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  • Warning: Spoilers
    Hilariously inept - like "She Wore A Yellow Ribbon" remade by five-year-olds.

    Spoilers ahead: Despite its title, and the high bodycount, "Slaughter Trail" is in fact a musical with Injun battles instead of dance numbers.

    If you ever wondered what Ed Wood might have done with a B-movie budget, this film should answer your question. Some decisions may have been bad only in retrospect, such as filming in the short-lived Cinecolor process, which resulted in faces changing hue within the same shot. But there was definitely some ill-advised skimping on the film's main set, a cavalry fort that seems to be partly a Norman castle.

    Terry Gilkyson, who later wrote the 'The Bare Necessities' for Disney's "The Jungle Book", supplies a score full of original ditties which would have been wonderful for a cartoon but which fit Western action like a fuzzy slipper stuck in a stirrup. One song tells how "horse hooves pound, and their melody sounds, like the hoofbeat serenade"...during a dead-serious scene of a cavalry patrol. Other songs literally narrate the story shot by shot, introducing characters, describing their moods and gestures - as they happen on screen - and even stop to advertise the Cinecolor process(!)

    The script sends ferocious Navajos on the warpath to avenge the killing of two of their band by an outlaw trio. By the end of the film, what looks like a hundred Navajos and cavalrymen have bitten the dust (thanks to repeated footage of the same characters dying over and over.) But the chief is satisfied once he sees the trio of badguys have been slain. As the singer helpfully informs those of us who weren't paying attention, the Navajos ride away, their battle called off. The cavalry captain, surrounded by the corpses of his fallen comrades, cheerily waves his appreciation.

    The direction could most charitably be described as wooden, or more to the point, Wood-en. Navajos are consistently shot off their horses in pairs -- never just one. Virtually every red man on foot dies by throwing his hands in the air and keeling over. The film also employs the most cautious stuntmen in Hollywood, who crouch before dropping off a one-story roof (and still fail to stick the landing) or turn to look behind them as they slide, "dead", down a rocky slope.

    The star is Brian Donlevy, who surely deserves an Oscar for not blushing. After the endless final battle scene -- "climax" is scarcely the word -- he scans a list of the dozens of his troopers killed, and shrugs, "It could've been a LOT worse." Trooper Andy Devine gets to sing and robber/murderer Gig Young laughs at Andy's antics...which leads a character who had been held up by masked bandits to rat Gig out: "I'd know that laugh anywhere!"

    And lest anyone forget just what a nasty piece of work Howard Hughes could be, recall that as head of RKO, Hughes was first in line to blacklist original star Howard Da Silva when HUAC denounced him. It would take Hughes another six years to finish running that once-celebrated studio into the ground, but it didn't help things when he insisted on reshooting Da Silva's every scene for this film, substituting Donlevy.

    It was nearly a decade before Da Silva was able to work in Hollywood again. But all things considered, for getting him out of "Slaughter Trail", he should have sent Hughes a thank-you note.
  • 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.
  • There are some good things to say about "Slaughter Trail." For instance, seeing Brian Donlevy and Gig Young in an oater IS different. But the annoying song that runs throughout, seems to have been written by a third-grader. There is much use of stock footage for the Indian wars, and the plot is predictable and pedestrian. This one is very easy to pass up.
  • Once in a while Turner Classic Movies will air a movie that most people aren't familiar with. Such was the case with "Slaughter Trail." Good on-location photography, a fast-moving script, characters worth caring about, and a look at life in the wild west all make the grade. Add an interesting color palate-- Cinecolor-- with its subtle tones, light-years from Technicolor, and you've got an sense of open-air realism to it all. The use of the narrative ballad, a la "High Noon", makes it well worth a look. TCM's Robert Osborne said that Brian Donlevy's part was initially filmed with Howard da Silva in the role, but da Silva got caught up in the Hollywood Blacklist and producer Howard Hughes, being the staunch anti-Communist he was, re-shot all of da Silva's scenes with Donlevy prior to its release. Interesting tidbit, not at all visible in the final product.
  • Brooks-91 November 1999
    This film is an exciting ballad. Yes, that's right: it is a story plot with the song-track of a ballad. Quite unusual, and having its faults, the defects of one of the unique -- but still interesting -- proprietory colour film processes which came to life briefly in that decade.

