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Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

Approved | | Crime, Western | 28 May 1960 (USA)
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Respected black cavalry Sergeant Brax Rutledge stands court-martial for raping and killing a white woman and murdering her father, his superior officer.

Director:

John Ford
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
Jeffrey Hunter ... Lt. Tom Cantrell
Constance Towers ... Mary Beecher
Billie Burke ... Mrs. Cordelia Fosgate
Woody Strode ... 1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge
Juano Hernandez ... Sgt. Matthew Luke Skidmore
Willis Bouchey ... Col. Otis Fosgate
Carleton Young ... Capt. Shattuck
Judson Pratt ... Lt. Mulqueen
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Storyline

Lieutenant Tom Cantrell is sent to defend Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, a black cavalry soldier, on a charge of rape and murder. The story begins in a courtroom and it is told through flashbacks. This is a story of how a black soldier in the face of danger from the Indians can be so easily mistaken as a criminal. Written by Christopher D. Ryan <cryan@direct.ca>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Taglines:

Forget all the suspense you have ever seen! Forget all the excitement you have ever known! See more »

Genres:

Crime | Western

Certificate:

Approved | See all certifications »
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Details

Country:

USA

Language:

English

Release Date:

28 May 1960 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Captain Buffalo See more »

Filming Locations:

Monument Valley, Arizona, USA See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono (RCA Sound Recording)

Color:

Color (Technicolor)

Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Opening credits: The story, all names, characters and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, living or dead, is intended or should be inferred. See more »

Goofs

When Dr. Eckner testifies as to the rape/murder, his testimony is shown in flashback and concludes with a conversation between Juano Hernandez as Skidmore and Jeffrey Hunter as Cantrell that took place outside the building. As the doctor remained inside, he could not possibly have heard it. See more »

Quotes

[Rutledge enters the court room under guard and presents himself to the President of the Court-Martial]
1st Sgt. Braxton Rutledge: First Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, C Troop, Ninth United States Cavalry.
[the spectators erupt into bedlam. Sitting in the front seats, the officers' wives, especially Mrs. Fosgate, have been chattering constantly, and a crowd of men at the back begin shouting that Rutledge should be hanged, and so forth. Fosgate bangs his gavel repeatedly]
Lt. Tom Cantrell: Mr. President!
Col. Otis Fosgate - president of the court-martial: Order!
Lt. Tom Cantrell: Mr. President! I request this ...
[...]
See more »

Connections

Featured in Ebert Presents: At the Movies: Episode #2.21 (2011) See more »

Soundtracks

Captain Buffalo
Words and Music by Mack David and Jerry Livingston
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User Reviews

 
Ford openly displays his art and poetry
26 November 2004 | by pzanardoSee all my reviews

John Ford openly displays his poetry in this magnificent film "Sergeant Rutledge". Maybe the great director and artist was annoyed that many did not get the anti-racist messages that permeate all his works (starting with "The Searchers": ever noted it?) and decided to make a definite, open statement.

To be as clear as possible, Ford willingly shows his art, poetry and trade-mark techniques in the most evident way. He masterly uses images and camera-work to convey emotion. We see Woody Strode (Sergeant Rutledge) constrained in a small chair, his never-ending shoulders covering half of the screen. And we feel uneasy. We feel that something evil is going on, that it's deeply wrong to keep such a man in chains, let alone to hang him. And then we see Woody Strode standing out, the Monument Valley on the background, like John Wayne in many other Ford's movies. I'm sure that such parallel Wayne-Strode was Ford's deliberate choice.

Ford uses his skills of epic poet to describe characters. Rutledge is arrested and searched. They find no money or other goods, just his emancipation papers. So, here we have a Man with all his richness: his honor, his courage, his strength and an emancipation paper. Great stuff! And then Rutledge says to a wounded mate "We don't fight the whites' war. We fight for our honor". Only Ford always manages to turn military rhetoric into poetry, mainly thanks to the visual beauty of the scene.

Woody Strode makes an outstanding, deeply touching job as the black cavalry sergeant. His acting is sober, poised but intense, with no melodramatic sides, and he physically dominates the screen (by the way: what an amazing athlete Strode was, at age forty-six!).

Rutledge is the Hero, the Legend of the movie. Yet Lt. Cantrell (Jeffrey Hunter) is as interesting a character as Rutledge is. Cantrell is a man of the 19th century. Unavoidably, he does have racial prejudices, but he nobly endeavors to overcome them, and certainly at the end of the story is a better person than at the beginning.

I guess that the two female characters represent Ford's dream. Indeed, they both do not even understand racism. The poor murdered girl loved his friend "uncle" Rutledge, and that's all. She doesn't even get the hints of the old ladies, who disapprove this friendship. And the same can be said of Cantrell's fiancée Mary Beecher, very well played by Constance Towers. She nurses the wounded black horse-soldiers with no attitude of doing something special. And some lines of Mary's show Ford's wonderful subtlety. She has been over-night with Rutledge in a deserted hut. Mary says to a concerned Cantrell "I wasn't alone. Sergeant Rutledge was with me and he protected me as well as any officer could do". That's a lesson for Cantrell: the fact that Mary pretends to think her boy-friend just concerned about military ranks, implies that she does not even notice the color of the skin and requires Cantrell to be the same way. Well, probably the two women are not fully realistic characters, especially for the 19th century. They are idealized by Ford, as a poet has the right to dream.

A small remark. Most Ford's films (not this one, actually) raise some controversy. Many heartily love them and many strongly dislike them. I think it rather expectable. Ford is a poet, and a poet cannot please everyone. Personally, I was indifferent if not displeased by the works of some much celebrated poets. Thanks God, poets follow their own way, not caring people's taste.

"Sergeant Rutledge" is not perfectly constructed and chiseled like other Ford's masterpieces. Small defects may be found in some court-room scenes and flash-backs. However, this splendid movie deserves top grades, due to the importance of its message and Ford's sincerity in displaying his art. "Sergeant Rutledge" is another top work by the Master.


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