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While far from perfect, it handled the Indians in a way far more credibly than most films of the day
MartinHafer1 September 2007
With a title like THE Indian FIGHTER, you'd think that this was the standard "let's kill all the Indians" type movie so typical in the 1940s and 50s. However, like some of the better cowboy and Indian films of the era (such as the great FORT APACHE and the not so great CHEYENNE), the reason for the Indians hating the Whites is explained--they are not just unreasoning savages or idiots, but people justifiably angry at their mistreatment by the invading Whites. Because of this, I appreciated the film and was also happy that it also wasn't like some of the newer breed of films that paint the Indians and completely noble and the Whites as the epitome of evil! It did seem well balanced AND featured mostly Indians in Indian parts (though, oddly, they chose an Italian lady to play the female leading Indian!).

The rest of the film, while entertaining and having the usual great performance by Kirk Douglas, also is very simplistic and poorly thought out at times. For example, the motivation for why Douglas saved Walter Mathau's sorry butt at the beginning of the film is unclear. It defied common sense not to just let the Indians kill Mathau. Plus, at the end of the film, Douglas' confrontation with Douglas and Lon Chaney, Jr. was a long time coming but was resolved awfully quickly--making it seem very anti-climactic. Still, overall it does stand out from the HUGE number of look alike Westerns and it is worth your time.
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A Very Odd Hero
bkoganbing10 July 2005
I've always enjoyed Kirk Douglas films in general and he's usually very good in westerns. But The Indian Fighter quite frankly is a pumped up B western.

Kirk produced this one as well and was able to get a good cast of familiar faces in westerns. He even got his ex-wife, Diana Douglas to appear as a widow traveling west on a wagon train with her son.

Kirk Douglas is Johnny Hawks who is a scout guiding a wagon train west to Oregon. The film opens with him checking out the naked Elsa Martinelli taking a bath in a creek. Pleasure before business and he continues on to the village where he finds out Elsa is the daughter of Chief Eduard Franz.

And that sets the tone for the film. When Douglas should be concerned about the safety of the people he's working for, he's off trying to court Elsa. His preoccupation with her almost causes disaster to the train.

Action there is though, including a nicely staged Indian attack on an army post. And the whole film was shot in Oregon on location quite nicely. I believe some of this same area was used in Kirk Douglas's later western The Way West.

Kirk Douglas's heroes are usually flawed and quite three dimensional. But this film has a hero I could not really get a rooting interest for.
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The outdoor color photography is the star.
mark.waltz12 February 2020
Warning: Spoilers
This A Western starring Kirk Douglas at his most macho is fun for its action, the gorgeous majestic scenery and the frenetic battles between a wagon train trying to get through Sioux territory while Douglas attempts to keep peace. But thanks to two nasty white men traders (a young Walter Matthau and veteran horror star Lon Chaney Jr., attempts at a peaceful journey is instantly diminished. It doesn't help that Douglas makes a violent pass at Sioux maiden Elsa Martinelli who seemingly loves him, but it's more the antics of Matthau (rather deceptive in his persona) and Chaney, much more blatant.

Then there's Kirk's real life wife (at the time), Diana Douglas (Michael's mother), playing a feisty widow who pulls Kirk out on the fort grounds for a dance, encouraging him to be more aggressive with her, indicating that she wants him as her next husband. Michael Winkelman plays her hero worshiping son who obviously wouldn't mind calling Kirk "dad".

What makes this Western a little bit more than just Indian battles and scalpings is Douglas's belief in right over wrong irregardless of what side he's supposed to be on, and he's willing to hand over Chaney and Matthau to Indian chief Eduard Franz. Douglas is excellent in a scene where he tells Chief red cloud what to expect if they keep the battle of revenge going. Walter Abel, Frank Cady, Elisha Cook Jr. and Alan Hale Jr. are among the other familiar faces. I'm sure this look glorious on a big screen, and in widescreen, it will look just as glorious on your TV.
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"I would like to see white man's justice".
classicsoncall12 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Overt references to the passing of the West are a central theme in "The Indian Fighter", sadly lamented by Kirk Douglas' character, particularly in the scene with photographer Briggs (Elisha Cook). It was interesting to me that Johnny Hawks didn't attempt to stop Briggs, realizing that the sweep of civilization was inevitable, and that he couldn't delay it's coming. As a pioneer, Hawks certainly wasn't in denial over the future of his frontier.

Johnny's first encounter with Onahti (Elsa Martinelli) puzzled me somewhat. Taking her by force didn't seem to be the wisest thing to do right in the middle of Red Cloud's camp. I don't think that's something a white man could get away with, no matter how honorable his long range intentions.

Even with some great cinematography and majestic landscapes, I found myself only nominally interested in the story. There seemed to be something just a bit missing to the plot development; perhaps it was Johnny Hawks' disconnect from the villains of the piece, Lon Chaney and the oddly cast Walter Matthau. (Maybe only odd in hindsight, as most of my experience of Matthau has him in somewhat comedic roles.) It seemed to me that the early set up of Wes Todd's (Matthau) save in the Sioux camp would have put Hawks in closer proximity to the two gold seekers, but then it appeared like Onahti distracted Hawks from a lot of things. I wonder if anything was going on off camera.

