29 December 2020 | JamesHitchcock
A New Breed of Western
"Flaming Feather", shot on location around Oak Creek Canyon near Sedona, Arizona, is a good example of a new type of Western which was becoming popular in the early fifties, using striking Technicolor photography of the magnificent scenery of the West as a backdrop to their stories. The Hollywood studios hoped that such films would become an important weapon in their battle against the new enemy, television, which at this stage could only show black-and-white pictures on a small screen.
The story centres upon a mysterious outlaw, known as the Sidewinder (after a species of poisonous snake). Although the Sidewinder is believed to be a white man, he leads a band of Ute Indians who have carried out a number of robberies. A rancher named Tex McCloud and a U.S. Cavalry officer named Tom Blaine both decide to bring the Sidewinder and his gang to justice and make a wager over which will get him first. There are a number of complications to the plot, including an attempt by a saloon entertainer named Carolina to persuade Tex to pursue Lucky Lee, a businessman and mine owner who allegedly owes her $20,000. (We never find out what this debt is for). Other important characters include Lucky's beautiful girlfriend Nora Logan, Turquoise, an Indian woman who is Nora's rival for Lucky's affections, a gambler named Showdown Calhoun and a mysterious figure named Tombstone Jack who is suspected of being the Sidewinder.
Some of the "new Westerns" of this period, such as the Mann/Stewart Western "The Naked Spur" were not just notable for striking photography but also brought to the genre a greater degree of character development and psychological analysis. Others, however, were beautiful to look at but their looks only served to hide a banal plot or second-rate acting. (I am thinking here of something like William Wellman's "Across the Wide Missouri", conceived as a large-scale epic, but so cut by the studio into something resembling a B-movie that Wellman virtually disowned it).
"Flaming Feather" falls somewhere between the two extremes. It does not have the depth of something like "The Naked Spur" or some of the other Mann/Stewart Westerns, but it is well-made and the plot, although complex, is always entertaining. There is no one outstanding star performance, but the acting is generally of a good standard. There is some very fine photography of the Arizona desert scenery. This is not quite in the first class of Westerns, but it is a good example of a second division one. 7/10