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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.
This gritty western is a post-Civil War affair set in New Mexico where soldiers of the Blue and the Gray are obliged to let bygones be bygones and tame the wild frontier for westward expansion. The usual antagonisms are present in abundance, with Union officers reluctant to trust the Confederate troops and question their allegiance to the United States. A top cast is headed by Joseph Cotten and Jeff Chandler, who constantly spar with each other about men, munitions and how to meet the Indian threat. Linda Darnell is the lone femme in the cast and her presence sparks romantic interest and jealousy in equal measure at the army post. The Yank-Rebel forces manage to put their bickering aside to defend against an Indian attack that remains one of the best ever filmed. The black and white lensing is good and enhances director Robert Wise's fine film.
Two Flags West begins with Confederate colonel Joseph Cotten given an
offer to have his men get paroled from prison if they'll serve in the
union army out west where the troops are stretched pretty thin. Over
some objections he takes the offer from Captain Cornel Wilde.
Wilde takes Cotten and his men to Fort Thorn in the Southwest which is commanded by rebel hating and Indian hating Jeff Chandler. There's a good reason why this guy is in a backwater command as you'll see as the film unfolds. In addition there's Linda Darnell, wife of Chandler's late brother who was killed in the Civil War and who all three guys have their eyes on. But Chandler scares Darnell as well he should.
It was interesting to see Chandler whose career role was Cochise playing an Indian hater. But he does successfully put over the character. His Indian hating causes a lot of tragedy before the film is over.
Two Flags West is a brooding kind of western that's not for the squeamish. It's an exceptionally violent film that I'm not sure how it got through the Code. It's one of Jeff Chandler's best early roles, too bad Universal didn't cast him in more films like Two Flags West.
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.
Two Flags West is directed by Robert Wise and adapted to screenplay by
Casey Robinson from a story by Frank S. Nugent and Curtis Kenyon. It
stars Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell, Jeff Chandler, Cornel Wilde, Dale
Robertson, Jay C. Flippen, Noah Beery Jr., Harry von Zell, Johnny Sands
and Arthur Hunnicutt. Music is by Hugo Friedhofer and cinematography by
"On December 8th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Special Proclamation, whereby Confederate Prisoners of War might gain their freedom, provided they would join the Union Army to defend the frontier West against the Indians."
A great premise drives this brooding yet action pumped Western forward, a production bolstered by crisp black and white location photography at San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico, skilled direction by multi-genre director Wise and characterisations rich in thought and human interest value.
Film essentially centres around the workings of Fort Thorn, a Union Army stronghold commanded by embittered Maj. Henry Kenniston (Chandler). As he takes delivery of a unit of Confederate prisoners from Rock Island Prison Camp, themselves commanded by Col. Clay Tucker (Cotten), he struggles to contain his distaste. Something which obviously isn't helping an already pressure cooker atmosphere as groups of men divided by the on going war, are expected to stand or fall next to each other against the looming presence of chief Satank and his army of braves.
As the screenplay rolls on we learn about the main players beliefs and reasons for such, with the tragedy of the war deftly born out by the actors in their portrayals. The presence of widow Elena Kenniston (Darnell) also is cause for simmering tensions, where although an underwritten potential love triangle sometimes feels like a token offering on the edges of the frame, her character is so well drawn into the moody atmosphere, her back story packing emotional sting, that the film benefits from this case of testosterone lowering.
In amongst the Fort's uneasy alliance there are devious plans afoot on both sides of the coalition, that is to be expected, for it would be pretty standard stuff if these guys all agreed to shake hands and get on with it. But again the screenplay delivers some well thought out scenarios where agents and spies come into play, the safe transporting of civilians away from the Fort throws up some spice, as does a desperate act of violence by Major Kenniston. It all builds to a head and then Wise unleashes his skills as a overseer of action.
The crowning moment comes with the Indian attack on Fort Thorn. It's a prolonged attack filled with hundreds of extras and action aplenty. Each frame shot by Wise features flying bodies, arrows and bullets making their mark, fire raging in all parts of the ravaged Fort. Men, women and even children taking up the good fight as well, the Indian braves a fearsome and athletic foe coming in continuous waves. And this is not some Western where all the characters we have come to know are going to be singing come the end, some will die and it makes for dramatic and emotional impact.
Great cast, great direction and a great screenplay, this definitely deserves to be better known and loved by those into Westerns/Civil War movies. 8.5/10
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Two Flags West" starts off feeling like it will be a rather clichéd
affair: Cornel Wilde as an honor-bound good guy, the Confederate
soldiers unreconstructed and unbowed, Jeff Chandler as an unmovable
rebel-hater, and so on. But stick with it: "Two Flags West" develops
into an unusually smart movie in which the strands of plot do not end
predictably (for example, the expected flourishing of love between
Linda Darnell and somebody, anybody, never occurs), and the dialogue
becomes increasingly nuanced and thoughtful.
