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Ordinarily, Anthony Mann made westerns with 'the big guys' - James Stewart, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda . . . the A list cowboy stars. But in this B+ film, he tackled something notably different and had quite a bit of success with what turned out to be a truly one of a kind western. The main character, played by Victor Mature, is a trapper/ mountain man, and ordinarily they are romanticized in films - Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson, that sort of thing, where the hero is not in fact a typical mountain man but a clean cut heroic figure who hangs out with real mountain men. Not here. For once, a true mountain man - vulgar, crude, animalistic - is the central figure, and it's something to see, giving Mature one of his better later roles. The real acting chops are provided by Robert Preston, excellent as a self-absorbed Custer type cavalry commander, and James Whitmore, the poor man's Spencer Tracy, as another of those old timers who feel themselves trapped between ever more hostile Indians on the one side and the oncoming force of civilization on the other. Even more impressive is a very young Anne Bancroft as the officer's wife, who is initially repulsed by the very sight of Mature's grisly character, then finds her own veneer of civilization slipping away as she begins to realize, to her own shock, that she's attracted to him. Rarely if ever has a remote frontier fort been so accurately realized on screen, without the romantic allure that John Ford gave such a place in his masterful Fort Apache. The battle sequences are big scale and notably violent, and particularly impressive if you seen them in widescreen format. Good show, and underrated movie, all around.
One of the more obscure of Anthony Mann's Westerns, The Last Frontier
was also his only cavalry Western (aside from one brief episode in
Winchester '73), though naturally he focuses on the outsiders and
internal conflicts rather than offering a Fordian celebration of
comradeship and shared ideals. Set not in his beloved high country but
in the foothills and forests, it's a much more cynical view of life of
the frontier, in many ways his Fort Apache without the need to preserve
the legend: this outpost is made up of misfits, failures, cowards and
the odd competent officer ignored by his superiors, badly led while the
Civil War takes priority and all the best the army has to offer.
Victor Mature and James Whitmore are the free trappers who find civilisation creeping up on them when they are relieved of their pelts and packhorses by a local tribe aggrieved by the incursion of the Cavalry into their territory. Rather than blame the Indians for their losses they decide it's the army's fault for building the fort and decide to demand compensation from them, ending up joining their ranks as scouts instead. But despite the best efforts of Guy Madison's amiable and competent acting commander to bring Mature into the 19th Century and make him fit to wear the uniform, the arrival of Robert Preston's humiliated Colonel eager to revenge himself on the tribe that drove him out of his own outpost and Mature's clumsy infatuation with the Colonel's wife (Anne Bancroft, too much of a blank slate here to do much with the role of a woman who's tired of being saved by men who think they know what's best for her) soon drive matters into much darker territory. It's not long before some of the soldiers are busily planning on killing each other, both sides trying to goad their subordinates into doing the deed for them: little wonder that at one point Mature throws away the bluecoat he has long coveted in disgust, screaming "I would have died for this, but it's nothing but a dirty filthy blue rag!" The Stallone of his day, Mature was one of those actors who could surprise you with the odd excellent performance here and there when matched with the right part and the right director. This is not one of his better days despite having his most complex part, perversely enough as a simple man well-meaning but drunk, violent, uneducated and with a unsubtle, almost childlike lust for life, the part seems designed with Burt Lancaster in mind, with some striking similarities to his character in The Kentuckian. But Robert Preston's Ahab-like Colonel is clearly the best role, determined to resurrect the career he destroyed in a single disastrously suicidal Civil War engagement by launching another pointless suicidal campaign against the tribe that added another humiliation to the list that keeps him out of sight and out of mind of the promotion board. In his obsession to redeem his career he moves further away from any hope of moral redemption, driven as much by his sense of shame at his wife's sympathy as by the promotion of former comrades he regards as his inferiors. He's beyond salvation, but there's still a recognisable human being in there and one not entirely without a sense of integrity he genuinely admires Madison's courage in making a futile attempt to get Preston's orders countermanded by their superiors fatally skewed though it is.
Like its hero, the film is a little rough around the edges (and boasts one of the most surreal and jaunty title songs of any Western), but that only tends to make it more interesting, and there are plenty of Mann's typically elegant camera moves and plays on perspective, while the frontier setting is convincingly harsh and primitive. Unfortunately the deficiencies of the early CinemaScope lenses are very apparent in Columbia's DVD, with the image often dark (2.55:1 CinemaScope required a huge amount of additional lighting and early Scope films show a lot of trial-and-error) and grainy.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
`The Last Frontier' is a superior western that overcomes numerous deficiencies in weaving its tale of trappers Jed (Victor Mature), Gus (James Whitmore) and Mongo (Pat Hogan) and their relationships with the army, particularly Captain Riordon (Guy Madison), Colonel Marston(Robert Preston) and Corrina Marston, colonel's wife (Anne Bancroft). Hired as scouts after losing their supplies to the Indians, Jed, Gus and Mungo adjust to living the `civilized' life within a fort on the edge of the `last frontier.' Jed, who has been raised by Gus, both inspires and looks up to the `older' Gus and Mungo, and has an especially difficult time dealing with `civilization.' His real problems start after he becomes strongly attracted to the colonel's wife, Corrina. Colonel Marstonis a reckless man, who endangers every one around him with his dreams of ruthless victory over any opponent. Corrina, a woman repressed by her station and sense of responsibility, loves her husband for what he could be and Jed for what he is. Caught in the middle is Captain Riordon, a brave and likeable man torn among his duty to the army, his strong friendship with Jed and his fear of the likely disastrous consequences of the colonel's recklessness.
