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Unpretentious Western Offers Authenticity, Solid Family Entertainment
Escort West is an unpretentious little Western starring that unpretentious actor Victor Mature. Vic was the original muscle man. Before there was an Arnold Schwarzeneger, even before there was a Steve Reeves, there was Victor Mature. Yet unlike those two aforementioned massive hulks, Vic was graceful and athletic enough to look good in a suit, at least the loose fitting types worn in the 'forties and 'fifties, which constituted his flourishing period. In My Darling Clementine they even managed to pass him off as a consumptive Doc Holliday by keeping him in a grossly over-sized coat and using extra shadow under his eyes. Vic apparently never took himself very seriously as an actor, nor did most film critics. One wag quipped that in a certain movie Victor Mature used all of his muscles except the ones in his face. Okay, he wasn't an Olivier, but in Escort West he turned in a solid, sensitive, charming and effective lead performance.
And he did it with out letting the dreaded presence of a child actress steal the show. Vic plays an ex-Confederate Captain, recently widowed and on his way to start a new life in Oregon with his young daughter (Reba Waters) soon after the Civil War. I must confess that as a life-long old grouch, I usually don't like movies where a cutesy kid plays a major part, but little Reba charmed the socks off of me in the first scene and continued to do it for 75 minutes. Seldom does a child actor or actress turn in such an understated and dignified, yet charming performance. The tender yet never syrupy relationship between the father and daughter amidst the adversity of war, losing their wife/mother and their home, and now hostile Indian attack is one of the elements that gives this story a slight edge over the average B oater.
Not that Escort West doesn't have other good points. The script, co-authored by Bruce Gordon, who also plays one of his typical brutish heavy parts in the movie, is conventional but lucid and entertaining. Francis D. Lyon's direction and smooth editing keeps the action-packed story tense and exciting. Good use is made of the black and white Cinemascope format in both action sequences and panoramic views of the scenery. Characterization is a strong point helped along by a platoon of veteran western character actors the like of Noah Beery, Jr., Slim Pickens, Rex Ingram, and Harry Carry, Jr. The female lead and second lead Elaine Stewart and Faith Domegue also make competent contributions.
This little B programmer displays an unusual authenticity for a western of this era. It was particularly impressive that the cavalry uniforms were true to the Civil War era and not the usual stock 1870's Indian Wars uniforms, which are quite different. The Sharps breech loading carbines used by the cavalry and the Indians were likewise accurate to the 1860's. The Remmington revolvers, though actually later cartridge models, did good service showing profiles that look like period cap and ball revolvers. The holsters looked like Civil War types, and the gun belts were lacking cartridge loops (cap and ball revolvers used delicate paper cartridges which couldn't be carried in loops). The renegade Modoc Indians, who were the principal menace, dressed as most Indians of the period would have -- not naked savages who had only just come into contact with civilization, but wearing mostly the same clothes the whites did with a few Indian flourishes like gaudy belts and leather leggings. Like any acculturated Indian criminals, they used rifles and pistols, instead of bow and arrow and spear, and they fired from behind cover instead of throwing themselves away in dervish-like rushes as we see in so many clichéd westerns.
Admittedly not in a class with Red River or even one of Randolph Scott's better numbers, Escort West nevertheless delivers exciting family entertainment for an hour and fifteen minutes. In many ways it was better than any number of more sumptuously turned out westerns, and for this old, weathered oat-burner fancier at least, better than all but the very best of those whistling, ricocheting spaghetti-burners.
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