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Tough, gripping "lost patrol" western set in 1879 New Mexico
Brian Camp10 May 2003
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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C Troop and their pocket watch leader.
Spikeopath29 January 2010
Joel McCrea stars as tough US Cavalry Sergeant Vinson, who has to take command of C Troop when the senior officers are killed during an Apache attack. But what drives Vinson on? And is he the right man to lead the remaining members of the Troop? Directed by Joseph Newman, the films photography comes from Carl Guthrie, screenplay is courtesy of Martin Goldsmith, it's filmed in CinemaScope with De Luxe colour and the co- star list contains Forrest Tucker, John Russell, George N. Neise & Susan Cabot.

A moody and tough psychological Western that showcases the truly good side of the "B" Western splinter. Thematically strong with its anti- racist core, and really tightly written by Goldsmith, it's also notable for containing a wonderful performance from McCrea. Tho his Western output was very hit and miss {the brilliant Peckinpah film Ride The High Country was to come 4 years later} McCrea was always value for money in even the tardiest of Oaters. Here he gets to really grizzle for all his worth, his Vinson is a bitter man, blinded by hate, yet still capable of softening up if engaged in the right conversation. McCrea is first rate in the role, never over doing the hard-nosed side of the character and garnering believable sympathy when his guard is down.

More known for being the director of This Island Earth, Joseph Newman is hardly the name one links to the direction of a psychological Western. Yet he does a surprisingly good job with the action sequences and rightly lets his actors just tell the story. There's a small complaint that the final battle is all too brief, but that's a touch offset by a hillside C Troop/Apache battle that takes place in the first third of the film. Briskly constructed and with no saggy male posturing to weigh it down, the battle shows Newman to be quite adept at crafting a good old fashioned fight to the death between two very old fashioned foes. The film also looks terrific. Tho sadly not having a widespread DVD release and therefore not getting a remastered work over, the current print of the film available to television networks and Region 1 DVD is still a treat in this High Definition age. Where once the print was apparently murky, you now should be able to adjust and reap the benefit of what is on offer. Filmed at three locations, Gallup-New Mexico, Red Rock State Park-New Mexico & Kanab-Utah, Carl Guthrie's photography really utilises these locations, one moment it be a beautiful sprawling landscape, the next the rocks are enveloping the characters to portray the tension and confinement of their emotional and physical journey. All given the De Luxe sheen as the browns, reds and uniform blues come vividly to life.

Fort Massacre is little known and certainly under seen, thus its reputation has been founded by the casual Western viewer entering into it unaware of what type of character driven film it is. It's hoped that it can now find a newer and more appreciative audience because it's one of the better B Westerns of the late 1950s. 8/10
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Sharp and edgy minor Western
lorenellroy19 January 2010
The patrol movie has been a staple of cinema since its very early days and has cut across many genres including the war movie and ,as in this case,the Western.The setting is New Mexico in the late 1870's and a platoon of the US Cavalry is trying to make its way back to base under less than auspicious circumstances .Its officers are all dead ,killed in action by the Apache,and its leader,by default is Sergeant Vinson (Joel McCrae -cast in a rare unsympathetic role).Vinson is neither liked nor trusted by his men who believe that he is so embittered by the death of his wife at the hands of the Apache that his judgement is flawed and that he will risk their lives for his own revenge .His bellicose attitude seems to reinforce this belief as he orders an attack on a superior force of the enemy as they camp by a waterhole ,with heavy loss of life.This is not the only encounter with the enemy as he and his men take shelter at a seemingly abandoned adobe dwelling where he is besieged by the Apache.

Shot wholly on location by the estimable Carl Guthrie this a tight ,taut movie that moves with pace and efficiency .The acting is excellent with special praise to MacRae ,John Russell as an educated drifter turned soldier Travis ,who becomes a confidante to Vinson ,Forrest Tucker as Irish born trooper McGurney (the role Andrew McClaglen usually played in John Ford pictures)and Anthony Caruso as the Native scout Pawnee .McRae in particular shows us that he could play morally complex and driven characters every bit as well as did James Stewart in his movies for Anthony Mann .Vinson is an angry and bitter man ,qualities the actor brings out well Joseph M Newman directs briskly and stages some lively action sequences in what is a predictable but highly entertaining minor Western
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As hard as a carbine butt.
Mister-UHF1 December 2002
Unlike John Ford's celebrated cavalry Westerns, there's no humor or sentimentality in this film. It shows the grim situations and less than stellar personnel that cavalry commanders often faced. The interplay between Sergeant Vinson, Private McGurney, and Scout Pawnee is interesting and incisive. McGurney shows how a miscreant within a unit can be as great a menace as the enemy. The cinematography is excellent, particularly during riding and water hole sequences. Worth looking at, especially for Western fans interested in the cavalry.
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Thrilling action with a message
funkyfry16 December 2002
A good Western with McCrea as an army sergeant with a severe chip on his shoulder -- his family was killed by American Indians. When the detachment he serves in is attacked, all his superiors are killed and he has to take command of the survivors -- who believe his bigotry will lead them into confrontations which are unnecessary.

