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Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

Approved | | Western, Crime | 28 May 1960 (USA)
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Respected black cavalry Sergeant Brax Rutledge stands court-martial for raping and killing a white woman and murdering her father, his superior officer.

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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Lt. Tom Cantrell
...
Mary Beecher
...
Mrs. Cordelia Fosgate
...
Juano Hernandez ...
Sgt. Matthew Luke Skidmore
...
Col. Otis Fosgate
...
Capt. Shattuck
...
Lt. Mulqueen
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Storyline

Lieutenant Tom Cantrell is sent to defend Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, a black cavalry soldier, on a charge of rape and murder. The story begins in a courtroom and it is told through flashbacks. This is a story of how a black soldier in the face of danger from the Indians can be so easily mistaken as a criminal. Written by Christopher D. Ryan <cryan@direct.ca>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

It's the rendezvous with DEATH for men to whom DEATH was no stranger! See more »

Genres:

Western | Crime

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

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Release Date:

28 May 1960 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Captain Buffalo  »

Filming Locations:

 »

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Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording)

Color:

(Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Final film of Billie Burke. See more »

Goofs

Cantrell explains that the "buffalo soldiers" were so named because when first seen by the Native Americans, the Natives mistook their woolly coats for those of a buffalo. In truth, it was the "nappy" hair of the Black soldiers that lead the Natives to dub the unit as "Buffalo Soldiers," but Cantrell could have been misinformed. When Dr. Eckner testifies as to the rape/murder, his testimony is shown in flashback and concludes with a conversation between Juano Hernandez as Skidmore and Jeffrey Hunter as Cantrell that took place outside the building. As the doctor remained inside, he could not possibly have heard it. See more »

Quotes

1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge: I ain't gonna let none of this trouble run off on you. You're ninth Cavalry men, and like I've said again and again the ninth's record is going to speak for us all one day, and its gonna speak clean.
See more »

Connections

Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.21 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Captain Buffalo
Words and Music by Mack David and Jerry Livingston
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User Reviews

 
Ford openly displays his art and poetry
26 November 2004 | by (Padova, Italy) – See all my reviews

John Ford openly displays his poetry in this magnificent film "Sergeant Rutledge". Maybe the great director and artist was annoyed that many did not get the anti-racist messages that permeate all his works (starting with "The Searchers": ever noted it?) and decided to make a definite, open statement.

To be as clear as possible, Ford willingly shows his art, poetry and trade-mark techniques in the most evident way. He masterly uses images and camera-work to convey emotion. We see Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) constrained in a small chair, his never-ending shoulders covering half of the screen. And we feel uneasy. We feel that something evil is going on, that it's deeply wrong to keep such a man in chains, let alone to hang him. And then we see Woody Strode standing out, the Monument Valley on the background, like John Wayne in many other Ford's movies. I'm sure that such parallel Wayne-Strode was Ford's deliberate choice.

Ford uses his skills of epic poet to describe characters. Rutledge is arrested and searched. They find no money or other goods, just his emancipation papers. So, here we have a Man with all his richness: his honor, his courage, his strength and an emancipation paper. Great stuff! And then Rutledge says to a wounded mate "We don't fight the whites' war. We fight for our honor". Only Ford always manages to turn military rhetoric into poetry, mainly thanks to the visual beauty of the scene.

Woody Strode makes an outstanding, deeply touching job as the black cavalry sergeant. His acting is sober, poised but intense, with no melodramatic sides, and he physically dominates the screen (by the way: what an amazing athlete Strode was, at age forty-six!).

Rutledge is the Hero, the Legend of the movie. Yet Lt. Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter) is as interesting a character as Rutledge is. Cantrell is a man of the 19th century. Unavoidably, he does have racial prejudices, but he nobly endeavors to overcome them, and certainly at the end of the story is a better person than at the beginning.

I guess that the two female characters represent Ford's dream. Indeed, they both do not even understand racism. The poor murdered girl loved his friend "uncle" Rutledge, and that's all. She doesn't even get the hints of the old ladies, who disapprove this friendship. And the same can be said of Cantrell's fiancée Mary Beecher, very well played by Constance Towers. She nurses the wounded black horse-soldiers with no attitude of doing something special. And some lines of Mary's show Ford's wonderful subtlety. She has been over-night with Rutledge in a deserted hut. Mary says to a concerned Cantrell "I wasn't alone. Sergeant Rutledge was with me and he protected me as well as any officer could do". That's a lesson for Cantrell: the fact that Mary pretends to think her boy-friend just concerned about military ranks, implies that she does not even notice the color of the skin and requires Cantrell to be the same way. Well, probably the two women are not fully realistic characters, especially for the 19th century. They are idealized by Ford, as a poet has the right to dream.

A small remark. Most Ford's films (not this one, actually) raise some controversy. Many heartily love them and many strongly dislike them. I think it rather expectable. Ford is a poet, and a poet cannot please everyone. Personally, I was indifferent if not displeased by the works of some much celebrated poets. Thanks God, poets follow their own way, not caring people's taste.

"Sergeant Rutledge" is not perfectly constructed and chiseled like other Ford's masterpieces. Small defects may be found in some court-room scenes and flash-backs. However, this splendid movie deserves top grades, due to the importance of its message and Ford's sincerity in displaying his art. "Sergeant Rutledge" is another top work by the Master.


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