Slaughter Trail is a B western with some grand pretensions. But it's come down in Hollywood history for a most ignominious reason.
Watching this film with it's musical score which can only be described as overbearing, I have a feeling what Howard Hughes was trying to do is recruit a singing cowboy for RKO films. They already had Tim Holt who was as reliable a B picture cowboy hero there ever was, but he was not a singer. I guess Hughes saw what money Herbert J. Yates was raking in with Roy Rogers over at Republic and decided he'd get one as well.
So Terry Gilkyson who was a very good performer and much better song writer got recruited and sang some of his material which was not his best and worse, looked like they were shoehorned into the picture. But worse than that, there's this annoying chorus which sang a lot of the story and frankly overwhelmed the actors, extras, even the horses. Needless to say Terry never got to be a singing cowboy. But he did write such classics as The Bare Necessities and Dean Martin's great hit, Memories are Made of This.
The plot concerns an inside woman on a stagecoach jewel robbery. That's right, the outlaws who are Gig Young, Myron Healey, and Ken Koutnik plant Virginia Grey in the coach as a passenger which they receive word is carrying some valuable jewels.
It's a great act Grey and Young pull off. Young takes her away from the coach to presumably a fate worse than death and they do properly act out the scene within earshot of the passengers, but what he does is slip her the swag. Last place the authorities might look, if she doesn't run off with it.
But when they flee the robbery it's on tired horses so they stop at a cabin to take some replacement mounts and shoot three Navajos who object. That puts the Navajos back on the warpath, didn't help that one of the casualties was Chief Ric Roman's brother.
That's the situation that Captain Brian Donlevy at the fort has to deal with when the coach and the outlaws arrive there for protection. How it all works out is predictable, but in a gaudy sort of overproduced way.
In fact that's the problem with Slaughter Trail. It's a simple no frills B western that got souped up into something almost grotesque.
But the real reason Slaughter Trail entered into history is that this film apparently marks the official beginning of the blacklist. Originally Howard DaSilva was to play Donlevy's part and may have in fact completed his scenes, when Howard Hughes officially fired him for Communist sympathies. His scenes were completely re-shot with Brian Donlevy in the lead.
Considering what a fiasco this film turned into, I'm not sure whether Donlevy or DaSilva ought to have thanked Hughes or kicked him in his private preserve.
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