7 January 2003 | frankfob
Dark, almost western-noir Civil War epic
Jeff Chandler is cast against type (and does a terrific job) in this big-budget western as the commander of a cavalry fort in the West during the Civil War who hates both Indians and Southerners with equal passion. With his command stripped to the minimum due to the Union's need for troops to fight the Civil War back east, Chandler is forced to accept a unit of Confederate prisoners who have volunteered to fight Indians under Union command as an alternative to rotting in POW camps. Chandler's all-consuming hatred and racism result in his killing the son of the local Indian chief, which causes the Indians to go on a rampage against the whites in the area, culminating in a massive attack against the fort itself. This is a dark, gritty and, considering the time in which it was made, brutally graphic and violent western that explores and exposes issues--racism, sexual tension, even a hint of mental illness--seldom, if ever, touched upon by westerns up to that time. The supporting performances by Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell and especially the great--and always underrated--Arthur Hunnicutt are top-notch, but this really belongs to Chandler, and he does a tremendous job, as good as (and in some ways better than) what is usually considered to be his finest performance, that of Indian chief Cochise in "Broken Arrow" of a few years later. Chandler was never a particularly expressive or emotional actor--when he tried to be, the results sounded more like a lecture (his speech at the end of "Pillars of the Sky" is a case in point)--but his coldness works to his advantage here, which makes his bursts of anger and hatred all the more chilling. This is an intelligent and thoughtful yet also rousing and action-filled western, hardly your run-of-the-mill cavalry-vs.-Indians tale. I don't think this would be the kind of western John Ford would have made, and it's probably the better for it. Don't miss it.