McCrea is very good at playing the sergeant as a kind of ruined idealist, beating Wayne at his own game. He has a good rapport with Russell, who plays a man more or less in between the two factions -- he's attached to his sergeant, but can see that his hatred may lead them into danger. Cabot also appears as a native woman, but is not given much to do except be the unwarranted object of McCrea's hatred and suspicions.

A satisfying action film with a strong anti-racist message.
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Very good--and quite complex despite a seemingly simple story.
MartinHafer25 October 2011
While there have been a ton of westerns involving the US Cavalry, this one is a bit different. Instead of the usual 'Indians-bad/Cavalry-good' mentality, this one is much more complex and the moral implications are not so cut and dry.

"Fort Massacre" begins with a small band of Cavalry enlisted men stuck in enemy territory. The local Indian tribe has attacked and killed the Commanding Officer and now the Sergeant (Joel McCrea) is in charge. This may not be a good thing, as McCrea has a VERY personal stake. After all, his family was wiped out by Indians and he has a serious chip on his shoulder as a result. Many of his men (particularly Forrest Tucker playing his usual loud-mouth character) balk at his authority--they think that McCrea is more interested in killing the Indians than making sure they get back to the fort.

John Russell plays an 'everyman' sort of guy. He is neither on the side of the folks against McCrea nor is he going to blindly follow him. The only negative of this character is that he's supposed to be a guy who's had many jobs and is looking for a purpose in life--so he joined the Cavalry. BUT, he also said he graduated Magna Cum Laude at a university--and it is hard to believe he's only be a private. The only other part that was really hard to believe was the Indian woman--who spoke like a middle-class white lady! Still, despite a few problems, the film was very compelling because it took a psychological look at people AND offered a complex story with characters who were NOT 'cookie cutter' western heroes. Well worth seeing.
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More than meets the eye
drystyx8 June 2012
You know you have a great action film when you realize you could make it work just as well as a stage play.

And that's what we have here. An action Western about a "lost patrol" style cavalry unit, against the natives.

Don't be misled by the "action" though. This is a deep story. McCrea gives an astounding performance, owed also to great writing, directing, and supporting cast, as a man who isn't what he seems.

The movie gives us a look at how a man in position of leader can seem to be in one piece, but isn't. We see hints of the character's madness, and some, like Tucker's character, have seen him enough not to be fooled. A pair of peaceful Indians, one an old man, the other a beautiful woman, become pivotal in learning more about McCrea, and pivotal in his sole supporter's realization of how mad his leader is.

The two Indians are exceptionally well written, and played to perfection. We see two humans, and so does the cavalry unit, all except McCrea.

The ending is quite a surprise, even today. Very few cavalry films show characters who are this believable and three dimensional.
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I do not like cavalry movies...except this one.
takaroberts31 March 2007
It has been years since I have seen this movie and I have been looking for it for a long time. I still remember moments in the movie as if I just saw it yesterday because of its gripping mature story line and deep rich character portrayals. I still get goosebumps when I think about it. The plot development was powerful with what I found to be a shocking conclusion. I find classic story telling with intense character portrayals to be much more interesting than some of the movie gimmicks used by most of the industry today. This movie is not shy on realism or story. I guess that some of that which makes up the high quality depth of this motion picture story simply goes over the head of some people, (based on some of the other reviews I have read about this film). I believe this is an absolute must see for McCrea or Russell fans.
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Unknown but interesting Western about a small regiment stranded in an abandoned location and strongly surrounded by avenger Indians
ma-cortes30 October 2015
Thoughtful and powerful Western drama well played , splendidly photographed and compellingly directed . The West's most savage story titled ¨Fort Massacre¨ is set during the Indian Wars in the Southwest , with a military detachment whose mission results to be escort a civil column . There , a sergeant called Vinson (Joel McCrea) assumes command of a cavalry team after it is mauled in an Apache ambush that murdered its captain and seriously wounded its lieutenant . Vinson is a revenger cavalry sergeant to roust renegade troopers and a tribe of Apaches and subsequently the cavalry troop finds itself under constant attack by Indians . Then , the surviving troopers , including various Privates (Forrest Tucker , John Russell , Denver Pyle) along with an Indian scout , Pawne , (Anthony Caruso) must reach either a wagon train , or a larger cavalry column . Vinson puts the bridle on tight and struggles to win his soldiers respect while warding off violent Indians . But first they need water and the nearest water hole is in Apache hands . Vinson along with a group of soldiers have to defend a left place surrounded by Indians until arrival reinforcement . The more desperate his fight on the desert's scorching sands , the more adored he was in her arms ¡ .