With a title like "The Indian Fighter", the picture doesn't seem to dwell on that preoccupation much. Kirk Douglas does go one on one with warrior White Wolf early on, and plays a part in the attack on the Army fort later in the story. Overall however, his role in the story makes him a much more even handed character, someone who values the Native way of life as more honorable than most of the white brothers he has to deal with throughout the picture.
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Agreeable and pleasant Western actioner about a scout who leads an Oregon-bound wagon train through Sioux territory
ma-cortes29 September 2015
Simple and acceptable Indian Western compellingly starred by Kirk Douglas and decently directed by Andre De Toth . It deals with an explorer called Johnny Hawks (Kirk Douglas) leading a wagon train through hostile Indian country to Oregon , 1870 . Johnny unwittingly gets involved with a Sioux chief's (Edward Franz) daughter (Elsa Martinelli) . But unscrupulous whisky traders (Walter Matthau , Lon Chaney Jr) are after the gold on Sioux land , as they blackmail Indians and subsequently originate friction . Hawks attempts to make peace with the Indian leader but a secret Sioux gold mine causes dispute and treason . Johnny tries to warn a fort of an imminent raid by the Sioux and the detachment mistake him for one of the renegades . In the Old west there are always the men who live breathe violence and the women who hold their breath .

This exciting picture tells the story of a upright scout called Johnny Hawks , finely played by the great Kirk Douglas . The film packs the sweep of ¨Red River¨, the drama of ¨High noon¨ , the violence of ¨Shane¨ and the might of Kirk Douglas as a two-fisted ¨Indian Fighter¨. Noisy action , romance between Douglas/Martinelli , thrills , fights , wonderful outdoors , all of them keep things lively . Interesting as well as stirring screenplay by Robert Richards , Frank Davis and prestigious Ben Hecht , Billy Wilder's usual . This undemanding western is plenty of suspense as the dreaded final Indian attack approaches and the protagonist realizes he must stand alone against impossible odds and nobody is willing to help him but they pursue him , while he attempts to clear his name as wrongfully accused as traitor . This enjoyable tale is almost rudimentary though full of clichés , a good guy come to narration is almost adjusted in real time from the starring arrives in the fort commanded by a tough Captain , nicely performed by Walter Abel , until the ending confrontation , when they are besieged by Indians ; as Douglas/Hawks is given a limited time to resolve the accusation as a Sioux's friend , and consequently a treacherous . The highlights of the film are the facing off between Douglas and his enemies , Walter Matthaw and Lon Chaney Jr , and the climatic confrontation on the final . Phenomenal and great role for Kirk Douglas as tough guy , he's the whole show , he plays a scout hired to lead a wagon train to Oregon . He gives a perfect acting as craggy , violent and uncompromising figure . Kirk did most of his own horse riding and, at one point , broke his nose attempting a stunt that called for him to make his horse fall . The casting of Onahti , the Indian girl , resulted out to be much more difficult than first anticipated . Though there were a number of unsuccessful auditions , it wasn't until Kirk Douglas' wife spotted a model in "Vogue" magazine that the production knew they had their leading lady , her name was Elsa Martinelli . Very good support cast , many of them usual in Western , such as Walter Matthau , Diana Douglas who married Kirk Douglas , Walter Abel , Lon Chaney Jr. , Eduard Franz , Alan Hale Jr. , Elisha Cook Jr. , Ray Teal , Frank Cady and Hank Worden in a doublé role as Crazy Bear / Guardhouse Keeper ; likewise , Harry Landers plays both Grey Wolf and also one of Captain Trask's attachés . Made in enough budget by producer William Schorr , it is an efficient film and very entertaining . The picture contains an excellent cinematography in CinemaScope , print by Technicolor by Wilfred Cline , being shot on location in Bend , Oregon , including gorgeous landscapes . Thrilling and appropriate musical score by Franz Waxman .

This typical Western was professionally directed by Andre De Toth . Being first feature from Kirk Douglas' then new production company, Bryna, named for his mother . At his beginnings De Toth entered the Hungarian film industry, obtaining work as a writer, editor , second unit director and actor before finally becoming a director. He directed a few films just before the outbreak of WW II, when he fled to England . Alexander Korda gave him a job there, and when De Toth emigrated to the US in 1942 , Korda got him a job as a second unit director on Jungle Book (1942) . Andre De Toth was a classical director , Western usual (Indian fighter, Man in the saddle , Ramrod , Last of Comanches , The stranger wore a gun), but also made Peplum (Gold for the Caesar) and adventure (The Mongols , Morgan the pirate , Tanganyika) . Probably his best known film is House of wax (1953), a Vincent Price horror film shot in 3D .
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If i don't? My troubles are over, yours will only just be starting.
hitchcockthelegend3 March 2009
We are at the end of the US civil war, Johnny Hawks, a renowned Indian fighter, is at peace with the Sioux and wants to rebuild his life, even romance with the chiefs daughter is in the offering. But as the peace between the US and the Indians is being brokered, two greed driven Whiskey traders usurp everything due to their greed for Indian gold up in the hills. So just as Hawks leads a wagon train through Sioux territory on the way to Oregon, war has again been declared, with Hawks coming under suspicion of favouring the Indians.

Directed by André De Toth and starring Kirk Douglas {Hawks}, Walter Matthau, Lon Chaney Jr, Elisha Cook Jr and the outrageously beautiful Elsa Martinelli, The Indian Fighter, if I may be so bold? Is vastly undervalued on certain internet sites! Just about breaking the mold of its B movie feel, it's a piece that with a little bit of intelligence from the casting department, could have been a far better picture. The American cast do fine, but in amongst this splendidly shot picture (and it is), we have to suffer none Indian actors playing excellently written Sioux Indian characters. It's such a shame because here it's a delight to see the Sioux portrayed as a complex and resourceful race, not just in dialogue exchanges, but in a quite exhilarating attack on a US Fort, the use of horses for a disguise operation, and the method of attack {hello, it's a wooden Fort} shows them to have a bit more about them than the cannon fodder they were often portrayed as in many lower grade Westerns.

It's still one fine entertaining film tho!

