Union officer Kerry Bradford escapes from Confederate Prison and is set to Virginia City in Nevada. Once there he finds that the former commander of his prison Vance Irby is planning to send $5 million in gold to save the Confederacy.
Virgil Renchler owns most of the town providing a thriving economy. When his men go too far and kill one of his migrant workmen, the sheriff goes after him even if it means his job and everyone else's.
In San Francisco in 1850, a Russian Countess runs away from an arranged marriage to a Russian Prince and falls into the arms of an American sea captain who occasionally poaches seals in Russian Alaska.
Shortly before the start of the American Civil War rebel Kansas leader Luke Darcy dreams of a new independent Republic of Kansas. His vigilante group is called The Jayhawkers and their mission is to end slavery by force. However, Darcy uses The Jayhawkers for his own bid for absolute control of Kansas. Darcy's actions do not sit well with the military governor of Kansas, William Clayton, who wants Darcy captured and brought to justice. For this purpose the governor hires an ex-renegade rebel, Cam Bleeker, to join Darcy's group and capture their leader. Bleeker has a personal reason for wanting to see Darcy hanged. Darcy was responsible for Bleeker wife's death while Bleeker was in prison.Written by
The Jayhawkers! is directed by Melvin Frank and Frank shares writing duties with A. I. Bezzerides, Frank Fenton and Joe Petracca. It stars Jeff Chandler, Fess Parker, Nicole Maurey, Henry Silva, Leo Gordon and Frank DeKova. Music is by Jerome Moross and cinematography by Loyal Griggs.
Territory of Kansas . . . Shortly before the Civil War.
In short order form the plot finds Chandler as a driven empire builder Luke Darcy, who is taking advantage of Bleeding Kansas. Insinuating himself into Darcy's gang is Cam Bleeker (Parker), who has a very personal ulterior motive for doing so.
The Ace of Spades!
It's one of those films that has some great literary ideas, with some stoic characterisations and deft hints at the turmoil hitting this part of American history, and yet it never truly delivers on its powerful potential. Action is in short supply so we are very much asked to invest fully in the key players, their motives and drives, reasoning's etc, with the Darcy/Bleeker relationship and the shades of grey holding the attention whilst simultaneously holding the play together.
Love-And-Death. That's everyone's fortune my friend.
Bonus point also are the tactics used by Darcy to build his empire, which coupled with his beliefs - and Bleeker's growing conflicted values (Bromance does that to a guy apparently) - marks it out as a good try at something more deep and meaningful. Filmed in Technicolor/VistaVision, pic looks lovely, but not enough is made of the outdoor locations, while Moross provides a big bold booming score - which is great - it's just in the wrong film as it belongs in a ripper of an action piece.
All told it's a very mixed bag, and stripped down it's a undercover story dressed up in familiar Western attire. It works for those who enjoy well written speeches and simmering tensions/passions, but it's a trick film to recommend with confidence. Oh and serious history buffs should give it a wide berth. 6/10
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