    Besides the really super ballad-style, the direction of the plot-line and dialogue has a refreshing 'devil may care' attitude, quite contrary to the stultified over-worked techniques not uncommon with high budget studio Westerns.

    This Western is one for the genre collector; its pleasing uniqueness makes it so.
  • After robing a stage coach. Three bandits shoot some Indians for their horses and from their actions. The Indians of that area break a peace treaty and go on a war path, until they get there hands on those three men. Capt. Dempster learns of the breakdown in relationship with the Indians and tries to convince the Indian Chief that those men would be brought to white-man's justice, but they want to hand out their own justice.

    What makes this one stick out from the textbook examples of cheaply done Hollywood westerns is the filming device of using a rumbling ballad to link the film's generically straight-forward narrative together. It's an unique novelty and was worked in accordingly, but I did find it to get rather distractingly tiring. In all "Slaughter Trail" is an earnestly tempestuous and rugged western outing. The story's outline might have been done to death, but its still in certain patches it manages to provide a breath of fresh air to the project. A causal flowing script kicks up snappy dialogues and hammers in some amusing comical elements too. Irving Allen's zippy direction never lets the pacing get bogged down and provides some scope on its location photography. Cinecolor gives the film a suitably penetrating colour scheme and the musical score stays lively throughout. While, the final battle sequence is an excitingly well done display. The performances are pretty solid and reasonably likable from the main players. Brian Donlevy is unshakably stout as the part of Capt. Dempster. Virginia Grey is delightfully strong in her role as Lorabelle Larkin. Andy Devine is having a good time. While Gig Young and Terry Gilkyson churn out good performances too.

    I thought it was a curiously decent b-grade effort, but couldn't help but get that feeling. I probably would've got something more out of it when I was that kid who loved to watch cowboys and Indians. Not easy to come by, but worth a look for fans of the genre.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I've never seen a movie quite like this, and I've seen lots of cheap Westerns. The main unique quality is the use of a ballad as a narrative device; almost every scene transition is filled in with a few stanzas of this ballad updating anyone who may have taken a bathroom break as to where the (largely conventional) plot is going. I liked the folksy style of the ballad, it lent a very nice flavor to the entire film.... somewhat gaudy or "cheezy", but for people like me who enjoy the genre it is pleasing. It's not the same as "singing cowboy" films because we actually only see the singing narrator in 2 or 3 scenes.... usually he is singing but in the capacity of an unseen commentator. At points the narrative ballad's commentary on the story approaches almost a "greek chorus" style of accompaniment to the story, and at points it even seems to poke fun at the film and Western formulas. For instance, when the Native Americans make their first appearance, the singing narrator tells us that "Indians.... they add to the suspense of Slaughter Trail". In this way, as well as in some of the other clearly intentional comedic aspects, this film occasionally raises itself above the level of farce and into spoof, making it almost post-modern. I can certainly see an influence from this film on others as diverse as "Rio Bravo", "Johnny Guitar" and Lucio Fulci's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (which utilizes a similar singing narrator). This is the first movie of its type I have seen, and it is very different from those other films, so it deserves points for originality. And originality is a rare thing in classic Westerns.... a thing to be treasured by fans. This is by no means a "great" movie, nor is it trying to be (like, ahem, Mr. Ford's 1950s films), but fans will surely enjoy it as a rare, possibly unique, treat.