Kirk Douglas leads the way with a typically ebullient genre show that he was especially good at, a different kind of hero is given just about the right amount of credibility from Douglas, who is in turn backed up by Chaney and Matthau who appear to be revelling in playing slimy characters. André De Toth is a director who has a couple of bona fide classics on his CV, not a name that is mentioned often, but his construction of a story and his excellent staging of the action on offer here, ensures that I personally will be seeking out more of his efforts. Last but by no means least, one has to mention the delightful work from cinematographer Wilfred M. Cline, who gleams the best from the Bend, Oregon location shoot, to round out The Indian Fighter as one hugely enjoyable genre piece. 7/10
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Some Off Beat Sex and Violence…Entertaining and Above Average
LeonLouisRicci5 June 2014
This is an Odd Combination of Light Hearted Playfulness Punctuated with Plenty of Sex and Violence. Ramped Up Sex and Violence for the 1950's. it is Also Elevated by some Themes Only Found in the Best of the Genre until the Code was Eliminated.

It has Social Concerns about the Environment and Treatment of the Indians. The Violence is Brutal at Times with some Very Bloody and Edgy Portrayals of Scalping, Knifing, and has One or Two Scenes that are Remarkable in the Aftermath of some Sioux Arrows.

There is an Interracial Romance, Semi-Nudity, Rape, and an Attack on the Fort that shows the Intelligence and Resourcefulness of the Indians. There is also a Subplot about the New Invention of Photography and the Film's Cinematography is CinemaScope Sensuous.

Some Drawbacks Include Weak White Bad Guys, another 1950 Inclination to have an Obligatory Whiny Kid, and a Intrusive Score from Frank Waxman.

Overall, Above Average, Cutting Edge, and Entertaining. Recommended for Western Buffs and this would Fit in Nicely for Fans and Followers of Anthony Mann, Budd Boetticher, and Sam Fuller.
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"Romance"? Hardly...
HotToastyRag6 January 2018
Contrary to the title, Kirk Douglas's character in The Indian Fighter is on pretty friendly terms with the Indians as he trades and negotiates between them and the cowboys. One of many Oregon Trail movies, this one pins cowboys against Indians in an age-old, dated, racist western.

In true Hollywood fashion, Elsa Martinelli, an Italian, was cast as the Indian love interest so audiences wouldn't feel uncomfortable seeing a mixed-race couple on the screen. Kirk Douglas repeatedly pursues her, refusing to take no for an answer. He corners her, tries to trick her, and even pounces on her on occasion-how are we supposed to be on board with this "romance"? Finally, after a big kiss-a-roo in the water, Elsa looks up at him and grins. I thought it would be a ruse, leading him to think she's changed her mind so that she could stab him or punch him and make another escape. Instead, she wraps her arms around him and kisses him back. As this terribly-and literally-forced romance is the most memorable part of the movie, it's not really worth watching unless you absolutely love westerns. I only watched it because I'm a Kirk Douglas fan, but he wasn't enough to save the movie.
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Rip-roaring 50's Western shot in the heart of Oregon with Kirk Douglas
Wuchakk18 April 2021
A frontiersman who functions in the region of the Bozeman Trail & Oregon Trail (Kirk Douglas) assists a wagon train and tries to keep the peace between a tribe of Lakota Sioux living in the area and the new Americans, including a fort of soldiers nearby.

"The Indian Fighter" (1955) is similar to "The Last Frontier" (aka "Savage Wilderness"), released earlier the same month of December. They're both Fort & Indians Westerns taking place in the Northwest with Red Cloud & his braves as the antagonists. The assault on the fort in the movie recalls Red Cloud's real-life siege of Fort Phil Kearney in the shadow of the Big Horn Mountains in the Wyoming Territory where attacks were launched against troops & settlers for two years from 1866-1868.

One great thing about this Western is the character played by Kirk Douglas, Johnny Hawks. He's a robust individualist who refuses moronic sectarianism in the wilderness conflict. He sees beyond mere skin color & culture and focuses on character and mutual benefit while driven by self-interest, albeit not in an ignoble way. He's brave & confident, yes, but he's neither a blind hero nor a sullen antihero out for revenge; he's a nonconformist loner brimming with joie de vivre that doesn't care if people hate him (unjustly) and absolutely refuses social manipulations.

The exciting Oglala attack on the Fort is one of the highlights. It reveals the most practical way to assault a stronghold made of lumber in the wilds. Regrettably, the key Native characters are played by Caucasians, but there weren't many quality actors of Amer-Indian descent back then. Thankfully, the peripheral Natives appear to be real Amer-Indians. Basically, just pretend that Red Cloud, Grey Wolf and Onahti look more Amer-Indian than they do. Problem solved.

This was the first film produced by Kirk and he allowed his ex-wife, Diana Douglas, to play the settler woman from the wagon train who clearly wants him for a husband (obviously an inside joke). This shows that Kirk and Diana had a good relationship despite their divorce in 1951. Meanwhile tall Italian Elsa Martinelli plays the native girl that Johnny aggressively woos, the aforementioned Onahti. Make no mistake, Onahti was attracted to Johnny and he knew it; thus he goes after what he wants.

The film runs 1 hour, 28 minutes, and was shot in the area of Bend, Oregon, including Smith Rock State Park and also the Deschutes National Forest.

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The Indian Peacemaker
JamesHitchcock30 May 2018
The "Indian Fighter" of the title is Johnny Hawks, a man who made his name fighting Indians. The film, however, does not deal with this part of Hawks's career. The Hawks we see here is more of an Indian Peacemaker, a man determined to prevent war from breaking out between the Indians and the white man. He is tasked with leading a wagon train to Oregon, and this promises to be a difficult task, as the wagons must pass through Sioux territory at a time of tension between the Sioux and the whites.