What makes this movie so interesting (as well as entertaining) is that, in most cases the weaknesses and the strengths of `The Last Frontier' are EXACTLY the same elements (forget the insipid title and dated music)
First, the screenplay. Almost all of the subplots (particularly, the reckless Colonel) have been done better elsewhere, but have rarely been assembled with such eccentricity. Just when you THINK you know what is going to happen next, this one takes off in a DIFFERENT direction. POSSIBLE SPOILER: `The Last Frontier' being a `Production Code' movie (back in the day the word `virgin' was taboo), it's very surprising that the adultery factor was handled in such a mature, tolerant manner. I expected either Jed or the colonel's wife to reap some retribution for their sin. I was surprised and a little disappointed the movie didn't exploit that expectation to create a less predictable ending.
Second, the casting. Mature is at least ten years too old to play the part of Jed, the wild-eyed innocent raised in the woods'. James Whitmore, who plays Gus, `the man who raised Jed' is actually five years younger than Mature. Nevertheless, Mature is very endearing, playing a character who is innocent of civilization but is in no way stupid. Although there were several actors who could have played the role at the time (most notably, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas), none could have played Jed better. Preston (also Mature's junior) plays Colonel Marston, missing the tics and affectations one would expect from such a driven man. However, Preston perfectly captures the sense of honor someone must have seen in Marston to promote such a reckless fool to colonel's rank. Bancroft is an especially shrewd choice as Corrina. Bancroft's dark hair has been died blonde, and this achieves the same effect as it did for Winona Ryder (`Edward Scissorhands') and Christina Ricci (`Sleepy Hollow'). That is, I felt conflicted about the character without knowing exactly why; I believe the answer is that blondes and brunettes have considerably different skin tones and eye shades. Further, Bancroft has always projected a toughness that borders on hardness (here the blonde hair softens her up a bit, though). This enables the 24 year old Bancroft to stand toe to toe with both the 40 year old Mature and the 37 year old Preston; yep, she could be a colonel's wife. Madison walks a careful balancing act as Riordan, handling a complex role and sometimes ackward dialogue.Playing a role similar to that of John Wayne in `Fort Apache' Madison does a more skillful job at it.
This movie has a `Silverado' type camaraderie. That alone makes it worth seeing. It also has memorable performances, beautiful scenerary and great action and direction. I just hope a letterbox version is available (many have been lost), because this movie takes full advantage of that format.
Victor Mature plays Jed Cooper, a rough-and-tumble mountain man,
ostensibly in need of a few social graces, who, along with his two
companions, is hired on as a civilian guide at the local army
installation, a fort on the edge of nowhere. He wants two things: a
soldier's uniform, and commander Col. Frank Marsden's wife, Corinna (a
blonde Anne Bancroft). She isn't altogether turned off. Her husband has
been shuffled as far west as possible by the Army to escape his quaint
reputation as the "butcher of Shiloh". A sizable native army, just
beyond the fort, is waiting. Marsden dismisses them as stupid savages
with no concept of military strategy, then falls into one of their bear
"The Last Frontier" is about civilization and what it means to be civilized. Jed is an outsider and he wants to belong. For him, to be civilized is to wear a uniform and to attain domesticity. He grapples hard with this civilization thing and learns that there are some confounding complexities. Col. Marsden flaunts the veneer of civilization, but he's a rule-toting bully.
I've probably said too much already, but I love the dry, adult westerns of Anthony Mann. For all his tackling of a complex theme Mann doesn't forget the action scenes. The climactic Indian attack is exciting, with the dust that's whipped up providing a nice visual touch, and Jed's one-on-one fight with a Marsden flunkie is raw and brutal. The fort in this movie appears to be authentic and detailed, and we get to see its layout. Victor Mature's performance as a rough frontiersman is well realized and convincing, a far cry from the oiled-up Samson wrestling a stuffed lion in a certain Cecil B. De Mille soaper. A special nod to Guy Madison for his portrayal of a sane, all-round nice guy. This is hardly a "lesser" Mann picture. It's up there among his best.