Pretty good Western starring an excellent Joel McCrea as revenger who gains his identity killing Indians . This is an exciting flick about hate , pride and cunning . Spectacular and breathtaking scenes when there happen the Indian attacks . It is an exciting Western/drama that holds you interest from start to finish and right through to the intriguing tale , as well as a stirring climax . The flick displays a deep denounce about senseless acts of racism and Indian murders . Moving and thought-provoking screenplay by Martin Goldsmith with great sense of realism , complexity and attention to detail . Director takes a fine penned screenplay creating a cavalry-Indians tale that is far from ordinary , exploring the anguish of soldiers and including jarring burst of violence , however it packs a predictable ending . It's the habitual theme about an unit stranded by enemies and their grueling efforts to break the siege, issue imitated many other times . The plot is quite grim by United Artists Western standards , though it results to be entertaining . In film premiere failed at box office and it was panned by critics and lukewarm reception by public ; however , nowadays reviewers carried a detailed reappraisal of the movie . The cast is frankly well . Joel McCrea is solid , if a bit stolid . The support cast is fine , as John Russell , Anthony Caruso , Denver Pyle , Francis McDonald , Susan Cabot as beautiful Piute Indian girl and final film of Irving Bacon . Colorful cinematography by Carl E. Guthrie that features some clever matte paintings and lush three-strip Technicolor , De Luxe photography , being shot in National Parks such as Gallup, New Mexico , Red Rock State Park, Church Rock, New Mexico, Kanab , Utah . Thrilling as well as evocative Original Music by Marlín Skiles .