Gold has been discovered on Sioux land, but its whereabouts is currently known only to Indians themselves. Worried about the prospect of an influx of white American gold prospectors, the Sioux leader Red Cloud has decreed death to any of his people who dare reveal the secret of the gold to the whites. Hawks's task is made more difficult by the facts that his party includes two unscrupulous gold-hungry individuals, Chivington and Todd, and that some of the Indians, particularly the whiskey-crazed Crazy Bear, are prepared to defy their leader's edict, even at the risk of their lives. A complicating factor is Hawks's love for Red Cloud's beautiful daughter Onahti.

Hollywood's traditional view of the American Indians were that they were primitive, bloodthirsty savages and that the opening up of the North American continent to settlement by the white man was simply part of the march of progress and of the triumph of civilisation over barbarism. Films were still being made from this viewpoint in the 1950s- the Gregory Peck vehicle "Only the Valiant" is a good (or bad) example- but occasionally Hollywood did acknowledge, in Westerns such as "Broken Arrow" or "Apache", that there was another side to the story. "The Indian Fighter", which was produced by its star, the politically liberal Kirk Douglas, is another example.

When Hawks points out that the Indians could exchange the gold for things that they value, such as horses and blankets, Red Cloud retorts that to do so would mean losing things that they value even more highly, such as the right to live undisturbed on their ancestral land. Although there are bad Indians, such as Crazy Bear, the general message of the film is that westward spread of white settlement may have represented Manifest Destiny and the advance of civilisation to the white man himself, but to the red man it represented an unwelcome intrusion into his world and the loss of all that he held sacred. The use of the name "Chivington" for one of the villainous whites is significant; the Chivington of this film is a fictional character, but his name is borrowed from the real-life John Milton Chivington, a US Army officer infamous for his obsessive hatred and brutal treatment of Native Americans.

As in "Broken Arrow", the main Indian characters are played by white actors. In the case of Onahti, played by the Italian Elsa Martinelli, this may have been to keep the censors happy; the Production Code officially banned the depiction of what it called "miscegenation", but there seemed to be an unofficial rule that relationships between white men and Asian or Native American women were tolerated if the woman was played by a white actress. ("Broken Arrow" also features a romance between a white man and an Indian maiden, played in that case by Debra Paget). In the case of the male characters, however, I could not understand why Native American actors could not be found, especially as the white actors who play these parts were not (unlike Jeff Chandler in "Broken Arrow") major box-office names.

I would not rank this film as highly as "Broken Arrow", which is one of the seminal Westerns of the fifties. Douglas made a good number of Westerns, but apart from the modern-day "Lonely are the Brave" and possibly "Gunfight at the OK Corral" I would not regard any of the ones I have seen as falling among his really great films like "Champion", "Lust for Life" and "Spartacus". There is nothing wrong with his performance here, but he never really catches fire as he could do when he was at his best. The action scenes are well-handled, but the plot is not the most exciting and the Onahti sub-plot is a bit of a distraction. This is perhaps a middle-ranking Douglas Western, rather better than, say, "The Big Trees", but not as good as "Along the Great Divide", and certainly not as good as "Lonely are the Brave" or "Gunfight at the OK Corral". 6/10
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A Better Than Average Western
Rainey-Dawn30 March 2016
I have heard of this film but I don't recall watching before - I recently viewed the film because I'm watching westerns with Lon Chaney Jr. Well this film is really cute - great cast and Chaney gets a good role to play in this one.

The real star of the show is of course our 'hero' Johnny Hawks played quite wonderfully by Kirk Douglas. Elsa Martinelli is Onahti a Indian woman who falls for Johnny. Johnny falls for her too but has to lead a wagon train to Oregon but promises her he will return to her.

This film has plenty of comedy, drama action and adventure and it's better than your average western to me. The Native American people are shown in a good light for the most part - better than most films of the time era (1950s - 1960s western films).

