Wednesday, September 2, 2009

At the Bijou with Gobe: Fort Massacre.

A WORD FROM THE EDITOR: For the past several years Mr. Dale Goble and I have been contributors to the Old West APA (amateur press association) Owlhoot. (Other Owlhoot members who’ve popped onto the Almanack recently include Mr. James Reasoner, Mr. Bill Crider, Mr. Steve Kaye (aka Clay Burnham) and the head Owlhoot himself, Cap’n Bob Napier.) Anyway, I’ve long admired Dale’s movie reviews, and he’s kindly agreed to let me share a few with you. Thanks Gobe! Here’s the first:

It can't just be my bad memory. I have always assumed that I saw every movie made between 1955 and 1962. Lately, evidence is gathering that this might not be correct, because I sure don't remember seeing FORT MASSACRE. And I can't remember Joel McCrea ever being old--until RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY--or being anything but the white hat hero until TALES OF THE TEXAS RANGERS. Sorry, that last part just slipped out. I was joking. Erase, erase. Here we have Joel McCrea in a cavalry movie. He's older, and the luster seems to be a bit tarnished.

Here's what the tagline was:
THE WEST'S MOST SAVAGE STORY OF HATE, PRIDE AND CUNNING! (original print ad - all caps)
The poster reads "The West has never known a "Hero" like the killer who commanded "Fort Massacre." In 1958, the quotation marks around Hero wouldn't have raised any flags for me. Cavalry good, Injun bad. Here's the synopsis:
During the Indian Wars in the Southwest, a sergeant assumes command of a cavalry detachment after it is mauled in an Apache ambush that killed its captain and seriously wounded its lieutenant. The surviving troopers must reach either a larger cavalry column or a wagon train the column is to escort. But first they need water and the nearest water hole is in Apache hands....

Joel McCrea is the sergeant, Sgt. Vinson, a three striper who is both driven and unsure of himself, and who takes a lot more guff from his troopers that any sergeant since Joey Bishop. Vinson has, predictably, a rag-tag bunch of troopers, each with their own past and peculiarities. This is standard "Lost Patrol" stuff, but the individual histories are somewhat unique. Well, not all of the characters are totally clich├ęd. McCrea is supported by Forrest Tucker as Pvt. McGurney, John Russell as Pvt. Robert Travis, Denver Pyle as Pvt. Collins, and the usual cavalry ensemble. Anthony Caruso plays the faithful Paiute scout. The bad guys are the Apache. The campaign Sgt. Vinson is engaged in is pure fiction, there was never a large confrontation with the Apache. Susan Cabot gets third billing but doesn't appear much or do much. Russell gets fourth billing, but is actually the co-star. If you're a thirteen year-old or me, the ending is a little unexpected.

See, there's this here problem. Sgt. Vinson/Joel McCrea is the hero. Every kid born in the Forties knows that Joel McCrae is a cowboy hero. But some of the stuff he does here seems a little hard to understand, since he's the white hat and all, and it confuses a young teenager to try to figure it out. Remember, also, that these were the days that the Injuns were the bad guys, all bad, savages, they can't even speak'um good. So probably Sgt. Vinson is justified, I mean, he's got to be justified, he's trying to save his men and the wagon train and the column and the fort. The dumb Privates just don't understand the ways of the Injuns. Joel McCrea knows better, right?

The movie is more than I expected from a 1958 cavalry film, and required more attention than the usual boots-and-
saddles second feature. I would suggest that it's worth a watch if you run across it. I give it three guidons.

2 comments:

Bill Crider said...

You just can't keep us Owlhoots away.

Dave Lewis said...

I'm thinking of hiring a sheriff.