Wanted north of the border, Jess Carlin resides safely in Mexico. Then he hears his brother was killed in a gunfight with another man. Knowning his brother never carried a gun he heads ... See full summary »
FORT UTAH (1967) is another A.C. Lyles western with faded Hollywood stars who were put through their paces for a week of shooting, supplemented by a ton of stock footage. This one's about a wagon train of settlers heading for California, an Indian attack, a band of army deserters committing murder and mayhem, and a gunslinger and an Indian agent trying trying to protect the settlers. That's pretty much all you need to know. Every shot containing more than one wagon came from another, more expensive western. Every shot containing more than ten Indians came from another western. A location shot featuring smoke signals came from another western. At one point, a cavalry troop joins the wagon train but we only see one cavalry officer in this film's actual footage and no troopers at all, until stock footage of an Indian battle from another movie is inserted to give us a quick glimpse of other troopers. I kept thinking I'd rather be watching that other, bigger-budgeted western. Every time the hero, Tom Horn, gets into a fist fight, the actor who plays him, then-53-year-old John Ireland, is doubled by a stuntman with little resemblance to Ireland. And he has fights with at least four of his co-stars, some of whom have stuntmen with at least a mild resemblance to the actor they're doubling.
For the record, this one has fewer name actors in it than most other Lyles westerns. (TOWN TAMER, for instance, is packed with former stars.) John Ireland seems a bit slower and less proactive here than his character ought to be. After this and his next Lyles production, ARIZONA BUSHWHACKERS, he went off to Italy for a lucrative career in spaghetti westerns and war thrillers, usually in supporting roles. Virginia Mayo plays a wagon train passenger who claims to be an opera singer headed for a performing gig in San Francisco. The truth turns out to be much more sordid, which doesn't bother Ireland at all. Her backstory takes up way too much screen time, although I can't imagine that Mayo would have taken the part with any fewer scenes. I'm a huge fan of Mayo, but she's much more subdued here than the shameless brassy blonde she was during her Warner Bros. heyday in the 1940s and '50s (WHITE HEAT, THE IRON MISTRESS). Some of her contemporaries were a much better fit for the Lyles westerns, e.g. Jane Russell, who made two, and Yvonne De Carlo, who made four. Robert Strauss, who made a career out of playing comical gangsters, is quite good here as the grizzled Indian scout, Ben Stokes, who is out to find the army deserter, Dajin (Scott Brady), who caused all the trouble. I wonder why Strauss didn't make more westerns. Brady is billed third but doesn't appear until the last 25 minutes. His henchmen include Jim Davis, Harry Lauter and Donald "Red" Barry, all old hands at this kind of thing. John Russell, James Craig and Richard Arlen are also on hand lending dependable support. The character of Horn is no doubt based on the actual gunslinger of that name and he is treated here as someone whose fame precedes him. (The real Horn was hanged in 1903 for a murder committed during a range war.)
Having said all this, I must add that the action at the title fort, which takes up the second half of the movie, is quite suspenseful. Once the heroes arrive and find it mysteriously abandoned, except for a trio of Dajin's deserters who are quickly dispatched or driven off, they welcome the wagon train survivors and decide that their only chance against either Dajin's band or the rampaging Indians (angered by a massacre committed by the deserters) is to hole up in the fort with the repeating rifles stocked up by the wagon master (John Russell) and defend it when the attackers appear. There's a far-fetched but very clever resolution. Despite its seams showing, I found this film quite enjoyable and better than average for a Lyles western. I saw it on the Encore Western Channel in a pan-and-scan print. Which is how some of the other Lyles westerns are shown on Amazon Prime. I wish Paramount would spring for some widescreen prints.
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