Directed and in nice style by Joseph M. Newman who previously directed other good Western titled ¨Pony Soldier¨ . Joseph received two Oscar nominations as assistant director . Many of his films , almost all second features and shot on modest budgets , use character actors rather than stars for the lead roles . They have a gritty , semi-documentary look , particularly his two best offerings : the film noir ¨The human jungle¨ (1954) and the outdoor drama ¨Red sky of Montana¨ (1952) . Many also share an overriding preoccupation with technology , as in "711 Ocean Drive", in which an electronically-minded telephone repairman played by Edmond O'Brien becomes entangled with a shady bookmaking syndicate and in Newman's most famous film, the cult sci-fi Island Earth (1955) , though re-shot by director Jack Arnold . Newman's work was competent, if routine : some westerns as ¨The sheriff of Dodge City¨, ¨The Outcasts of Poker Flat¨ ,¨Fort Comanche¨ , Ädventure : ¨Tarzan, the Ape Man¨ (1959) and a few crime pictures as ¨Death in Small Doses¨ , ¨Flight to Hong Kong¨, ¨King of the Roaring 20's: The Story of Arnold Rothstein¨ , (1961) and ¨The lawbreakers¨ (1961) . ¨Fort Massacre¨ is an authentic must see , not to be missed for buffs of the genre . An enjoyable movie because of its awesome acting , dialog , score are world class.
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Something unique even for genre veterans
jadekite2226 April 2012
If you've stuck through at least a season of just about any western television serial, you'll be familiar with FORT MASSACRE's plot, involving a troop crossing Apache territory. As a fan of RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, I expected Joel McCrea would be the sole reason for reinvesting myself in this film's well-trodden set-up. While McCrea's performance is certainly a draw (especially given his character's hard edge, usually reserved for a supporting or villainous character) the real standout here was John Russell as Private Travis. I've never encountered a character like his--in this or any other film genre--solely driven by his indecision. You might expect that this is because such an arc wouldn't make for a compelling lead, but damn if FORT MASSACRE doesn't become his film by the end. Thanks to some interesting and revealing exchanges between McCrea and Russell, as well as superb cinematography by Carl Guthrie (BACKFIRE, THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL), this obscure "B" western deserves more recognition than it currently receives.
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What came first? His personal hatred or the survival of his men?
This is quite a western, that reminds one more of war films like Robert Aldrich's "Attack"(1956). During practically the whole film we are in doubt if Sgt. Vinson (Joel McCrea) is placing his personal feelings of hatred for the Apaches, who killed his wife, above the interests of his military mission and his men. Pvt. Travis (John Russel) is a man totally undecided about what to do with his life and also how to judge Vinson, but he is aware of his shortcomings and we identify with him. Pvt McGurney (Forrest Tucker) does not have doubts about Vinson. To him he is willing to kill them all just to get even with the Apaches. Joseph M Newman directed some routine westerns like "Pony Soldier" and "Gunfight at Dodge City", but he did well with "Outcasts Of Poker Flat" and this film.
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As hard as a carbine butt.
Mister-UHF1 December 2002
Unlike John Ford's celebrated cavalry Westerns, there's no humor or sentimentality in this film. It shows the grim situations and less than stellar personnel that cavalry commanders often faced. The interplay between Sergeant Vinson, Private McGurney, and Scout Pawnee is interesting and incisive. McGurney shows how a miscreant within a unit can be as great a menace as the enemy. The cinematography is excellent, paricularly during riding and water hole sequences. Worth looking at, especially for Western fans interested in the cavalry.
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Exciting Western
J Besser24 September 2014
This may be the first non-"Ride the High Country" Joel McCrea western I have ever seen. I realize now that I wasted my youth. He is great in this movie. I've seen a lot of Randolph Scott westerns and he's good, but McCrae had a meanness in this movie I did not expect. The rest of the cast is very good too. There some typical western clichés in this movie but that never really bothers me if they're done well. This movie constantly surprised me.It's also beautiful to look in its widescreen glory. It does run out gas after a while but it doesn't stall for very long. I'm sorry it took me so long to catch up with this one. I've just become a big Joel McCrae fan.
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OK Oater
boblipton28 September 2002
Standard fare beautifully shot. Joel McCrea and Forest Tucker give good performances in this story about a cavalry troop under move, constantly under attack. The real star is the cinematography, shot in beautiful color and featuring some of the best scenery outside a John Ford western. Be sure to see it in wide screen!
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Above-Average, Butg Minor Calvary Vs. Indians Saga
zardoz-131 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
"Pony Soldier" director Joseph M. Newman's western "Fort Massacre" is a grim little Cavalry versus the Indians horse opera with genre veteran Joel McCrea as a seasoned sergeant with a hatred of all things Apache in particular and Indians in general. The performances are all fine, especially the Native Americans. They look like Indians. Meanwhile, character actors galore fill McCrea's ranks, such as Denver Pyle, Forrest Tucker, Anthony Caruso, John Russell, Robert Osterloh, and Rayford Barnes. Newman alternates between battle scenes and dialogue scenes with everybody complaining about Sergeant Vinson (Joel McCrea) and his feud with the Indians. It seems that his wife died at the hands of the Native Americans, but before Vinson's wife died, she shot his two sons. Newman doesn't let the plot loiter and the anti-Indian sentiments are as strong as those displayed by John Wayne in "The Searchers." If there is anything predictable about this blood, sweat, and bullets 'Lost Patrol" western, it is the hero's antipathy toward the Indians. Clocking in at a lean, 80 minutes with no time-outs for comic relief, "Fort Massacre" qualifies as an above-average oater with "Sergeants 3" lenser's Carl Guthrie's spectacular cinematography of scenic western locales in Utah and New Mexico. It is a wonder that Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer let Newman keep certain scenes in this savage shoot'em up. My favorite line of dialogue occurs early in the action after the survivors bury their superior office and Sergeant Vinson refuses to read over his burial with the Bible. "If he needs our help to make it upstairs, he's in worse shape than he looks." Furthermore, it is also unusual to see all-around good-guy Joel McCrea playing such a grief-stricken soldier. For example, after they wipe out their adversaries, Sergeant Vinson doesn't relent when the final Apache exposes himself to him. Vinson refuses to show mercy and shoots the brave down like a dog to the chagrin of his men.
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Under-Seen and Undervalued Philosophical Western
LeonLouisRicci13 October 2014
This One is Under the Radar. Little Acknowledged Joel MccRea Western with a lot more Philosophy and Psychology than Usually Found in this Type of Thing. The Story of a Lost Troop Trying to Find its Way Back to Command and "Civilization" is the Setting in this Widescreen, Beautifully Shot Study of a Group of Soldiers Fighting the Elements and Hordes of Apaches.

