUCTION still delivers the desired results in action, adventure and drama. And Los Angeles' Griffith Park never looked so good!
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