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During the Civil War Confederate prisoners of war choose to join the Union Army in its fight against Indians on the condition they won't have to fight against the Confederacy but old animosities between Unionists and Confederates resurface during their fragile alliance against the Indians. Written by
This is an action packed cavalry film set during the Civil War.
It begins with our protagonist, Joseph Cotton's character, a Confederate officer rotting in a Union prison with 43 of his men. They are offered a chance to fight Indians in the West, an act guaranteed not to hurt the Southern cause. When Cotton's character puts it to a vote to his men, it is deadlocked 21-21, with the tying vote a dying man who passes away before he can voice an opinion.
Cotton grabs the chance, and becomes a cavalry man, befriended by Cornel Wilde, a Union officer. Jeff Chandler plays the commander of the fort he is taken to. The star studded cast includes some great character actors, and their talents aren't wasted.
At the fort, Chandler quickly becomes the antagonist. His character resembles Henry Fonda's commander in FORT APACHE, obviously on purpose. In ways, this is almost a remake as far as characters go, but with a different story line.
A damsel in distress, the widow of Chandler's brother, killed in a battle in which Cotton took part, makes for high tension and high drama.
Later on, Chandler captures the head honcho Apache's son, and when the Apache chief demands his son's release, Chandler kills the son.
The other parts of the plot, I won't spoil. What we get are very identifiable three dimensional characters in great Western action. The fifties were the golden age for good reason. Great characters. This is a prime example. The two main antagonists both climax with acts of honor, one in supreme sacrifice, and one in relenting against a massacre for the sake of justice.
Compare these characters to the one dimensional clichés of Leone debacles, cardboard cutouts who do nothing but hate and kill, of the caricatures of "Tombstone" and other garbage, and there's no comparison. This film is so superior, it boggles the mind.
It took Hollywood four decades to realize their mistake, and now we at least see some Westerns that deal with credible characters, such as the ones you'll see Robert Duvall in. The difference is that this golden age dealt in splendor, scenery, and cinema, while the modern Western aims for total realism. While the modern Western has value, I still prefer the spectacle of cinematic glory and color to the modern dullness and dust. Both are good, but this type is more uplifting, and gives you the energy to get more done, so I give these films an edge.
Excellent acting, great scenery, directing, everything you could want, but my two chief criteria, writing and characters, are both of high quality here, too. This film is an example of "great characters make great films".
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