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Kirk Douglas rules the west
Petey-1026 February 2008
The Indian Fighter (1955) is a nearly forgotten western gem about the former Indian fighter Johnny Hawks (Kirk Douglas).A war breaks out between the Indians and the whites when some of them are too interested in their gold.Walter Matthau (Wes Todd) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Chivington) are two of such people.Also Hawks' interest in the Sioux Chief's daughter Onahti (Elsa Martinelli) causes some trouble.André De Toth is the director of this western movie.Kirk Douglas has some credibility in the lead.He was just the right man to play these tough guy roles and still would be if he decided to do new movies.His ex-wife Diana Douglas plays a tough woman called Susan Rogers.Walter Matthau could be the funny man and in this movie he makes a fine crook.Lon Chaney Jr. makes a perfect accomplice to Walter.I enjoyed watching this western.It entertained me from the beginning till the end.Isn't that what a good western should do?
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The Indian lover/fighter : "I like Indians, and I like white folks"
weezeralfalfa11 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This first film released by Kirk Douglas's Bryna Production Co. begins with luscious Italian actress Elsa Martinelli(Onahti) slipping out of her clothes in a forest, and taking a bath in a river. Kirk Douglas comes moseying along on a horse, takes a peek, and continues on. But, he'll make his acquaintance more forcefully in the future, always when she is alone and near or in the river. They will end the film floating together in the river. In between these sensual interludes, which are what most people most remember about this film, is more traditional frontier western fare, including bad white men, who want to steal the Indians' gold mine, a bad Indian, who's willing to tell them where the mine is for a jug of whiskey, and a bad wagon train guide who leads the train into the heart of Sioux territory just to have a tryst with the chief's daughter. The later is, of course, Kirk Douglas, as Johnny Hawks. In his absence from the wagoners, bad things happen, which might have been averted if he had been present. These launch a full scale military response by the Sioux, and a panicked retreat of the wagoners to the fort from wince they came. Shirking his duty, even for a few hours of pleasure, made him partly responsible for the travesties that occurred in his absence, and made him vulnerable to the charge of being an Indian lover, rather than an Indian fighter. After all, he usually verbally minimized the chance of a seemingly unprovoked Indian attack, saying that he liked Indians and white folks equally well, and saw no reason why they couldn't get along peacefully(I'm afraid he was a little overoptimistic in this regard). Thus, Johnny Hanks had to redeem himself in the eyes of the whites by taking a leading part in the defense of the fort and inhabitants during the all out charge of the Sioux, who unwisely staged their attack in broad daylight. In reality, Indians very rarely launched a full scale attack, even at night, against a well built fort with an adequate number of defenders. It was simply too lethal, in most cases. They were less able to absorb a large loss of life than the whites. But, such an attack, especially if accompanied by a partial burning of the fort, as in this film, was hard to resist as the climactic 'action' event. Of course, such an attack is also seen in certain other films. Hawks finally ended the battle by escaping the fort to parley with Red Cloud, trying to convince him that further bloodshed wouldn't bring back brother Gray Wolf. Also, he promised that he would bring in the assassin of Gray Wolf(Walter Matthau, as the greedy Wes Todd) to be dealt with in Indian fashion. Lon Chaney, Jr., played his partner Chivington, in the quest for gold. Chivington killed several other Indians, that added fuel to the animosity of the Sioux toward the whites.......Diana Douglas, Kirk's ex-wife, played Susan, a widow with a son. She tried to get Hawks to accompany her to Oregon, but no dice. He preferred Onahti and his accustomed lifestyle......Veteran actor Alan Hale, Jr. played a wagoner who tried to interest Susan in joining him in Oregon, citing his experience growing apples. Walter Abel played Captain Trask, of the fort, while stern-faced Edward Franz played Red Cloud........Ironically, the film was about people moving to Oregon, and was filmed entirely around Bend, Oregon, but the story takes place entirely in eastern Wyoming........I'd like to return to the Hawk-Onahti romance. When Hawks first accosted her, she struck back with a knife, which he took from her. Ignoring her water jars, she ran toward the encampment. Surprisingly, she didn't tattle on Hawks, suggesting possible interest in him. In the second, most memorable incident, again, she was initially hostile, including when he pulled her down in the river shallows and lay on top of her. But, suddenly, she smiled and stopped resisting. I think she was playing hard to get, and was impressed by Hawks' persistence and forcefulness in trying to win her. Later, they relaxed under a tree and talked about Hawks need to continue with the wagon train vs. his desire to be with her. Hawks' defeat of Grey Wolf, in a staged duel, may have influenced her perception of him. Next, they independently cooperated in subduing Gray Wolf-killer Todd, and bringing him in to stand Indian justice. Lastly, of course, they are floating together in the river........In all, one of the most memorable westerns you will find. See it at You Tube.
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Exciting and Colorful Outdoor Adventure
bsmith555223 October 2001
"The Indian Fighter" was filmed entirely in the outdoor beauty of Oregon. The scenery and color are breathtaking. The action scenes are expertly staged and executed, particularly the Indian attack on the fort.

Kirk Douglas stars in the title role as a scout who is hired to guide a wagon train through Indian Territory to Oregon. Walter Matthau (in an early role) and Lon Chaney (wasted again) play the villains of the piece who start up an Indian war by trying to steal gold from their land. Eduard Franz plays Red Cloud the Sioux chief who tries to keep the white man from encroaching on his people's land.

Elsa Martinelli is an Indian maiden who becomes Douglas' main love interest and Diana Douglas (Kirk's wife at the time and mother of MIchael) plays a settler woman with designs on Kirk but who has to settle for hard-working Alan Hale instead. I wonder how Diana Douglas felt about Kirk rolling around in a creek with Ms. Martinelli?

Rounding out the cast are a number of familiar faces. Walter Abel plays the army captain, Elisha Cook a frontier photographer and Ray Teal, Frank Cady and Lane Chandler as various settlers.

"The Indian Fighter" rises a step above similar westerns through its beautiful scenery and exciting action sequences. It is a truly exciting and colorful outdoor adventure.
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A simple-minded Western with touches of philosophy and not much drive...
Nazi_Fighter_David8 October 2000
Filmed in Oregon, Andre De Toth's film is a frontier adventure tale of the Great Sioux Nation whose heritage and culture run through the silver screen like a strong steady stream...

The motion picture touches up new ground by giving Indians a little sex appeal... Douglas, as a vigorous frontier scout, tries to attract the Indian maiden Onahti, played by the attractive brunette Elsa Martinelli... The Italian actress is seen bathing in the fresh waters of a river and later captured nude in a transparent voluminous stream...

"The Indian Fighter" concerns the efforts of a wagon train heading for Oregon in 1870... The train stops at a small frontier fort when the Sioux forbid them to pass through their territory... A seasoned scout and Indian expert, Johnny Hawks (Douglas), is assigned by the army to aid them...

Hawks rapidly goes to the camp of the dignified Chief Red Cloud (Eduard Franz) who explains that the trouble was started by white whiskey traders, trying to rob the Indians of their gold...

Hawks promises to settle th situation and the Chief agrees to appear at the fort to sign a peace treaty... However, his aggressive brother Grey Wolf (Harry Landers) repudiates peace talk because he despises all white men as dishonorable...

