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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
MGM's "Ambush" - a forgotten above average fifties western - has
finally turned up thanks to the Warner Bros. Archive label with their
release of the picture in a fine DVD transfer that should now set it on
the road to some sort of rediscovery. Produced for Metro in 1950 by
Armand Deutsch it was directed with a modicum of flair by Sam Wood who
himself was something of a stranger when it came to directing westerns.
Forgetting his best forgotten 1940 B picture "Rangers Of Fortune"
AMBUSH really would be the estimable director's first and, as it turned
out, only venture into the genre. From a story by Luke Short it was
nicely written for the screen by Marguerite Roberts and was superbly
shot in Gallup, New Mexico in black & white by Harold Lipstein. And
complimenting the film throughout is a rich score - featuring a
spirited cavalry march - by Austrian composer Rudolph Kopp. AMBUSH also
was the first "real" western the picture's star Robert Taylor would
appear in, if you discount the lamentable and dull "Billy The Kid"
which he ill-advisedly did in 1941. AMBUSH would now put the actor on
the trail, so to speak, to make something of himself in westerns with
the excellent "Devil's Doorway(1950), "Westward The Women" (1951),
"Ride Vaquero" (1953) and "The Law & Jake Wade" (1958).
Mescalero Apache leader Diablito (Charles Stephens) is on the warpath. He is raiding and killing whites all along the border. He also captures and enslaves white women. One such woman is Mary Carlyle (Marta Mitrovich) and it falls to the U.S. cavalry at the Fort Gambel outpost to rescue her. With the help of army scout Ward Kinsman (Robert Taylor) officer in charge Capt. Ben Lorrisonn (John Hodiak) leads a large contingent of troops into the hills to engage with and wipe out Diablito once and for all and retrieve the woman. But things don't go too well with internal bickering and disputes between the strait-laced and uncompromising Captain and Kinsman and between the Captain and the young Lt. Linus Delaney (Don Taylor) who is having an affair with an enlisted man's wife (Jean Hagan) back at the fort. They eventually encounter the Apaches and after Kinsman stampedes their horses and they are trapped in a canyon a fierce struggle ensues. Finally with most of the Apaches and troops wiped out (including Lorrison and Diablito) Kinsman does manage to rescue the woman.
It is almost inconceivable that a western with the leading actor who was once named Spangler Arlington Brugh could for a moment be taken seriously. It must surely be a comedy you would ascertain. But you would be quite mistaken for this indeed was Robert Taylor's real name before he changed it and a blessing it is too that he did so. Watching him here in AMBUSH you would find it difficult to associate him with such a name since he turns in an excellent robust performance as the rough and tough army scout. Excellent too is the ill-fated John Hodiak, the likable Don Taylor and Charles Stephens as the fearsome Apache leader in a role he would play many times in westerns of the period. Interestingly Stephens in real life was the grandson of the famous Apache leader Geronimo.
AMBUSH is a neat little western that is well paced well written well played and well directed by Sam Wood who unfortunately never lived to see the release of his finished movie. He died of heart failure soon after the film wrapped.
Footnote: Sharp eyed western fans will notice Fort Gambel as the one and the same location as that for Fort Bravo in "Escape From Fort Bravo" three years later. Both were filmed at the Ray Corrigan Ranch in Simi Valley, California. Also in "Fort Bravo" Charles Stephens had a minor part as an Apache army scout.
Ambush was the second western Robert Taylor made in his career. The
first was Billy the Kid eight years earlier. At the time a critic said
that Robert Taylor looked like a kid in his new cowboy suit as Billy.
Truth be told that was in Taylor's heartthrob days and he did look
somewhat callow in the part.
No one would ever say that about Ambush. When we first meet Taylor he's with sidekick scout John McIntire with several days growth, dirty and unkempt, and on the dodge from Apaches. Of course he and McIntire escape and return to the fort they're assigned to and find a new spit and polish second in command in John Hodiak.
Even after a shave and a bath Taylor looks gritty and tough and starts to get interested in Arlene Dahl who is the daughter of a general and who's getting the army to go after her sister who's been captured by the same band of Apaches that Taylor just escaped from. Even though he knows it will cost lives Taylor scouts for the mission. He also wants to tweak Hodiak a bit who also is interested in Dahl.
