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After a band of Indians kill a group of soldiers, Sergeant Hook captures them and their leader Nanches. Among the prisoners is Nanches' son and the boy's white mother captured by them nine years earlier. Hook's assignment is to escort the mother and son to the woman's husband. Traveling by stagecoach they learn that Nanches has escaped and it's not long before he and his warriors show up intent on reclaiming the boy. Written by
Maurice VanAuken <firstname.lastname@example.org>
If Cora/Barbara Stanwyck had lice, the reason given for her cropped hair, her son would have had lice, too, due to all the direct contact between them. Probably, half the tribe (at least) would have contracted lice, and yet she was the only one with the cropped hair. See more »
Another fine McCrea Western with more substance than most. Cavalry sergeant McCrea must get white Indian squaw Stanwyck and little half-breed son past bigoted whites and hostile Apaches to her former husband Dehner. Along the way, they encounter many difficulties from both whites and Indians.
Those scenic Utah vistas, even in b&w, lend real credibility to the proceedings. And catch that opening scene. Note the brutality from both cavalry and Apaches, as latter execute prisoners, while former lays waste to Indian encampment. Throughout, the subtext hints at an underlying commonality between the two races despite the hostility. Or, as Apache Nanchez and cavalryman McCrea observe during a peace parley, there's a little of each in both of them.
Now, the question logically arisesgiven the warfare and brutality, why is McCrea so basically kind to enemy Stanwyck and son. Sure, she was captured and made a squaw and still has white skin, but she's also born Nanchez's son, captivity or no captivity. That's enough for most whites to hate her. Thanks to an intelligent script (except for the contrived ending), we find out. McCrea was a captive during the Civil War and stayed alive by imitating a dog, of all things. So, he knows what it's like to humiliate oneself in order to stay alive, which is what the unrepentant Stanwyck has done as a captive of the Apaches. It's a solid psychological point and a credit to McCrea that his character would risk such a demeaning episode in his background.
There's also the suspenseful stand-off around the fallen stagecoach. It's pretty clear that McCrea will shoot the boy if Nanchez attacks. It's also a pretty cold-blooded gamble. What's rather surprising is that McCrea shows no doubts or compunctions about risking the boy's life. Not too many Westerns of the time showed the hero holding a gun (through Holliman) to a little boy's head, amounting to an unusual departure, particularly for McCrea's apparent lack of feeling. Of course, what's going on underneath the steely resolve is likely entirely different.
Stanwyck is excellent as the stoical Cora Sutcliff. Her career had fallen off since there weren't many A-pictures available to a middle-aged star. But being the down-to-earth person she was known to be, she gives this B-Western her best, and it shows. I just wish Earl Holliman had more screen time. Some people are born to play certain parts, and he was born to play a good-natured, slightly oafish cowboy. His scenes with McCrea amount to little gems of unspoken affection. At the same time, I'm guessing young lady Kohner's part was added to Holliman's to give the movie more youth appeal. But most of all, the film has the great Joel McCrea. No actor brought more quiet dignity and less egotism to the traditional cowboy role than he. Unfortunately, I expect it's that very low-key approach that has lowered his public profile over the years. Too bad.
This 1957 release came at a time when both movies and TV were saturated with cowboys and six-guns. As a result, many quality Westerns got lost in the crowd, and, I expect, this humane little effort is one of them. Nonetheless, the ending is much too conventional and conveniently pat to distinguish the results completely from the pack. I just wish the script showed the same imagination in the last 5 minutes that it showed in the other 70-some. Then we would have had a complete little gem.
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