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During the Civil War, in 1863,Confederate prisoners of war agree to join forces with the Union Army in the common fight against Indians.In return,the Confederate POWs are promised their freedom by President Lincoln during his Special Proclamation.A company of Confederate Georgia cavalry POWs,under the command of Confederate Colonel Clay Tucker, joins the Union on the sole condition they wouldn't have to fight against the Confederacy.The company is sent to the isolated and undermanned Fort Thorn, New Mexico, on the Western frontier. The fort is commanded by Union major Henry Kenniston who is limping from an old war wound and who hates Confederates.The old animosities between Unionists and Confederates quickly resurface during their fragile alliance against the Indians. Written by
Civil War rivalries were popular story material for Westerns of this period. Here, the rivalry is used more effectively than usual. A contingent of Confederate pow's is sent west to help Yankees fight the Indians. Okay, but what guarantees that the Johnny Rebs won't desert to rejoin their Southern comrades. Well, nothing really, except the Southern commander Col. Tucker (Cotton) does have a sense of honor. He's going to need it since the Yankee fort commander (Chandler) is given to temper tantrums, to say the least. Throw in some angry Apaches and a lovely widow (Darnell) who'll do anything to get to California, and you've got some strong dramatic material.
It's a well-mounted movie from big budget TCF, with a great battle sequence and a surprising outcome. There's also realistic attention to battle detail inside the fort that helps lift the sequence. Then too, the wide open New Mexico locations convey the kind of scenic sense that I think Western fans so love. Meanwhile, Cotten and Wilde, a Union officer, play off one another effectively, signifying the opportunity for post-war reconciliation between North and South. It's also a fine supporting cast with a number of familiar faces, such as Hunnicutt and Beery Jr. But how did pudgy glad-hander Harry von Zell escape TV's Burns and Allen show to turn up in a Western, of all places. Nonetheless, he's shrewdly cast in what can only be called a slippery role.
Not all are aces. The complex narrative sometimes meanders, along with a few believability stretches. Nonetheless, add 'em all up and it's still a solid entry in the A-Western category.
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