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During the Indian Wars in the Southwest, a sergeant assumes command of a cavalry detachment after it is mauled in an Apache ambush that killed its captain and seriously wounded its lieutenant. The surviving troopers must reach either a larger cavalry column or a wagon train the column is to escort. But first they need water and the nearest water hole is in Apache hands.... Written by
Forrest Tucker's Irish accent constantly comes and goes throughout the movie. See more »
[Vinson's cavalry patrol hurriedly buries a dead trooper]
Collins, that deep enough. Roll him in and cover him up. Let's move!
You mean without reading the Good Book?
If he needs our help to make it upstairs, he's in worse shape than he looks.
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Tough, gripping "lost patrol" western set in 1879 New Mexico
FORT MASSACRE (1958) takes a standard "lost patrol" war movie plot and adapts it to 1879 New Mexico and a tale of remnants of an embattled cavalry platoon who have to make it through hundreds of miles of hostile desert terrain while fighting off roving bands of Apaches. It's a harsh, gritty take on the subject, uncompromising and fairly unpredictable. It has a tough, grizzled, nearly all-male cast, led by Joel McCrea as a Sergeant forced to take command after all the superior officers have been killed. The members of the platoon gripe and take issue with McCrea over the risks he makes them take, including the decision to attack a large band of Apaches who've taken over a needed waterhole. McCrea is driven by a hatred of the Apaches, who'd killed his wife, and his men are concerned that his emotions are coloring his decision making.
It's well-told, gripping, and expertly photographed (by Carl Guthrie) entirely on location. The climax takes place in an abandoned Indian cliff dwelling. It also has a particularly strong cast. In addition to McCrea, the chief soldier characters include Forrest Tucker (TV's "F Troop") as an Irishman who makes light of everything but is especially hostile to McCrea; John Russell (TV's "The Lawman") as a son of privilege who joined the army to find himself; and veteran character actor Anthony Caruso, as Pawnee, a seasoned Indian scout. The other soldiers include Denver Pyle (BONNIE AND CLYDE), Robert Osterloh (WHITE HEAT), and Rayford Barnes (THE WILD BUNCH). Also in the cast are third-billed Susan Cabot (THE WASP WOMAN) in a small role as a Paiute Indian girl hiding out in the cliff dwelling with her grandfather, Francis L. McDonald (NORTHWEST MOUNTED POLICE). Comic character actor Irving Bacon (the BLONDIE series) pops up as a shady trader who puts the Cavalrymen in danger.
It's a consistently suspenseful film with regular bursts of action, including two major gun battles with the Apaches. The action is never contrived and plays out in a believable fashion throughout, with no last-minute rescues or superhuman actions by the cavalrymen. The men behave in an authentic fashion and one can see this film as a respectable echo of earlier war-themed lost patrol movies, including Samuel Fuller's THE STEEL HELMET and Anthony Mann's MEN IN WAR. The ending is quite surprising. The script is by Martin M. Goldsmith (DETOUR) and the film was directed by Joseph Newman (PONY SOLDIER, THIS ISLAND EARTH).
The cinemascope photography suffers considerably from the murky color print which ran in a full-frame presentation on Superstation TBS which didn't even bother to pan and scan. As a result, group shots of the men debating plans of action frequently feature off-camera speakers. This is one of many unsung westerns from the 1950s that would benefit greatly from a letter-boxed remastered DVD edition enabling it to be re-discovered by western fans.
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