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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