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In 1864, due to frequent Apache raids from Mexico into the US, a Union officer decides to illegally cross the border and destroy the Apache, using a mixed army of Union troops, Confederate POWs, civilian mercenaries and scouts.
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The Apache are shown beating the drums with their hands, whereas they and all Native Americans used sticks or drum beaters. See more »
[Leeds and Griffin are surrounded why Indians]
No bullets, no protection... not even anything worth taking a last look at.
It is God's earth, man. You wouldn't reject it in the hour of your death.
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Lewton's Western..... and one in the eye for Zulu....
During Stanley Baker's elaborate tissue of distortions and downright untruths the defenders at Rorke's Drift break into Men of Harlech as a riposte to their war-chanting opponents despite the fact that they were still an English regiment at the time and the concert never took place anyway. And they sing the song in English, not for the Zulus' benefit presumably but as maybe a concession to the film's American backers. The director Cy Endfield had been an old Hollywood hand until he was blacklisted and it's tempting to wonder if he lifted the idea from an identical scene in what proved to be Val Lewton's final production before an untimely death. I've no idea how true to history is the siege of Spanish Boot by the Mescalero Apaches but the presence of Welsh silver-miners among the population - and they were active in New Mexico and elsewhere - no doubt reflected Lewton's interest in ethnic cultures and traditions. And when the time comes they let rip with Harlech in Welsh which, for a Hollywood movie of its day, is doubly pleasing.
Yet another regime-change at RKO had left Lewton out on a limb after his initial run of success and he drifted unhappily between uncongenial assignments at Paramount and MGM before fetching up at little Universal whose budget-restrictions and thematic preferences he found more accommodating. And for the first time he could use Technicolor though the film commences on a dark interior before a door opens onto the outside world (maybe John Ford had been watching it too). Lewton and director Fregonese craft a sturdy morality-tale about an anti-hero who makes good in face of various forms of prejudice. Gambler Sam Leeds (Stephen McNally) kills a man in self-defence but is sent packing as an 'undesirable' along with the local "dance-hall hostesses" whom he later finds massacred after an Indian attack. A notable Lewton touch involves their dying piano-player (Clarence Muse), his scalping concealed under his derby-hat. (Lewton made a point of using black players in impressive cameos e.g. the vivacious Theresa Harris in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE and the little page-boy in BEDLAM.) Sam returns to warn the town but is disbelieved until the stagecoach comes back bristling with arrows. A young townsman rides for help but is found mutilated down a well, polluting the water-supply. Sam leads an expedition for replenishments and the hellfire preacher (Arthur Shields) who had spoken against him comes to his aid when the party is attacked. (Shields virtually reprises his role from HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY, the Welsh and the Irish usually interchangeable in matters of casting.) The chief Victorio is wounded and the Apaches withdraw for the time being. Back in Spanish Boot Sam is arrested for having given a beer to Pedro-Peter,the cavalry-scout(Armando Silvestre) during the waterless interim and is handcuffed to the bar-rail in the saloon. The town's mayor Joe Madden(Willard Parker) who's also the blacksmith and horse-doctor has an ulterior motive. Both men are rivals for Sally (Coleen Gray) the boarding-house keeper who's torn between love and security. But when the town is finally attacked in force she helps Sam get free and everyone takes refuge inside the church. The Apaches call for aid for their dying chief and Joe elects to go out to them but when Victorio dies they kill him. When night falls the "ghost dancers" - young painted braves deliberately sacrificing themselves for immortality - launch an assault on the defenders through the high windows in a wonderfully-lit and eerie sequence, the miners do their battle-song (one of them is actor and singer Sheb Wooley, later to add to Gary Cooper's woes in HIGH NOON) and the bigoted Reverend finds accord with Pedro-Peter as they pray together to their Great Spirit. As both sides fight fire with fire in the blazing finale the Cavalry arrive in a briskly minimalist wrap-up, Sam and Sally lead the congregation into safety and a pet donkey's newborn foal runs to its mother for milk. Solid and atmospheric with fine leads and an intriguing blend of the familiar and the unusual it rightly pleased Universal who wanted to keep Lewton on board but he decided to accept an offer to join Stanley Kramer. Sadly fate intervened and he never saw the release of his swansong.
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