Hilariously inept - like "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" remade by five-year-olds.
Spoilers ahead: Despite its title, and the high bodycount, "Slaughter Trail" is in fact a musical with Injun battles instead of dance numbers.
If you ever wondered what Ed Wood might have done with a B-movie budget, this film should answer your question. Some decisions may have been bad only in retrospect, such as filming in the short-lived Cinecolor process, which resulted in faces changing hue within the same shot. But there was definitely some ill-advised skimping on the film's main set, a cavalry fort that seems to be partly a Norman castle.
Terry Gilkyson, who later wrote the 'The Bare Necessities' for Disney's "The Jungle Book", supplies a score full of original ditties which would have been wonderful for a cartoon but which fit Western action like a fuzzy slipper stuck in a stirrup. One song tells how "horse hooves pound, and their melody sounds, like the hoofbeat serenade"...during a dead-serious scene of a cavalry patrol. Other songs literally narrate the story shot by shot, introducing characters, describing their moods and gestures - as they happen on screen - and even stop to advertise the Cinecolor process(!)
The script sends ferocious Navajos on the warpath to avenge the killing of two of their band by an outlaw trio. By the end of the film, what looks like a hundred Navajos and cavalrymen have bitten the dust (thanks to repeated footage of the same characters dying over and over.) But the chief is satisfied once he sees the trio of badguys have been slain. As the singer helpfully informs those of us who weren't paying attention, the Navajos ride away, their battle called off. The cavalry captain, surrounded by the corpses of his fallen comrades, cheerily waves his appreciation.
The direction could most charitably be described as wooden, or more to the point, Wood-en. Navajos are consistently shot off their horses in pairs -- never just one. Virtually every red man on foot dies by throwing his hands in the air and keeling over. The film also employs the most cautious stuntmen in Hollywood, who crouch before dropping off a one-story roof (and still fail to stick the landing) or turn to look behind them as they slide, "dead", down a rocky slope.
The star is Brian Donlevy, who surely deserves an Oscar for not blushing. After the endless final battle scene -- "climax" is scarcely the word -- he scans a list of the dozens of his troopers killed, and shrugs, "It could've been a LOT worse." Trooper Andy Devine gets to sing and robber/murderer Gig Young laughs at Andy's antics...which leads a character who had been held up by masked bandits to rat Gig out: "I'd know that laugh anywhere!"
And lest anyone forget just what a nasty piece of work Howard Hughes could be, recall that as head of RKO, Hughes was first in line to blacklist original star Howard Da Silva when HUAC denounced him. It would take Hughes another six years to finish running that once-celebrated studio into the ground, but it didn't help things when he insisted on reshooting Da Silva's every scene for this film, substituting Donlevy.
It was nearly a decade before Da Silva was able to work in Hollywood again. But all things considered, for getting him out of "Slaughter Trail", he should have sent Hughes a thank-you note.
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