    Other aspects of the film are pleasing, but nothing exceptional. Donlevy is sturdy as usual, and a few Western regulars make appearances though I can't tell you their names. The color is very interesting, the photography is just so-so however. The fact that the story is so "predictable" or "formula" is, I think, another factor pushing this into the area of spoof. It was designed I believe to please those looking for a decent oater and nothing more, but also like most good B movies this film has another element present to please non-genre fans. In this case, those elements are the music and the often hilarious comedy of the film. Some of the film's comedy is pointed at itself, which is also somewhat unique until "Rio Bravo" came along a few years later.
  • I have always loved this movie from my childhood watching it on Saturday morning. Have not seen it in years and now must make sure i catch AMC when it airs. To me the coolest thing about this movie was the catchy song. I can still remember it to this day "All that you can hear are the hoof beats on the ground as the Redskins ride along Slaughter Trail." not PC for sure but this was 1951 and the star was booted because he was "tabbed" a commie lover. Wow how non-PC can you get. would love to see it again and again again. I was hoping this was not one of those lost films destroyed by time and am glad to see TNT still willing to show it.
  • Leonard Maltin must have delicate ears. He called 1951's "Slaughter Trail" soundtrack "indescribably awful." Something "indescribably awful" to hear is a Siamese cat giving birth. The soundtrack is like the Sons of the Pioneers with below-par lyrics, with an occasional zinger mixed in.

    This is a sublimely stupid Western, where the "Indians" wear obvious wigs, the makeup people painted their chests but forgot their backs, the soldiers throw up their arms and fall and die before the sound effects tell the viewer they've been hit, the leading lady smooches with a highwayman and her very obvious lipstick is on his face and yet nobody comments on it. When asked if anyone was killed during a robbery, Andy Devine says "just the stagecoach driver. No one important"(!?)

    Another line that seems to indicate the film was meant as a satire (or maybe just poorly written). Devine asks if an Indian had been hit. Soldier: "No, but he won't be riding a horse for a longgg time." I'd pass on this one. The western genre was big in the 50's because so many social issues could be discussed in the context of the old west rather than cause controversy by discussing them in a modern setting. But then there was always a film just trying to make a buck off the popularity of the genre. This is one of those films.
  • You know, this is CRAZY but that song in SLAUGHTER TRAIL has kept running through my mind ever since I first saw the film.

    If you have any other film remembrances of that movie...I'd like to hear them.

    I think Brian Donlevy had something so "serious" about him that it lent a "feeling" to the film and made that song a mind sticker.

    Anyway--it's like a miracle that other people still sing that song too.

    And--I remember it as well as any song from any "A" musical. So, I had to rate it as "Excellent." Gosh, why not? And, I thought I was the only one whose head it kept running around in!
  • bev-044356 March 2021
    I feel I must give this film a 2-star approval because it has to be fairly remarkable to have been remembered for so long, given that it is - hands down - the worst movie I've ever seen. I saw it on my first date - at 15 - and the whole theatre was laughing. I have NEVER forgotten the theme tune - "You could only hear the sound of the hoofbeats on the ground and the wheels turning round on Slaughter Trail" - probably because it sounded out every three minutes or so - or so it seemed.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Brian Donlevy and Gig Young must have signed up for this film without first reading the script (if there was one). It's a mess that can't decide what kind of film it should be--a musical western, cowboy vs. Indians (referred to in the film as "Redskins" and "Injuns," reflective of Hollywood's view of Native people at that time (1951), stage robbers vs. cavalry. Also where the film should be taking place--location scenes vary from the hills around Chatsworth to some barren deserts. The cavalry wear out their horses looking for the Navajos, but the Navajos have no problem in getting to the Fort. Most of the Indians don't look like Navajos, and I don't think Navajos wore war bonnets. Mention is made of Custer's defeat, so the time in which this film takes place has to be after 1876. By then the Navajo Nation was no longer at war with the whites--they'd had enough of resistance after Bosque Rodondo. Virginia Grey is lovely to look at, but that red lipstick (!) looked garish and out of place in a film that takes place in the old West. The singing was so intrusive I took the liberty of using my remote to speed past the songs, except I was stuck with the "Hoofs on the Ground" that seemed to run on forever. I counted some three dozen Indians shot off their horses in the big battle scene. What tribe would sacrifice so many warriors and then call it quits because the three bad men were killed in the battle? Don't waste your time watching this film!
  • dougdoepke6 November 2015
    No need to recap the cavalry vs. indians plot. The 70-minutes may be okay for kids, but otherwise the movie's a hash. I'm not sure what the producers were aiming for, but the results are to a conventional Western what goulash is to steak and potatoes. The battle scenes, which should be the high point, appear staged for cartoonish effect. Every shot brings down an "Injun", while the blue coats crack jokes. But never mind since the Navajo chief forgives all by film's merciful end. Then there's the incessant top-of-the-lungs music that blends with events about as well as gravy on nuts. The movie's most interesting part is guessing where the next stock footage will come from as the Indians attack over what appears three southwestern states. I'm just sorry such capable performers as Donlevy, Grey, and Young got caught up in the nonsense. Then too the script does the cavalry few favors, the poker game portraying the rank and file as near idiots. Still, it's good to know that even a 300-pound specimen like Andy Devine has a place as a first-sergeant. Anyhow, kids might enjoy the silly humor and cartoonish violence, but first, parents have to get past that dubious title.
  • In the 1920s and 30s, various prestigious films had what they called 'color'. But this wasn't full color, as Cinecolor and Technicolor at this point used two colors--and the results were generally pretty ugly (there are a few exceptions--such as in "Phantom of the Opera"). The colors were really bluish-green and reddish-orange....definitely not true color. This all changed when Technicolor brought out three color Technicolor...but it was expensive, difficult to use and many companies couldn't use it due to studios like Disney playing for exclusive rights to use it in cartoons. So, although vastly inferior, the Cinecolor company somehow continued up through the 1950s....and although their technology improved, the color still was incredibly ugly. I say all this because "Slaughter Trail" is one of the later ugly Cinecolor films...complete with a lot of orangy colors.