There is Much Discussion About MccRea, who is Reluctantly Forced to Lead because the Officers have All been Killed and this Tortured Soul Might Not be Up to the Task. His Personal Story is Unfolded as Things Move Along and He Definitely is Suffering from Prior Events and His Men are not Very Comfortable with His Decisions.

Making Tough Decisions is an Underlying Theme Throughout and along with John Russell as a College Grad Wanderer, an Outstanding Performance, He Tries to Sort Things Out. But the Soldiers are Constantly Complaining and Have Issues of Their Own and this Makes for a Tense and Taught Situation Along with Violent Encounters by the Encroaching Indians.

The Action is Intense and so is the Conflict Among the Cavalry and the Well Written Script with Some Very Edgy Dialog Elevates this as One of the Best, and Underseen Westerns in the Decades Love Affair with Genre. Fans of Anthony Mann and Budd Boetticher Westerns will Find this a Welcome Addition that can Side with the Better Westerns of the Impossibly Prolific Output of the 1950's.
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disappointing US cavalry v Apaches film
Marlburian13 December 2006
The plot seemed promising if a little familiar: US Cavalry patrol in trouble; officers dead, sergeant (McCrea)in command of disparate group of soldiers, including the usually excellent Forrest Tucker, trying to get to safety. McCrea often plays pleasant characters - or characters pleasantly - but we suspect this is not the case when early in the film he slavishly - stubbornly - follows the patrol's original orders. But it's still a shock when he shoots a surrendering Apache in the stomach. (I've run the tape several times and I'm sure that during the short action at the watering-hole McCrea's bristles become a beard - presumably a continuity error, but it makes him look even tougher.) The problem with the film is the Private Travis character; he's a recruit, but very self-possessed, and soon the sergeant is confiding in him, which jarred a little. Travis is secretive about his past, and perhaps it would have helped had there been a little more revealed about him - a suspicion, say, that he had once been an officer, which might have made the sergeant's attitude to him easier to understand.

I don't like the contrived introduction of attractive young women into a men-only situation in films. Seeing that Susan Cabot had a high billing, I feared the worst, and thought she might turn up with the traders' covered wagon. In fact her appearance is towards the end, as a most unlikely-looking Indian girl, and then she has no effect at all on the plot and, indeed, none on the men. At least we're spared her being attacked by one soldier and saved by another.

Two largish groups of Indians converge on the "Fort Massacre" of the title, but some of these seem to have wandered off before the final encounter with the cavalry.

Forrest Tucker's screen presence usually makes him stand out in films, but in this one he's just another soldier.
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kyle_furr11 February 2004
The best thing about this film is that there is no humor in it, unlike some westerns like the searchers. The plot has Joel McCrea in charge since all the officers have been killed and the men don't trust McCrea since he has such a deep hatred of the Indians, who killed his wife and kid. This is a lot like The Lost Patrol when which not too many are going to make it out alive.
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Joel Got A Randy's Script
bkoganbing30 September 2008
With the officers killed, Sergeant Joel McCrea finds himself in command of a patrol that's supposed to meet up with a larger column of men at a water hole. McCrea and his patrol find that larger group of men, but they turn out to be hostile Apaches.

That's the beginning of Fort Massacre, a tough and brutal western about an army patrol trying to get back to their lines. The problem they have isn't just the Indians, it's McCrea. He lost his wife and children to the Apaches a few years before and it's unhinged him and clouded his judgment. At least that's the considered opinion of most of the men.

The main problem with Fort Massacre is the miscasting of Joel McCrea who usually made it point of always being an upright hero in his films. In fact when his swan song picture was originally being cast, Ride the High Country, McCrea insisted on being the hero Steven Judd because he knew it would be better on him instead of the original casting of Gil Westrum the former deputy who was turning bad. Randolph Scott agreed to the switch and it worked out all for the better.