There's another romantic triangle going at the post. Young lieutenant Don Taylor is interested in Jean Hagen the post laundress who's married to a wife beating enlisted man, Bruce Cowling.
This was the last film of director Sam Wood who possibly because of his right wing political views is not as well remembered today as a lot of his contemporaries. He received three nominations for Best Director for Kitty Foyle, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and King's Row. He did such other classics as Pride of the Yankees, A Day At the Races, A Night at the Opera and Our Town. That's a pretty good resume.
This maybe a cavalry picture, but it's not like one that John Ford would have directed. It's got some lean and mean characters and I don't mean just the standard villains. Ford would never have had anything as frank as out and out adultery in one of his films.
Ambush is a great western for fans of the genre and others. And after this no one was going to give Robert Taylor a review like the one he got for Billy the Kid.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Robert Taylor was always the most amazing looking man in a western. He sat a horse like no one else in movies ever did or has since. This is a truly good western about an Indian scout, Ward Kinsman, played by Taylor. He is pursued by the army to scout a journey to find the sister of Ann Duverall (Arlene Dahl)who has been kidnapped by a renegade Apache. At first he says no, but is attracted to Dahl, and alienates her from her romantic Army Captain, Ben Lorrison, played by John Hodiak, who co-stared with Taylor on several occasions, including the Bribe. The other romances are center stage with a young Don Taylor pursuing the wife of an enlisted man who is an wife beater. Jean Hagen plays the wife with great apprehension, knowing she is love with Don Taylor but staying because it is her religion. None of the romance can however outshine the great outdoors, the Indian fights, the bravery of the soldiers, and Robert Taylor, who when he starts the film, is unshaven, dirty and just as real as I am sure Luke Short wrote the part. A wonderful western with all the elements of gritty realism of the book. A must see.
Robert Taylor is a scout, John Hodiak is the captain and Don Taylor is the lieutenant who is in love with another man´s wife. Arlene Dahl is searching for her sister who was captured by an Indian chief called Diablito. Both Taylor and Hodiak are in love with Arlene Dahl, as they leave the fort to attack Diablito and his warriors. Entertaining, action packed western.
This is pretty standard cavalry outpost versus the Apaches fare, but it's
well acted and directed, moves along at a good clip and boasts an
intelligent script that develops its stock characters effectively. Robert
Taylor is at his best in this kind of stalwart but human role. And the
of the cast delivers strongly. (Arlene Dahl has great chemistry with both
Taylor and John Hodiak, rivals for her affections.)
This was director Sam Wood's last film. The many action scenes are well staged and exciting, although color would have enhanced them. This is an example of big-budget Hollywood westerns from the late 40's and early 50's (many better known than this, e.g., "Red River) which--for some reason--were filmed in black and white.
Ambush is a gripping, authentic, action-packed, dramatically compelling
picture of the United States Cavalry in the 1870's Arizona territory.
It was producer/director Sam Wood's final movie, filmed shortly before
his sudden death in September 1949 and released in January 1950. For
top star Robert Taylor, now in his early forties, weathered but
gracefully aged, it was an auspicious beginning to what would be a
close association with the Western genre for the rest of his career.
While there is plenty of action in Ambush, its intense, nuanced character studies are what sets this dynamic Western apart from the crowd. Taylor plays a tough, savvy civilian scout at odds with by the book Army captain John Hodiack, both over campaign strategy and the affections of gorgeous Arlene Dahl, a late general's daughter hoping the cavalry can rescue her sister from Apache captivity. As if one love triangle were not enough for a dusty, little Army post, the first lieutenant Don Taylor is madly and hopelessly in love with the beautiful Irish laundress (Jean Hagen), the loyal Catholic wife to a drunken lout of an enlisted man (Bruce Cowling), who frequently socks her around. When a disabling injury to the major in command of the post (Leon Ames) puts the spit-and-polish captain temporarily in charge, everything comes to a boil. Not as soapy as it sounds but sensitively directed by Wood and perfectly acted by all concerned. The scenes of poignant longing tinged with guilt between Don Taylor and Ms. Hagen nearly steal the show. The rich supporting cast includes, as well as Ames and Cowling, John McIntire as an older scout, Pat Moriarity as the top sergeant, and also Charles Stevens, who claimed descent from Geronimo, as the vicious, resourceful Apache leader Diablito.