This is a movie whose intelligence does not insult your intelligence.
Joseph Cotton has always fascinated me. He is not particularly handsome, always looking older than he probably is, and his voice is strangely distinctive. But he is a wonderful actor, and his Southern Colonel is more than just obviously conflicted about whether he should stay with, or abandon, the Union army with his men: his conflict is more subtle, as he ponders where his future ultimately lies in a post-Civil War country; his very interesting dialogues about this with Linda Darnell, especially toward the end of the film, are quite pleasing to this lover of Westerns (me), who otherwise cheerfully acknowledges the clichés that often dominate this genre.
The battles with the Indians are violent and nasty: we really suffer with the lonely horse soldiers of the west who are slaughtered in the fort. And the glorious black and white photography does a great job of bringing out the loneliness and understated beauty of the plains (though filmed in New Mexico) (contrast John Ford's celebratory treatment of Monument Valley).
A great little Western with unexpected endings to the various strands of plot. It will leave you exceptionally fulfilled and pleased at the end.
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".
JEFF CHANDLER does a creditable job as tough Army Major Kenniston at
Fort Thorn with a hatred of Confederate rebels. His sister-in-law LINDA
DARNELL wants to go back to California from the New Mexico fort, but
Chandler is smitten with her and tries to prevent the strong-willed
lady from having her own way.
Meantime, two other men have their eyes on Linda--Confederate Col. Clay Tucker (JOSEPH COTTEN) and dashing Capt. Mark Bradford (CORNEL WILDE), both of whom fall for Major Kenniston's sister-in-law.
Seems the Yankees are willing to free Confederate prisoners if they're willing to help them fight off the Indians surrounding the fort. While this is the major plot driven device, the romantic sub-plots involving Chandler, Darnell, Wilde and Cotten get a fair share of time too.
It all comes together as an above average cavalry western under the crisp direction of Robert Wise, who makes the most of some excellent camera work in the rugged western settings. The story has some interesting components but takes time in setting up the various conflicts. Nevertheless, enough action and a little romance to satisfy most viewers of the genre.
Robert Wise, great director, made this film which sure looks like a John Ford, could have been a great film, and it would if it would depend only on Wise's direction, and on the cinematography of Leon Shamroy. But it misses out in the writing, somehow the story fails to reach the spectator like it should. It might be understandable for Confederate soldiers, realizing they might never come out alive, to change their uniforms for a common cause, the war against the Indians, specially as it might give them a chance to desert and go back home. Also to defend a fort where Major Kenniston (Jeff Chandler) provoked the attack by cruelly killing the Chief's son, they don't know about this brutal murder. But it prevents the spectator from identifying with Col. Clay Tucker (Joseph Cotten). Cotten's performance also does not help, he was a great actor, but not here. Chandler, on the contrary has a great performance. The film grabs your attention, it is good, but it could have been great.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Superbly photographed by ace cinematographer Leon Shamroy, and directed by Robert Wise with far more style than he was later to invest on The Sound of Music, this A-grade western seems to be largely forgotten, even by connoisseurs. True, the movie doesn't have what you would call an alluring 2013 cast. Joseph Cotten is first-billed, but the fans who flocked to see Joseph Cotten in Citizen Kane, The Third Man and Niagara were actually far more interested in Orson Welles or Marilyn Monroe (and were mightily encouraged to think that way by the advertising blitz that heavily promoted Welles or Marilyn and left Cotten in the dark. I remember Henry Hathaway once remarked that as far as audiences were concerned, Cotten was such a lightweight that he made little or no impression at all). Third-billed Linda Darnell made a terrific impact in Fallen Angel (1946) and then rose to fame in the title role of Forever Amber (1947). Although she was by far the most interesting wife in A Letter to Three Wives (1948), her career slipped. On the other hand, Jeff Chandler, Cornel Wilde, Dale Robertson and even Jay C. Flippen were on the way up. Indeed all the players here fit into their roles like the proverbial gloves. Production values also leave nothing to be desired, and, as noted above, Robert Wise's always stylish direction provides some really magnificent moments, including a compelling, full-of-action climax. The screenplay was written by Casey Robinson, who also produced. Frank S. Nugent and Curtis Kenyon wrote the original screen story which they based on a December 8, 1863 proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln which permitted Southern POWs to swear allegiance to the Union, thereby restoring their citizenship and right to own property (except slaves, of course). Over 6,000 Confederate prisoners obtained their freedom by joining the Union army to fight the Indians in the west it being tacitly agreed that they would never be asked to turn their arms against the South. The film was released in New York at the Rivoli on 12 October 1950. U.K. release date was 4 December 1950.
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