9 November 2011 | Spikeopath
Every man has looked into his own soul-about time you did too.
Smoke Signal is directed by Jerry Hooper and co-written by George F. Slavin and George W. George. It stars Dana Andrews, Piper Laurie, William Talman, Rex Reason, Milburn Stone and Douglas Spencer. A Technicolor production that's primarily filmed at the Grand Canyon of The Colorado, cinematography is by Clifford Stein and musical supervision is provided by Joseph Gershenson.
After their fort is attacked by Indians a small group of survivors escape to the wild Colorado River. Their only hope of survival is to tackle the unforgiving stretch of water whilst holding off the pursuing enemy. But can they survive each other first?
Very much a mixed bag in terms of production, Smoke Signal is enjoyable enough for the undemanding Western fan. The story is a safe one as it focuses on a fractured group dynamic having to come together in order to survive the terrain and hold off the enemy pursuing them. The group consists of a pig-headed Captain (Talman), soldiers with prejudice, a pretty lady (Laurie), a trapper (Spencer) and a prisoner (Andrews), the latter of which is a despised "Indian Lover" because of him having been married to an Indian woman and therefore lived with the Ute tribe. Many human traits and qualities will be tested on this journey, the narrative strong enough to warrant the interest being held to see how it will all pan out.
The central idea and its themes has been done far better before in films like The Last Wagon and River of No Return, to name just two. However, Smoke Signal does feature unique location work on the Big Bend of the Colorado River (Stine doing fine photography work), and it's good to see a rarely seen tribe of Indians featured in a Western, the Utes. Bonus, too, is Talman (The Hitch-Hiker), who gets a good meaty part to show what he could give as an actor. Yet the makers give good stuff with one hand and take it away with the other. Great scenery is coupled with poor back projection shots, dummies are all too evident and Laurie is arguably the ultimate token lone female character in a Western. Even the normally reliable Andrews looks weary throughout, were it not for Talman and Spencer, this would fall into the badly acted drawer.
Western fans don't demand too much from a "B" production, but some of the efforts here are dangerously close to being "Z" grade. A shame because the strong story and the real location photography carry a high interest factor for the genre follower. A better director than Hooper would have certainly improved things, or at the least someone who could stitch things together more knowingly with tricks of the trade. The Pegasus DVD release has a decent print, not pristine, but clear in picture and colour levels. It's not one to recommend with great confidence to like minded Western fans, but there's enough in here to rank it just above average. 6/10