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In Oregon Country, 1868, several tribes of Native Americans have been placed on a reservation north of the Snake River. Here Doctor Holden has built a church, and many of the tribes have accepted Christianity and Christian names. Sgt. Emmett Bell is in charge of maintaining order here. When the cavalry, under the command of Col. Stedlow, arrives, building a bridge across the river and intending to open a road across the reservation to areas north, some of the tribal chiefs feel their treaty has been violated. As the cavalry column advances into the reservation, Kamiakin vows to lead the tribes in battle against the encroaching white men. Written by
Jeff Hole <firstname.lastname@example.org>
One of the few westerns where the Indians actually ride bareback or on blankets instead of a blanket over the saddle. See more »
During the big battle the Colonel orders that cannon #1 be fired. When fired the cannon did not show any recoil. The force of the firing should have sent the cannon back on its wheels a bit. When Cannon #2 was fired there was too much smoke to say it did not recoil. See more »
Pillars of the Sky is an unusual western in that it touches on the role of Christian missionaries in the American West. This film also gives Ward Bond one of the most unusual roles he ever had in his career.
Bond plays a Christian missionary preacher/doctor in the Pacific Northwest region. There is still considerable debate among historians as to what they accomplished. It was thought at the time that the conquered Indian tribes would be more humanely treated under preachers than soldiers. There is no doubt that missionaries, not only in the American west, but in other parts of the world colonized by the west, probably saved indigent peoples from some acts of barbarism.
Whether though, even with the best of intentions, they had the right to destroy a culture is very much open to debate. And Bond is a man with the best of intentions even as he baptizes the Indians giving them names found in the Bible.
One Indian who isn't having any of it is Michael Ansara who's rousing all the tribes to resist the building of a new army post in their territory. But Colonel Willis Bouchey has his orders and Bond is caught in the middle.
Another trio caught in the middle is Captain Keith Andes, his wife Dorothy Malone, and Sergeant Jeff Chandler who Malone was previously engaged to. Malone and Olive Carey are captured by Ansara's bunch and Chandler rescues them. This little romantic subplot is exactly what the cavalry doesn't need as Ansara's band is on the hunt for them.
Pillars of the Sky was filmed on location in the Pacific Northwest and the photography is first rate. And the Indian attacks are well staged by some very smart Indians. Ansara is a cunning and ruthless foe.
It also succeeds in making you admire the courage of our cavalry in carrying out their orders though in fact they are in clear treaty violation. One of the best roles in the film is that of Lee Marvin, an army veteran from the Civil War who is giving the green troops some lessons for survival in a hurry.
I did find it a bit much the end Jeff Chandler has in store for him and I think most viewers will also. As Chandler said, Bond may have given the Indians the priceless gift of his God, but was the cost worth it?
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