    In the other reviews on IMDB, I noticed how some folks apparently hated the music in the film. Well, the opening song is rather old fashioned and hokey,but I thought it was also kitschy and fun....and I found myself humming along and tapping my fingers. The same with the rest of the music.

    The film begins with a holdup of the stage...a familiar thing in 50s westerns. What isn't familiar is the baddie's shooting at the stage from about 200 feet away and hitting a mostly obstructed target...all with a pistol while seated on a horse! Now THAT is beyond incredible! What also is incredible is that one of the passengers is part of the gang...and she's a lady! Naturally, it's up to the local cavalry outfit to bring the gang to justice. However, this is no easy task as the local natives are somehow bent out of shape about something (perhaps in addition to having their land taken).

    While I did enjoy the opening tune, the film featured many more just like it....and I am sure after a while some audience members went mad as a result! I enjoyed them but know I am not normal! And, you'll either like 'em or hate 'em...who knows which?! If you like songs like "The Ballad of Davy Crockett" and those of the Sons of the Pioneers, well, that's kind of like what you'll hear...a lot!!

    As for the story, It's filled with many familiar B-western elements--the robbing of the stage, the Indian* attack, a fallen woman, and Andy Devine. Brian Donlevy is actually very good in the film...his acting seems very natural. The ending was a mixed bag...see it and you'll probably understand. And, on balance I see this as an adequate time-passer. Not exactly a glowing endorsement, I know!



    *Like so many westerns during this period, the extras appeared to be played by real natives, such as Navajos in this one. But, their leaders are played by white folks spray-tanned for the film....which isn't just politically incorrect but looked dopey.
  • I was very excited to see this movie come up on the database. I remember seeing this movie in the theaters when I was young, and the song keeps going through my head, even now.

    I have not seen it on TV at all, and would really LOVE to add this movie to my library. I know that what I remember as a child and what it would be like now are two completely different things, but since it took me at least 30 years to find anyone who even knew about this movie I think is an incredible thing.

    It must have been pretty good, or I wouldn't have remembered the title, the song, or the movie all of these 50 odd years!!!!
  • Three bandits rob a stage coach and then shoot some Navajos and steal their horses. They seek refuge at the US Fort Marcy, and get it from the conflicted commander. The Navajos hone in...

    Almost unwatchable on many levels, the screenplay is stupid, the direction wooden, lead actor phones it in and to add insult to injury the Cinecolor print is poor. That's not all, though, story is told mostly in song, irritatingly so, to the point where it feels like pic was made decades earlier than it was. Hell! Just to cap things off a main character flip-flop come the finale is really extracting the urine.

    Boooo! 1/10