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Incident at Phantom Hill was released in 1966 as the western fad was fading- more's the pity as it's a cracking good western film. A great cast of western stalwarts lead by Robert Fuller from TV's Laramie as the hero and Dan Dureya as the ultimate villain. Any film featuring Dureya has class and here he chews up the scenery. Also along, the beautiful Joycelyn Lane and western heavies Claude Akins and Noah Beery jr. The plot involving a search for a lost horde of gold in remote Indian country moves along at a good pace.Directed by old hand Earl Bellamy , we are treated to some great location work and excellent character studies.I wish that all the actors had more time to display their talents but really it's a three way show with Fuller, Dureya and Lane to the fore.However Tom Simcox manages to register well as a survivor of the opening massacre of union soldiers . Dureya leads the confederacy on this attack and he has plans for this gold, just for himself. It is surprising that Fuller did not get more movie leading roles, he should have as he is the classic western hero.This film with it's excellent colour photography merits a DVD release and it has just received one in France, of course it's Pal but there is an English track. About time it was released in USA and U.K.
Incident at Phantom Hill is directed by Earl Bellamy and jointly
adapted to screenplay by Frank Nugent and Ken Pettus from a story by
Harry Tatelman. It stars Robert Fuller, Jocelyn Lane, Dan Duryea, Tom
Simcox, Linden Chiles, Claude Akins and Noah Beery Jr. A
Techniscope/Technicolor production, music is by Hans J. Salter (Joseph
Gershenson supervising) and cinematography is by William Margulies.
"From a forgotten page of history, this is the story of The Phantom Hill Incident, and the events that followed..."
It's a roll call of fine Western character actors, with the square jawed Fuller leading off on alpha male duties, behind him Akins (Comanche Station), Duryea (Winchester '73) and Noah Beery Jr (Decision At Sundown) lift the standard plot formula to better heights; further enhanced by the appearance of Denver Pyle (Fort Massacre) in a deliciously vile secondary villain role.
Plot is set at the end of the Civil War and finds Captain Martin (Fuller) accepting a covert mission to locate a gold shipment that was snatched from a Union party by a rebel Confederate gang led by Joe Barlow (Duryea). During the attack, Martin's brother was killed and this drives Martin forward on his mission. With Barlow offered a pardon to lead them to the gold, Martin, a small group of men, and a "Madame" (Lane) who has been sanctimoniously ushered out of Hays City, set off to the Staked Plains looking for the hidden gold. But this is area ceded to the Commanche and outlaws stalk the land looking for ill gotten gains. Enough problems there as it is, but with water running low and the group coming apart due to differences and Barlow's scheming, it will be a small miracle if anyone makes it out alive.
A thoroughly good time to be had here for the Western fan who has a bent for traditional Oaters that feature a group dynamic creaking under the strains of a hazardous Wild West. There's some thin strains of psychological discord, but this is about good guys and bad guys, flecks of well constructed action (great punch up here) and of course the thirst for gold. The group dynamic is most interesting, with a driven leader, a borderline insane fella, a doctor, a guilt ridden soldier, a colourful Irishman, a devious "Reb" and a floozy with a point to prove. There's nothing fresh about this set-up, but old pro Bellamy stitches it together neatly and the picture never sags or loses sight of its traditional values.
Technially it's also well worth the time spent with it. It's nice to see a Techniscope production at the best of times, but bonus here is that it's filmed at Universal City and features the rarely used in Westerns locations of Joshua Tree and Lake Piru in California. Margulies doesn't quite get his colour lensing right to truly make the scenery leap out of the screen, but his "scope" photography is very pleasing. Salter's score is suitably in keeping with the tonal shifts of the narrative; in fact making the film feel more like a 50s production than a 60s one.
Cast wise Fuller turns in a lead performance of some macho substance, further begging the question on why he didn't have a more rewarding career? Duryea (was he ever bad in a film?) is restrained yet very effective as a grinning viper in the nest, while Akins, Beery and Pyle leave favourable impressions. Simcox, however, is underwritten and Chiles is just poor and suffers in comparison to those around him. Lane was always going to be up against it as the sole female character, it is a token lady role and she isn't much of an actress. But she positively sizzles with sexuality and delivers what the makers were calling for in the story. A sight for sore eyes to be sure, particularly when wearing an hour glass green dress.
The flaws are obvious, with many things defying logic during the group's time in the desert. Yet the honest will to entertain, the technical pluses, and that it still flew the flag for traditional Oaters at a time in the 60s when they were a dying breed, marks it out as being better than average for the undemanding Western fan. Nice DVD print in 16:9 now available as well. 7/10
I just saw this on an Encore channel. The other reviews here are nice
and useful. I want to make a few points.
I was hoping for a good Western. The early parts gave hope, and there were many well written lines.
The second half disappointed me with the implausible tactics against the Indians, and other implausible situations. One good example is when the hero and a few stragglers are left without guns and horses in the wastelands, and are surrounded by Indians. Their solution: create a barn fire and surround the fire with the dead white bodies. Thinking they are live whites, the Indians rush to the fire and shoot the dead bodies with arrows. Meanwhile the few live whites happened to be situated where they can jump down on and overpower (silently!) the few Indians guarding the Indian horses. The whites flee on some Indian horses and stampede away the other horses!
Everyone in the other reviews seems to be wondering why Fuller never reached anywhere near the top of his acting profession. To me it is very clear: his face and personality seemed very bland, ordinary. During the movie, it was not so easy to distinguish him from some other actors.
Incident at Phantom Hill was an awesome western movie starring Robert Fuller. Mr. Fuller is an actor that knows how to ride a horse and shoot a gun. Therefore playing the role of a cowboy comes easy for him and in turn the audience is in for a big surprise of watching this man act the role of a cowboy back in the West in the 1880's. He makes it look easy doing these cowboy things but we really know how hard it is. It is just as hard to play a cowboy as it is acting the role of Shakespeare or MacBeth in a play or movie. It is certainly is ashame that Mr Fuller did not get more movie leading roles back in the 1960's and 1970's but this movie shows us that he was and is still is a classic western hero! Thank you Mr. Fuller for keeping the western cowboy hero alive! And Five ***** Stars for Best Actor!
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