The script by Marguerite Roberts from a Luke Short story is intelligent and engaging with clever, brisk, colorful dialog. Harold Lipstein's moody black and white cinematography and Rudolph G. Kopp's textured score enhance the gritty, realistic, yet slightly nostalgic ambiance. Editing is silky smooth, as in almost any big studio picture of this era. The all important pacing is perfect. The compact 89-minute running time moves along at a brisk pace, building suspense, never dragging, but taking enough breathers to build character and create atmosphere. Costumes and sets are first-rate and authentic. Real-life western Army forts during the Indian War era did not have palisade walls, and, refreshingly, neither does the one in this handsomely turned out Western. More importantly, the characters act like nineteenth century people, with the social attitudes of the time, yet without seeming stiff.
With apologies to John Ford fans, which includes yours truly, Ambush is the best of its type. Whereas Ford, who liked to portray everything bigger than life, tended to make the cavalry too grand and romantic, Wood gives us the real Old West Army -- long-service soldiers serving loyally but thanklessly at dusty, out of the way posts neither finding nor expecting much in the way of comfort or glory.
Ambush is a thrilling, dramatic, atmospheric, authentic adult Western, engaging, charming, and entertaining from beginning to end. The opening and closing scenes of this picture are both real knockouts! This is an unappreciated classic. Top-notch entertainment from Old Hollywood's Golden Era.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I am of the opinion that "Ambush" comes off as a standard black and white horse opera for two reason. First off, as I was watching the film I couldn't help but wonder as to how much better of a film it could have been if it had been filmed in gorgeous Technocolor which would have emphasized the beautiful Monument Valley type of surroundings. Secondly, the film being a product of it's time (1949), was limited to the morality and the censorship that most assuredly was imposed on it. In other words, various organizations such as Catholic Legion Of Decency played a big part in what could be portrayed during the context of the film's plot and what was presented on the screen i.e., if any studio violated their code of ethics that appeared in the good old "Sunday Visitor", a Catholic publication, the Legion of Decency would give it a "C" for Condemned or a "MO" for Morally Objectionable to discourage patrons from going to theaters to see the film. The plot of this film has Lt. Linus Delaney (Don Taylor) falling for an enlisted man's wife Martha Conovan (Jean Hagen). The woman's husband Tom Conovan (Bruce Cowling) is an abusive drunk that continuously beats his wife and eventually becomes an army deserter. Rest assured that their is no hope for this star struck couple ever to find happiness! Obviously, there is only one way for a "taken" woman to get the other man....and that is for the out of luck husband or fiancé to die. Enter Captain Ben Lorrison (John Hodiak), a fool hardy Officer reminiscent of Henry Fonda in "Fort Apache". In other words, a man who will not listen to someone that has been there and knows what and when to do it as exemplified by a scout, Ward Kinsman (Robert Taylor). Taylor inadvertently falls for Hodiak's girl Ann Duverall (Arlene Dahl) but he has two things going for him that the other Taylor doesn't have; 1)Dahl is not married to Hodiak and 2)Hodiak is a prideful by the book officer and his stubbornness to attack the Indians when he has been heeded not to eventually gets him killed. Alas! Robert Taylor gets Dahl while Don Taylor and Jean Hagen sadly stare at each expressing a tearful, wordless "Goodbye" while humoring the good old Catholic Legion of Decency. I don't know about you guys out there...but I always looked at my good old Sunday Visitor to check out the movies I wanted to see, and I didn't let those darn old "Condemned" or "Morally Objectionable" get in my way of my entertainment.
