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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
Jeff Chandler, who was in the very early stages of his career, admired Joseph Cotten so much that he would show up to watch the veteran actor work even when he was not scheduled to be there. See more »
Jeff Chandler is cast against type (and does a terrific job) in this big-budget western as the commander of a cavalry fort in the West during the Civil War who hates both Indians and Southerners with equal passion. With his command stripped to the minimum due to the Union's need for troops to fight the Civil War back east, Chandler is forced to accept a unit of Confederate prisoners who have volunteered to fight Indians under Union command as an alternative to rotting in POW camps. Chandler's all-consuming hatred and racism result in his killing the son of the local Indian chief, which causes the Indians to go on a rampage against the whites in the area, culminating in a massive attack against the fort itself. This is a dark, gritty and, considering the time in which it was made, brutally graphic and violent western that explores and exposes issues--racism, sexual tension, even a hint of mental illness--seldom, if ever, touched upon by westerns up to that time. The supporting performances by Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell and especially the great--and always underrated--Arthur Hunnicutt are top-notch, but this really belongs to Chandler, and he does a tremendous job, as good as (and in some ways better than) what is usually considered to be his finest performance, that of Indian chief Cochise in "Broken Arrow" of a few years later. Chandler was never a particularly expressive or emotional actor--when he tried to be, the results sounded more like a lecture (his speech at the end of "Pillars of the Sky" is a case in point)--but his coldness works to his advantage here, which makes his bursts of anger and hatred all the more chilling. This is an intelligent and thoughtful yet also rousing and action-filled western, hardly your run-of-the-mill cavalry-vs.-Indians tale. I don't think this would be the kind of western John Ford would have made, and it's probably the better for it. Don't miss it.
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