This is a truly terrible film. One of Universal's cheap westerns, it suffers from a candidate for Worst Script Ever Written and some fairly atrocious acting. The basic storyline is this - five travellers are marooned in the Arizona desert when their stagecoach crew suspects them of carrying smallpox. Will they make it to Dancers' Rock, and safety?
An excruciatingly dire ballad accompanies the action. (Surely this woeful ditty was the inspiration for the theme tune of "Gilligan's Island"?) There is an even worse song at the end, the wince-inducing "Confucius Say".
"The game was just too big for him," says one character of another, but he might equally have been talking about script-writer Keneth Darling. For sheer clumsiness, this dialogue is in a class of its own. When Halloran expresses a dislike of native Americans, Anne retorts, "Surely this is not the sentiment of a dedicated indian agent? The Apache nation deserves much more from you, sir." Halloran actually speaks the word "Bah!" - something only ever seen in children's comics before this. The entire script is couched in ugly 'formal' English, as if Darling were striving after polished elegance, with Halloran in particular having to mouth sentences that no-one would dream of uttering in a real conversation. Baddies actually say corny things like "Make your move at Apache Pass". After Loi Yan has been ill for some time, instead of saying "she's still sick," Anne comes out with, "She can't seem to throw off this lethargy." The term 'full-blooded' crops up with annoying regularity. We have a full-blooded gal, Loi Yan is full-blooded Chinese and there are full-blooded Apaches, too.
If Darling is awful at writing dialogue, he is far, far worse at plotting. Check out the sandstorm which comes and goes without ruffling the desert or darkening the sky, and the constantly-permutating love interest which is neither prepared nor resolved. Loi Yan seems to be heading for an affair with Major Southern but ends up with Jess, and Anne is everybody's at some point in the story. The arrival of the second stagecoach, and the plot consequences which flow from it, are so diabolically badly done that they are actually funny.
The screenplay calls for the young Martin Landau (playing Dade Colman the gambler) to overact appallingly, and Landau obliges. He hams up the walk through the sandstorm to the point where it becomes embarrassing, but worse is to come. He goes completely over the top during Colman's brief taste of power. Landau is a respected actor today, but he is lucky that his career survived this performance.
It would be tedious to list all the examples of lousy judgment contained in the film, so two examples are selected to convey the flavour. First, the stagecoach crewmen banter as they work the reins, but the background shows clearly that the stagecoach isn't actually moving. Second, Jess and Loi Yan ride off doubled-up on one horse, leading several other horses by their reins. Why don't they ride a horse each?
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