Standard western fare, "Ambush" is a well-acted oater but it has its stars eclipsed by the supporting players, notably Don Taylor as likable Lt. Delaney and Jean Hagen as the abused Mrs.Conovan, wife to a brutal enlisted man and the company's laundress. These two players make the most lasting impression by their very adroit portrayals of two kindred spirits irrevocably drawn to each other under impossible circumstances. Oddly, everyone else on the base (including the other Mr. Taylor-Robert, the star) seem to fade into the background, not evoking anywhere near the empathy that Don Taylor and Ms. Hagen manage. Thanks to them, this film rises above the average level it otherwise would have sustained.
Ambush is directed by Sam Wood and adapted to screenplay by Marguerite
Roberts from a Luke Short serial story. It stars Robert Taylor, John
Hodiak, Arlene Dahl, Jean Hagen, Don Taylor and John McIntire. Music is
by Rudolph G. Kopp and cinematography by Harold Lipstein.
"In 1878 the shortest trail West through the territory of Arizona crawled across the foot of Bailey Mountain...
The shortest trail but, the most dangerous. For Bailey Mountain was the stronghold seized by Diablito and his hostile Apaches"
Nice! A Western movie for Western movie lovers to sink their teeth into. It's not exactly wall to wall action on offer here, but there is an adultness to proceedings that hits all the right chords for the discerning audience. The opening scene shows us the aftermath of an Apache raid, then it's introductions to the main characters who will come together to go rescue a kidnapped white woman from Diablito's Apaches.
The build up isn't rushed, we are drawn into the lives of the American Fort residents, their love triangles and frets, while mature themes of adultery and spouse abuse are given some skilled direction and performances. Once traits and peccadilloes are established, the band of not so merry men go off to fight the Apache, the latter of which are thankfully shown as a resourceful foe with some cunning tactics.
Taylor saddles up for a scuzzy portrayal, honourable for sure, but happily dirty and his character is shown to be fallible in one of the many machismo contests that permeate the story. Hodiak offers some elegance, Hagen some emotional punch, while Dahl - costumed to enhance her curvaceous figure - lights up every scene she is in.
The great Harold Lipstein photographs much of the picture through black and white film noir filters, adding the requisite turbulence to the story, while Wood, in what was his last motion picture directorial assignment, directs with assuredness and makes the most of the Simi Valley and Gallup locations.
McIntire is wasted and Bruce Cowling as the violent husband is only just convincing, while the blending of painted backdrops with the gorgeous locales becomes a little distracting in the final quarter. Yet as any hardcore Western fan will tell you, often those sort of things are forgiven if the makers don't insult our intelligence, which is thankfully the case here. 7/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Story involves the Army's rescue of a General's daughter, captured by
the Apaches when the surveying team she was with, was wiped out by a
war party. Ward Kinsman (Robert Taylor), a former Army scout now gold
prospector, is called upon by local Army commander (Leon Ames) to save
Arlene Dahl is her worried sister who (as we guessed) falls in love with Taylor. Of course there's a love triangle between those two and Army Capt. Ben Lorrison (John Hodiak) to make this film more steamy than necessary. And of course Robert Taylor reluctantly agrees to help find the woman since he is falling in love with Dahl and really can't refuse her.
What complicates things even further is another love triangle between Lt. Delaney (Don Taylor), Jean Hagen and her no-good enlisted husband played by Bruce Cowling. I guess director Sam Wood didn't think ONE steamy love triangle was enough so he had to have two. It's too bad all this nonsense chews up too much of the film because this oater had a lot of potential.
What saves this from being a total soap opera is the decent battle scenes at the end of the film. The Calvary knows where the Apaches are massing and ambush them inside a canyon. The second ambush involves those Apaches who have escaped this first battle, led by their chief Diablito (Charles Stevens), who hide in holes on the vast plain and ambush John Hodiak's patrol. They hide in their covered holes and wait until they are on top of them.
All but the master Sgt. Mack (Pat Moriarity) are killed in the ensuing gun battle, thereby freeing Robert Taylor to hook up with Dahl, and Don Taylor to hook up with the now widowed Hagen. No more Hodiak. No more Cowling. A little too convenient, I think.
And all this lovey-dovey stuff brings what would otherwise have been an exciting western, down a couple of notches. So I'm gonna only give it a 5 out of 10 for complicating things more than need be.
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