In fact Fort Massacre would rate a lot higher with me if Randolph Scott had done the lead. In his later westerns Scott's heroes had a real edge to them, the film would have worked better with him. I'm not sure producer Walter Mirisch didn't send this script for Scott to McCrea by mistake. McCrea's sergeant had a lot of similarities to the revenge crazed character Alan Ladd played in One Foot In Hell.

The rest of the cast does nicely in parts that fit them. Denver Pyle, Forest Tucker and John Russell are other troop members. Anthony Caruso is a laconic Pawnee Indian scout for the patrol who's full of a lot of wisdom. Susan Cabot and Francis McDonald are a Paiute cliff dweller and his granddaughter with whom the troop take refuge and Irving Bacon and Claire Carlton are a pair of Indian traders.

Fort Massacre is a grim western with no frills, it could have been a lot better if Randolph Scott had done this one though.
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Grade B Oater
kenjha30 March 2013
A cavalry troop navigates through a remote territory while trying to overcome repeated Indian attacks. This looks very much like the second feature on a B-movie double-bill. The plot is somewhat meandering and the characters are nothing more than stereotypes. The flat direction doesn't help matters. There is intermittent philosophical discussion, but much of the dialog is amateurish. For example, McCrea says something like this about his late wife: "She wasn't much to look at, but she was kind. She would catch a fly with her hands and release it outside the house. I would swat." Goldsmith wrote such hard-boiled yarns as "Detour" and "The Narrow Margin" but seems to be out of his element with this Western.
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Okay, but unexceptional western yarn.
Poseidon-322 April 2004
There are a few decent elements in this tough, brief cavalry-western along with some tiresome and unentertaining ones. McCrea (always an easy, attractive presence on the screen) plays a sergeant who's left in charge of his regiment after a particularly lethal skirmish with the Apaches. Most of the men bellyache constantly about wanting to ignore their mission to join up with a wagon train and go home, but he presses on, even if it means inciting more violence along the way. He carries a chip on his shoulder from the death of his wife and children at the hands of Indians. The biggest battle involves the taking of a desperately needed water hole with McCrea's men outnumbered four to one. Eventually, even though McCrea has managed to get the men through various tough scrapes, they can no longer tolerate his vicious attitude towards the Indians and his seeming disregard for human life in general. The climax occurs at an abandoned set of buildings built into a cliff wall, which one of the men dubs Fort Massacre. Here they encounter an elderly Piute man and his granddaughter who are scratching to survive on anything they can find. McCrea's character is complex for a film as seemingly unimportant as this one and his less likable traits are made all the more perplexing because of the actor's innate charm and likability. He does an admirable enough job in the film, but the direction, script and supporting cast keep him from really making a historic impact in the role the way John Wayne was able to in "The Searchers." Some familiar faces are peppered amongst the cavalrymen, notably Pyle (of "Dukes of Hazard" fame) and Tucker as a cantankerous Irishman. Russell has a significant part as a rather aimless fellow officer who waffles between believing in and doubting McCrea. Unfortunately, his Rod Serling-esque manner of speaking hampers his authenticity. There is unwelcome camp and comedy present in the performance of veteran western actor McDonald as the Piute man. Cabot has little to do as his granddaughter (and at 31, she's hardly right to be playing an innocent Indian maiden!) It's worth a glance for McCrea fans and for its beautiful mountain scenery, but can't quite cut it as a classic. If the scenes of travel on horseback were trimmed, the movie might be 45 minutes long! Maybe this should have been an episode of "Death Valley Days" instead.
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His Heart Had Died Along With His Family!
Stormy_Autumn18 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I was given the opportunity to watch "Fort Massacre" (1958) meaning no one was home. It starred Joel McCrea (Sgt. Vinson), Forrest Tucker (Pvt. McGurney), John Russell (Pvt. Travis), Susan Cabot (Piute girl) & Francis McDonald (Old Piute man).

Sgt. Vinson was a bitter soldier who would do anything to get even with any Indians because of the massacre of his wife & children. His revenge included taking his troops across forbidden tribal lands. In his hatred he wanted to commit murder even if it meant taking the lives of those in his command.

This placed McCrea in a different type role...hard...cold...EXPENDABLE! If you like westerns give it a try, otherwise to the east as fast as you can!!!
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