I first saw this movie when it came out and it has remained my favorite cavalry movie of all time. Yes, even more than the great ones John Ford produced, but not by much. In this story a detachment of cavalry is called upon to defend the plains and west from the Indians who have taken advantage of the Civil War to wreak havoc among the settlers, trappers, and gold seekers. This unit, however, has former prisoners from the CSA, who have been remanded from prison to serve in the west with the Yankee cavalry. If one knows anything about prison conditions in the north or south during the war, it is not difficult to see why many southern prisoners opted for service against the Indians. During World War II, the Germans got many Europeans and Russian prisoners to fight for them as the alternative in prison camps was tantamount to death. This story centers around a fort commanded by Jeff Chandler character, who tricks an Indian chief, killing, I believe his son or brother. The enraged chief attacks the fort with overwhelming force and only when Jeff Chandler goes out of the fort to trade his life for those left in the fort, does the attack stop with his sacrificial death. After a relief column arrives at the fort, do the survivors learn that the war is over and the south has lost. An interesting bit of history and true. Unfortunately there was another aspect to the Indian wars on the plains that has received short shrift, and that is the service rendered by the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry regiments: the Buffalo soldiers; the all-black army units who served faithfully and with honor for over twenty years, trying to subdue a people who wanted to live free for the benefit of a government that treated these soldiers as second class citizens. To my memory, only two films have been made about these Buffalo soldiers, and both 30 years apart. Yes, Two Flags West ably covers the part that southern prisoners played in the settling of the west, but it has taken too long to tell the story of the black soldiers who, often facing discrimination within the army itself, and trouble from white settlers, still carried out their duty. I hope that this fine film, Two Flags West, will come out in VHS soon.
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