Douglas' portrait of Hawks is suitably vigorous and possibly comes close to depicting the actual character of such a man - Hawks is a jealous self-confident man who considers the West as his milieu... He declines to open up the West for civilization... He considers the West as 'a beautiful woman' and refuses to share her with anybody... He is a brave warrior who fights Sioux-style, and a shooter who never miss a snake... He respects the Indians as vanquished valiant enemies who deserve to be treated as human beings...
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Adventure western
drystyx30 August 2008
This is an action packed western with lots of adventure and fun.

More than that, it gives the viewer three great stars-Douglas, Mattheau, and Chaney in a western conflict.

Douglas plays the hero, the Indian Fighter, which is itself ironic, since he really tries to battle for the Indians, whom are depicted much more honorably than the whites in this movie, as they are in most movies of the era, despite popular belief.

Mattheau and Chaney play two bad guys who take advantage of the Indians. Mattheau is the sneaky one who gains the trust of people, and for a while tricks people into caring. Chaney is the dumber thug, who it turns out is not nearly as despicable as Mattheau's character, and at least has some degree of honesty, but he's still a bad guy. Still, the true evil comes from Mattheau's character.

Franz is stoic and brings the necessary sad honor to the chief Indian role. Hale and other great character actors make this an added delight.
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The Indian Fighter - Mild False History
krocheav31 May 2020
Being Kirk Douglas', Bryna Production Company's first commercial feature, it was a sign for what was to come. As good an all-rounder as Mr Douglas was, he was given to an occasional level of 'showing-off' and this movie was his first chance to demonstrate to what extent he liked to do just that. With so much talent, at many tasks, it's little wonder he was ever so willing to display examples of these gifts.

His character as the Indian Fighter is not exactly a good role model in any sense of the word - he forces his advances upon a young native Indian girl till she relents, then puts the lives of his charges in desperate peril to continue dalliances' with her - certainly a flawed character. While the writing credits are impressive this production amounts to little more than a rather typical 'B' Western of its day. If it could be seen to lift its gain to higher ideals it might be in treating the native Indians with more respect than so many others demonstrated. But, who do we get to play the Indian maiden? None other than Italian actress Elsa Martinelli - an Indian squaw with an Italian accent!! Might this have had something to do with the fact the already married Douglas, was involved in a torrid affair with his co-star...Hmm. Other odd turns had some of the white characters also playing Indians, causing some confusion!

Best thing about the entire effort has to be the marvellous CinemaScope, Technicolor cinematography, courtesy of Wilfrid .H. Cline - accompanied by an agreeable score by Franz Waxman. Mr Douglas endangers himself by performing his own considerable horse riding and physical stunts - this often sent him running to the medical unit. This must have not only worried the insurers but forced up his policies considerably. Oh well when you're paying the bills, who cares? Kirk gave us numerous remarkable classics but was always better when working for other producer/directors who were able to reel him in when tempted to go over the top. For action addicts only. The MGM/UA DVD is a superb transfer.
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Not terrible, but not very good either
MiketheWhistle21 October 2018
This isn't terrible as far as a typical old western. Kirk Douglas does a great job including with his stunts. What I found rather unsettling were the several scenes where he forced himself on a woman both for kissing and sex. Rather than portray it with the disdain it should have, it's presented as a happy time which turns my stomach.
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Well-mounted outdoor western
coltras3523 January 2021
The excellent Andre De Toth directs this vigorous outdoor western which has plenty of great scenery, and well-staged action sequences. The attack at the fort sequence towards the end is a highlight. Kirk Douglas and his dimple are on top form playing a carefree, injun loving scout who has the arduous task of quelling Red Cloud's warriors from attacking the fort. The culprits of instigating an Indian war are Walter Matthau and Lon Chaney. Hottie Elsa Martinelli also stars as an Indian maiden that Douglas is courting, and has a passionate clinch with Douglas. Great entertainment.
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Fine Western Nearly Undone by Ludicrous Casting
Bob-4510 August 2004
Kirk Douglas turns in another of his wonderfully flamboyant performances as Johnny Hawks, `The Indian Fighter'. The movie is humorous and action picked. It even has a terrific performances from Diana Douglas, Kirk's ex-wife. However, for whatever reason, Kirk Douglas has populated his movie with some ridiculous casting choices: Eduard Franz as a Sioux chief(?), Harry Landers as Grey Eagle(??), Hank Worden as Crazy Bear(?!!!!?) and Elsa Martinelli as an Indian maiden(??!!!!!!!???). The first time Martinelli delivers that thick Italian accents, I started giggling. Come on, Kirk; you produced this. Couldn't you have found some REAL Indians, or at least an actress that didn't sound as if she's just come off the boat at Ellis Island. Hank Worden also plays a white character, making things seem even more ridiculous.

Hey, my wife is Italian, so I wouldn't dare take cheap shots at Martinelli. Actually, when she keeps her mouth shut, Martinelli is pretty darn good. Had the script be rewritten so she only spoke Sioux, Martinelli would have been MUCH more believable. Oh well.

To it's credit, the movie neither exploits or downplays the interracial relationship between Douglas and Martinelli. That's daring and commendable on the part of producer Douglas, particularly given the era of both the story and race relations in 50s America.

No one seems to have commented on the Douglas-Martinelli courting ritual. It looks more like rape than romance. I thought feminist reviewers would be outraged. However, I've been told this ritual was common among the Plains Indians, though it is not clear to me whether this applies to the Sioux.

Some comments should be made about the performances of Walter Matthau and Lon Chaney. Matthau comes across as WAY too contemporary and Chaney still seems to be playing Lenny from `Of Mice and Men'. Elisha Cook seems to have wandered over from the set of `Shane.' Nonetheless, Cook is still pretty watchable. Michael Winkelman (`The Real McCoys'), who played Diana Douglas's son, is terrific.

The Technicolor photography is very good, the editing only OK. For example, the wagon train has traveled at least one full day, but seems to get back to the fort in a couple of minutes. The Oregon landscapes are spectacular.

