"Two Flags West" is a real surprise, entertaining and powerful. It contains its share of Hollywood clichés: Yankees and Rebels teaming up to fight Indians; an unhinged officer commanding a lonely outpost; a beautiful women creating tension among comrades in arms. But it's original in the way it handles them.
Jeff Chandler plays Maj. Henry Kenniston, a Union officer put in charge of a desert fort after being partially disabled by a war wound. Distrustful of Indians and bitter about his assignment, he dreams of returning to the war and taking revenge on the Confederates who hurt him and killed his brother.
Worst of all, Kenniston is obsessed with his brother's widow (played by Linda Darnell). He's an honorable man in his own way, and he feels a genuine sense of responsibility toward her. He tells himself he's keeping her at the fort for her own protection. But in his heart, he lusts after her, and he hates himself for doing so.
When reinforcements arrive at this troubled outpost, Kenniston is shocked to find that most are former Confederate POWs. They have pledged to serve the Union as Indian fighters as long as they don't have to make war on fellow Southerners.
To the already unstable major, being put in command of such troops is a crushing insult. And it doesn't help his state of mind when the Southerners' leader (played by Joseph Cotten) and an idealistic Union officer (played by Cornel Wilde) begin to show interest in the beautiful widow themselves. Kenniston soon embarks on a course of action guaranteed to alienate both the Indians and the Southerners -- and endanger the peace.
"Two Flags West" is a well plotted western, with events that flow from the characters' motivations instead of from a predictable plot. It's full of action, and its violence is grimly realistic for the time it was made.
Chandler is excellent as a complex, disastrous leader who inspires anger, pity and even some admiration in the viewer. Darnell, in one of her better roles, makes a convincing object of desire. Cotten and Wilde are fine, although they could have switched roles and still been just as effective.
Any fan of westerns ought to enjoy this a lot, and non-fans should give it a look.
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