The Last Frontier is a Civil War era west taking place in the Wyoming
Territory one of the last refuges of that hardy, but shrinking group of
men known as the mountain men. The Civil War has given a temporary stay
of execution to their way of life, but the end is most assuredly
The point is graphically brought home to trappers Victor Mature, James Whitmore, and Pat Hogan when the Sioux under Red Cloud relieve them of their possessions and work. The Sioux don't mind the mountain men, but don't like what they see with the army building forts in the territory. Go seek refuge with the white soldiers.
When they do seek it, temporary commander Guy Madison welcomes the trio to the fort even with Pat Hogan being an Indian himself and offers them work as scouts. They accept, but when spit and polish commander Robert Preston shows up they wish they hadn't, especially Mature.
Preston is a glory hunter with a beautiful wife he's also trying to make a big show for in the person of Anne Bancroft. He makes Henry Fonda's colonel in Fort Apache seem warm and fuzzy by comparison. His is the best performance in the film.
Mature unfortunately has had too little experience with civilization in his life. He just sees Anne Bancroft and it's the testosterone taking over at that point. His character is a harbinger of what we would see later on in Clint Eastwood films though Mature is more loquacious.
The Last Frontier boasts some nice location cinematography and a well staged final battle scene. Unfortunately the 180 degree turn in Victor Mature's character proves ultimately a bit much for me to swallow.
I enjoyed this western. Victor Mature played a good part. The scenery Is fantastic. I listened with headphones on because I discovered the soundtrack Is stereo- quite something for a western In 1955! Ann Bancroft looks nothing like she looked In the Graduate no where near as sexy! This western Is not run of the mill at all, most of the scenes are Inside a military fort or shot on location. Mature Is a trapper turned military scout trying to prevent a glory-mad Colonel from attacking the Indians as It would mean a massacre of the whole fort. Robert Preston plays the colonel who Is constantly at loggerheads with Mature. All in all a very entertaining western.
While this picture may be minor Anthony Mann, it's a very off-beat, well acted, western. Mature is the anti-thesis of Mann's uber-hero, the driven, edgy loner played to perfection by Jimmy Stewart. Mann plays to Mature's strengths by casting him as the uncivilized, passion driven scout given to bouts of raucous drunkenness. Robert Preston is very good as the obsessed, kill-crazy Colonel whose wife (Anne Bancroft) Mature covets He also slugs her! Wow! Savage Mature!
What makes a director who had just finished one of the best series of westerns ever made, with James Stewart, where the scenery was so relevant, to make this film with Victor Mature, and where most of the action takes place at night, so forget the scenery? In an 1969 interview with Christopher Wicking and Barrie Pattison comparing Stewart to Mature, Mann says that Stewart is skillful, marvelous to work with, because he's always there, very anxious, wants to be great, stating that this is not the case with Mature. Nevertheless Mann was able to get a very good performance out of Mature. And not only that, he was able to do a very good film which reminded me more of his older westerns like "Devil's Doorway" and "The Furies". Like those two other westerns "The Last Frontier" is unusual. Mature is Jed, a trapper who is obliged to seek refuge in a fort, because the Indians won't accept him being around any more. He falls in love with Robert Preston (Col. Marston)'s wife Anne Bancroft. Preston is very much the same character as Henry Fonda in Fort Apache. You can't blame his wife for not liking him, specially because he was responsible for the death of thousands of soldiers on account of his blind ambition. Jed is also ambitious, he does not want to be a scout, but a blue coat, and in his innocent, exuberant way he is more balanced and intelligent and likely to get what he wants than Preston. Anthony Mann could never be labeled as a director belonging to a specific genre. He directed such different films as "The Glenn Miller Story" and "El Cid". He was good at every film he did. And such also is the case with Jed. When his friend Mungo (Pat Hogan) tells him he is going back to the mountains and Jed wants to go with him, he tells him "You don't belong there, I do". He is right, Jed does not belong there and also does not belong in the fort as a blue coat. But in spite of not belonging Jed will do well in anything he aims at. Just like Anthony Mann.
Robert Preston, not Preston Forster (alias Foster) does a fine job along with Victor Mature and James Whitemore in this "B" western filmed in color. It's fun to see the legendary Anne Bancroft in one of her first movies, before she returned to the stage in The Miracle Worker. Contrary to other opinions, if you are a real movie lover, The Last Frontier is well worth your time.
More of an army drama set in the West vs. a Western this has solid direction and some good actors. Victor Mature is hammy but Guy Madison gives a stronger performance here than was usual for him, relaxed and assured. Robert Preston is the cruel commander who is revealed early on as a soulless martinet. He is married to a soft and startlingly blond Anne Bancroft who is good but whose role is incidental. The film makes some veiled and some pointed references to early pioneers disregard for the ways not only of the Indians but of trappers and others who had easily coexisted with them destroying their way of life as valueless merely because it was not the settlers way.
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