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.