Given its shortcomings, `The Indian Fighter is STILL a pretty decent western. I give it a weak `6'.
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Why should we care about this jerk?!
natashabowiepinky28 December 2013
Kirk Douglas is portrayed as a lovable jack-the-lad here, always ready to fight for right. He's got a winning quip, a twinkle in his eye and a heart of a lion. I beg to differ.

For starters, right at the beginning he sees an Indian squaw he likes, taking a bath in a lake. So what does he do? Forget about roses or chocolates... he virtually ASSAULTS her to get a kiss, and then steals her knife into the bargain. Later on, he does the exact same thing. Guess what... this brutish behaviour actually makes her FALL IN LOVE with the maniac, and she has sex with him in the forest (only implied though... this WAS made in 1955 after all). This infatuation also causes him to divert a wagon train of white folk on a two day detour from their destination into hostile Indian territory... just so he can sneak a peek at her. This leads to a huge fight, in which many lives are lost on both sides. Some 'hero'.

If you ignore the movie's celebration of this psycho, and the dubious underlying message that we should all resort to Stone Age methods to get the girl of our dreams, there is quite a bit to enjoy here. Full scale battles, majestic cinematography, a compelling story, the works. There are amusing supporting characters, including a young guy who wants to photograph the whole Wild West with his newfangled invention known as a 'camera', and a tough widow with a little boy who is constantly proposed to by a boring fertiliser-obsessed farmer. Sadly for him, her affections (which remain unrequited) lie with Kirk Douglas... and even more bafflingly, her son idolises this lunatic too. Suddenly, soil is starting to seem more appealing by the minute...

So, yeah. Not a classic, but a rousing enough spectacle. With a protagonist I love to hate. Next... 6/10
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A Mass of Contradictions!
spookyrat14 January 2021
It's called The Indian Fighter but oddly, in Andre de Toth's post Civil War western, Kirk Douglas playing Indian scout, Johnny Hawks, is the paleface who has the closest relationship with the local Sioux tribe and its leader Red Cloud. And while there appear to be quite a few native Americans doing their bit as tribal extras, the 4 main Indian roles are taken by 3 white guys and an Italian girl. To be fair I guess, it needs to be pointed out that the film is 66 years old, when prominent Native American actors weren't exactly a dime a dozen roaming Hollywood streets.

And Hollywood streets and backlots is not where The Indian Fighter was filmed. It's setting is Oregan and the movie makes particularly good use of the ruggedly scenic locations on tap and wisely even takes some time out for some diverting philosophic conversations, about the possibilities and long - term ramifications of a shrinking frontier.

Douglas's Hawks is not even your conventional western hero. He takes on more of an anti - hero status, with much of the dramatic content occurring as a direct result of him taking his eye off the ball for long periods, whilst being distracted by the charms of Red Cloud's daughter, Ohanti. Elsa Martinelli as Onahti is almost believable in the role, if you ignore her pronounced Italian accent. Anachronistically, she is also asked to act out one of those "Stop! Stop! I love it" routines which periodically reared their heads in 20th century movie - making, where the poor old, put upon female, is asked to put aside bullying, sexist male behaviour, in demonstrating she was actually receptive to it.

The narrative, whether deliberate or otherwise, ends up quite morally correctly, in the corner of the Indians. But everything is rather awkwardly put together. This includes the 2 cheesily, funny aquatic, nude scenes; one to introduce the character of Ohanti and the second to quite ludicrously finish, the film on an almost farcical note, with Hawks and Ohanti romping in the rapids together.

The Indian Fighter will be remembered as an entertaining vehicle for a somewhat over-acting Kirk Douglas, whilst attempting to portray Native Americans in a more positive light, but through a distinctly patronising means.
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De Toth's Best Western
FilmFlaneur18 April 2001
At the heart of De Toth's oeuvre lies an interesting contradiction. He has an abiding interest in suspense, action, and the wellspring of violent events (a fact underlined by the number of thrillers, frontier yarns and dramas he helmed during his career), but, as a director, characteristically disassociates himself from their process. This 'distancing' effect has been noted by a number of viewers, creating some critical debate about De Toth's engagement with his material. In my view his detachment is not to be confused with aloofness - an interesting comparison can be made with Stanley Kubrick's alleged 'coldness' - but is rather De Toth's way of resolving what really 'matters'. It is this intelligence, revealing itself sharply in his best films, that makes him such a worthwhile study.

Along with De Toth's assured debut 'Ramrod' (1947) and the austere 'Day of the Outlaw' (1959), 'The Indian Fighter' is probably the finest of his Western films, revealing a characteristic response to the demands of the genre. In 'Ramrod' the moral questing springs from a noirish plot that is unsettled and full of tension. In 'Day of the Outlaw' issues are resolved more formally, played out against the stark landscape of Winter. In 'The Indian Fighter', De Toth's concerns manifest themselves in his most lyrical and sensuous work. He thereby creates a film which, in emphasis, is in direct contrast to most other 50's Westerns.

This is ostensibly a tale of a famous frontiersman Johnny Hawks (played with usual lusty gusto by Kirk Douglas), back from the wars. Ultimately he has to redeem his reputation, discovering balance within the indigenous people he has previously warred against. Gold has been discovered on Indian land, and the bad guys (a marvellous performance by Walter Matthau, ably supported by Lon Chaney, Jnr) are out to kill and cheat to secure the riches. This, and the related fear of a tribal uprising, provide the main action point of the film.

