A young college student is sent to prison as much for killing a pedestrian with his car as for not paying his parking tickets. When the opportunity presents itself he escapes and is ... See full summary »
When an army scout retires to a farm in New Mexico he takes pity on a white woman and her "half-breed" son recently rescued from Indians, and invites them to join him. He does this even knowing the child's father is a feared and murderous Apache and that sooner or later a showdown is almost inevitable. Written by
Jeremy Perkins <email@example.com>
Grand Duel in the West; The Battle of an Old Scout's Life
This is a very exciting, and somewhat unusual western, I suggest. Some have called it a thriller, bit that is a pejorative term for something 'empty", for a too-loud, over-musicked and graphically violent film with comic book level characters--at least most time, an implication of a seeking for sensationalism... This film is unarguably a well-directed "duel" film, whose setting in the U.S. West is justified by two things: first is that the opponent in the film is a powerful Apache warrior with the advantage of surprise and the motivation of trying to steal back his only son; second is that the ethical central character of the film is.a resourceful Westerner himself, a first-rate warrior, one who chooses to risk bringing the Apache warrior down upon him. Veteran author T.V. Olsen's thin-but-serviceable storyline was adapted for the screen by Wendell Mayes and written as a screenplay by Alvin Sargent. If this film's life began, as one might suspect it did, as a vehicle film for usually excellent leading man Gregory Peck, it was certainly made into something more because it was given a first-rate production in every respect. The ecologically minimal Southwest's scenery and the colors and changes of light at different hours of the clock were utilized to bring a sense of immense space to the setting. The director, solid achiever Robert Mulligan, was able to hire Frank Silvera for a small but important role as a Major who advises the star, Gregory Peck; Eva Marie Saint for the near-to-thankless role of a woman rescued from the Apache warrior, "Salvaje" (the Savage in Spanish); and Robert Forster, on the verge of a good little career as the star of TV's ""Banyon" and several films as the man who risks his life to help Peck. Adding Russell Thorson, Lou Frizzell, Richard Bull, long-time supporting actor Henry Beckman, and fine actor Lonny Chapman also helped immensely. The story breaks into four parts, one of the reasons it has such a biting edge, as cold as a wind coming up an arroyo out of the arid land at sunset. The first part is "the set-up", which details the captures of several renegade Apaches by Peck, a veteran scout, thus establishing his coolness, his credentials for the duel to come, and more. The second part I term "the leave-taking"; during this phase as he goes to a lonely post-army life before leaving for his own land, the scout takes along Eva Marie Saint, rescued from Apache hands, along with her son; his reasons are hinted at but not entirely made clear. The third portion of the films I call 'the preparation and waiting", as Peck knows Salvaje, played by Nathaniel Narcisco, is coming after them. And the fourth is the long body of "the duel itself", during which Peck is aided by Forster and proves his own mettle may times over, in strategy, tactics, fighting ability, courage and the stubborn ability that he has learned on the trail for many years to do whatever needs to be done without giving way to fear, doubt or fatigue. Some have commented on the music, supplied by Fred Karlin; it is eerie and lonesome but not in my opinion in any sense overdone. Charles Lang's cinematography is atmospheric everywhere and deserves special mention within this late western. Also, the art direction by Roland Anderson and Jack Poplin, and the spare but important set decorations by Frank Tuttle add to the authentic feel of the film for me. I have lived in that zone, and I found it to be quite authentic in feel within the narrative. I had seen The Stalking Moon" when it was first released, but this feature I found even better the second time around, because instead of wishing some characters had been given more lines, this time I followed the director's purpose; I do not, as a writer, find this to be a "Cape Fear" type thriller; it is to me more like a number of older adventure films set in many places where the climactic duel is a prolonged one between individuals or groups, usually men fighting for a place of no intrinsic but only of situational or strategic value. In one sense, this film is not about the boy Salvaje wants nor even the mother; it is a film about Peck's accepting the final challenge in a very successful career in order to have what he wants, a sort of victory over the West that will justify his conclusion that he can handle whatever throws against him, natural, human or emotional. This is a powerful film, and one not to be missed in my judgment. This is not noir; there is no law in wilderness territory; and in Sam Varner, the West here serves as the stage for a man worthy of its harsh beauties and of its immense challenges.
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