Thursday, March 30, 2017
North or South?
Revolt at Fort Laramie (1957) has a nifty premise. It is 1861 and the troops at the titular fort are dealing with a Sioux uprising. But the tensions among the troops might be more dangerous than the Indians--about a quarter of the men are from the South and everyone is, by now, pretty sure that war between the North and the South is coming soon.
They are right, of course. So the fort's second-in-command (Captain Tenslip--played by Gregg Palmer) is understandably worried morale and even the loyalty of his men. His situation is made even more tense by the fact that his commanding officer (Major Bradner--played by John Dehner) is from Virginia. There's a gold shipment being delivered to the fort and Tenslip now has to worry not only about the Sioux taking the gold, but his own C.O. doing so before heading off to Texas to enlist with the Rebs.
It's really neat to see John Dehner with a lead role in a movie. Of course, he did play the lead in several OTR shows (Frontier Gentleman and the radio version of Have Gun Will Travel), but his roughly 36 gazillion appearances on radio, film and TV were usually supporting or character roles. Dehner is one of those actors who--for fans of classic films & TV--can come to feel like a good friend we've known all our lives. So this movie scores points right off the bat.
It's interesting to note that about the same time this movie was being filmed, Dehner was the lead in the audition show for OTR's Fort Laramie. Though Raymond Burr was given the lead in that show when it aired, Dehner returned a number of times in various other roles. So 1956 & 57 had the actor spending a lot of metaphorical time in different versions of the fort.
The movie's plot and various character arcs unfold in various ways, with tension hitting a high point after news about Fort Sumter arrives. Major Bradner is conflicted--torn between "breaking an oath and breaking a heart" as he struggles to decide where his loyalties do lie. The Southerners among the enlisted men aren't conflicted at all--they want to make a break for Texas even if it means risking a ride across Sioux territory. They also think it would be a good idea to take the gold with them.
There is one particularly brutal scene in which the Southern troops deal with a guy who ratted them out to Captain Tenslip. That's an interesting part of the film--because it is indeed a brutal and cold-blooded act committed while the men are still officially Union soldiers. But the movie otherwise treats these guys as men who are brave soldiers loyal to the cause they've chosen. In fact, the movie's climax has them choosing to fight along side Bradner even when the major can save them by giving himself up to the Sioux. So are they murderers or are they soldiers dealing appropriately with a traitor? This is a 73-minute-long B-movie that necessarily concentrates on story and action, but I really wish a few more minutes had been added to deal with this moral issue in more depth.
Not that the film is completely without depth. The interactions between various troopers, the decisions they make, and the final battle in which they are forced to again fight together do provide a nice thematic backbone to everything.
The movie was directed by Lesley Selander, a B-movie and TV vet who knew how to churn out good stories quickly. Films like The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold show that his action scenes usually have pizzazz. This time, though the action is usually handled well, there are a few moments where the stunt work is awkward and fake-looking. (For instance, a soldier is a little too obviously sticking his knife in the ground rather than in the Sioux he's fighting.) I'm assuming time and budget restrictions can occasionally get the best of even pros like Selander. But overall, the actions sequences are fun.