As the Indian fighter of the title, ironically the first thing we notice about Hawks is his reticence. In fact he hardly fights at all - only when he is obliged, or when called upon to at the climax of the film. For him, combat is not a prerequisite, although he is not slow to react when needs be. A comparison with the bitterness of Ethan Edwards, say, in Ford's 'The Searchers' is revealing. Edwards loathes the Commanches, with a bitterness entirely absence from De Toth's hero. As Hawks' opponents observe, he is more of an Indian lover than fighter. And, of course, in the most obvious way, they are right. Almost more important to the hero than his professional reputation is his preoccupation with the Indian maid Onhati. His single-minded pursuit, and later dalliance, with her initiates the main crisis of the film, as he leaves the wagon train to be by her side, after taking it 'two days out of my way and half way up a mountain'.

This is a film full of sensuality, placed in contrast to 'duty', the calling of action. We are constantly reminded of the cool pools, green foliage, closeness of the earth, just as much as of the teachery and turmoil of the frontier. Franz Waxman's score is lyrical and evocative, frequently idyllic. The glorious cinematography gives nature's perpetual garden a pantheistic gloss, sometimes intense, and always resplendent. Just as the main film captures these images, so in mimicry does Briggs, a supposed protégé of civil war photographer Matthew Brady, who frequently accompanies Hawks. He is eager to capture the grandeur around him. His camera is as significant to us as it is to Hawks, who makes a point of rescuing it at one point (during the battle at the fort). An important minor character, Briggs emphasises the appreciation of the sublime and beautiful that the film invites. A couple of times De Toth pauses the action (once at the fort and then at the wagon train), to pan his camera for long seconds along sets and people, recording their place in the Oregon landscape. Like Briggs he wants to admire, and record.

A circular film, 'The Indian Fighter' begins with Hawks gazing at Onhati bathing naked in a pool. It ends with him joining her in the water, forming a happy couple. The whole world of action is thus enclosed by their bonding, their sensual preoccupation usurping the violent demands of Indian-white conflict.

The scenes between the two lovers caused a murmur at the time. Considered 'risque' for the conservative 50's Western, De Toth simply inserted them, and their sexual self-absorption, as entirely fitting his plan of things. What is more eyebrow-raising today is how he allowed the encounters between two lovers to backstage the expected intrigues of masculine action, and actually assume greater significance, reversing regular audience expectations. This stress, an essentially feminine one. is completely uncharacteristic of the Western at this time. Add to that a sympathetic view of Indians and nature conservation (the Indian Chief's environmental concerns are a main reason for his refusing to exploit the land with mining) and you have an excellent film - a career highlight of this greatly underrated director.
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Well-constructed, panoramic entertainment
Varlaam14 August 1999
I had noticed this video for rent several times, but had always thought that the cover photo showed Kirk Douglas with Natalie Wood. Much to my surprise, it turns out not to be Natalie at all, but someone far more unusual, Elsa Martinelli, someone it seems I know best as Charlton Heston's love interest in "The Pigeon That Took Rome", the slim but pleasant comedy from 1962.

In fact, this film is "introducing Elsa Martinelli", a fresh import from Italy at the time. Bell' Italia indeed. Elsa introduces herself to us in the opening scene by undressing completely to go for a quiet dip in the river. So it's going to be la dolce vita along the riverbank, it seems...

As the beautiful long-haired Indian maiden, Elsa finds herself teamed with Kirk, brandishing his chin and his triangular physique. The Wild West lives up to its name, not only with the Indians' fiery attack on the army fort, the film's climax, but also with the steamy roll in the "surf" by our two principals, a couple of years after "From Here to Eternity".

The film offers Elisha Cook an unusual part to play, a photographer who had worked with Matthew Brady during the War, and who now wants to immortalize the West with his camera as advertising to attract settlers. The film understands the dichotomy of preservation and destruction that his character represents.

Walter Matthau and Lon Chaney are the bad white men, while Alan Hale (Gilligan's Skipper) and Frank Cady (Green Acres' Mr. Drucker) round out a nostalgic supporting cast.

Produced by Kirk Douglas's own production company, Bryna, "The Indian Fighter" can't help but have a social conscience. It does show the strong influence of the message Western -- in its interracial romance, Cook's proto-Ansel Adams character, and so on -- but without sacrificing the adventure elements of the story.

The film boasts some spectacular Oregon scenery. It's not the Monument Valley desert landscape we're used to seeing in so many other epic Westerns when directed by John Ford, but rather mountainous and riverine terrain, more like what Ford showed us in "How the West Was Won" (1962).

André De Toth provides good solid Cinemascope direction, letting the widescreen process work its own wonders on the audience. The film however does betray more brutality than I would have expected, especially for its day.

All in all, an adventure story intelligently and attractively handled, with some depth for those who care to look.
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Mainly Kirk Douglas Holds this Picture
ragosaal7 November 2006
I remember having enjoyed very much this film as a kid back in the 50's, but not when I saw it again a couple of years ago. The story is not better or worst than that of many other westerns -a scout leads a wagon train through hostile Indian territory- but Andre de Toth's direction is weak and completely standard; these are things you don't notice in films as a kid when you're more interested in cowboys and Indians fights and action scenes. In my opinion, De Toth was just an average director that will probably be remembered for his earlier work in "House of Wax" (1953) when aided by an interesting plot and an excellent Vincent Price he achieved a little classic in the horror genre; but he never reached the mark later.

As for "The Indian Fighter", you can rescue Kirk Douglas undeniable strong screen presence, one of Walter Mattau's early roles as a villain and the sensual Italian actress Elsa Martinelli as an Indian squaw that gets mixed up with Douglas.

But there's not much more in this average and common film, only for fans of the genre or good old Kirk (in his late thirties back then).

Just for the record: in Argentina "The Indian Fighter" was renamed as "A un Paso de la Muerte" (something like "Just One Step Away from Death").
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