2nd unit director: B. REEVES EASON. Stunts staged by Yakima Canutt. Copyright 15 May 1939 by Republic Pictures Corp. New York opening at the Capitol: 27 April 1939. U.S. release: 15 May 1939. Australian release through British Empire Films: 10 August 1939. 99 minutes.
SYNOPSIS: A potted biography of Samuel Houston (1793-1863) concentrating mainly on the trivial and the fictitious, whilst ignoring many of the more salient facts.
COMMENT: With much raiding of library footage for its battle and montage shots, this Republic epic seems spectacular enough for unsophisticated audiences. Unfortunately though, they are the sort of patrons unlikely to sit still for all the pretty speeches of patriotic pep!
Miscast, Richard Dix makes but a fair fist of the role. Gail Patrick is her usual self-righteous, colorless self; Victor Jory makes little of a miniscule part, whilst Robert Barrat is cast as an unlikely Davy Crockett and Robert Armstrong an equally unacceptable Jim Bowie. History or no history, George Hayes contributes his usual "Gabby" characterization, minus his crumpled hat.
Of the main players, the only ones we really liked were Edward Ellis - and even he outlives his welcome - and Joan Fontaine. Of the cameo artists: Ralph Morgan, C. Henry Gordon, and of course Charles Stevens.
OTHER VIEWS: Despite some impressive crowd scenes and an all-out battle climax, this Republic mini-epic concentrates on political polemics rather than action and characterization. All the characters are cut from the same one-dimensional cloth. Aside from Miss Fontaine who leaves the story early on, we weary of all the principals long before "The End" title signals the finish of our ordeal. George Nicholls Jr (borrowed along with Dix and Fontaine from RKO) directs this dreary affair in a resolutely plodding fashion. The boring scenario isn't even leavened by bright photography or a rousing score. In fact both photographer and composer contribute work well below their usual standard. Ruthless scissoring would have helped, but, as it is, this Man of Conquest is dullsville all the way from Tennessee to the Alamo. - John Howard Reid writing as George Addison.
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