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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

THE LAST WAGON (1956)

In the 1950s, Hollywood found it was able to deal covertly with post-war race issues and the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement thru the Western. Not only were displays of physical affection between Native Americans (usually female) and Whites (usually male) acceptable on screen, but with the Indian Nations divided into Tribes of widely differing customs & attitudes, story construction problems were incredibly easy to solve. American Indians could take on the role of courageous good guy, hapless victim and the mystical baddie, and all in the same pic! (Just be sure you get the arrow markings right.) Delmar Daves, one of those writer/directors who covered a lack of natural visual aptitude with handsome locations & tricky camera placements, should probably get credit for starting the racial substitution ball rolling with BROKEN ARROW/’50. But this lesser-known title is at least as good, with a commanding turn from that forgotten star, Richard Widmark, as a Comanche-raised white man wanted on a multiple murder charge. The story gimmick strands him with a gaggle of surviving teens from a small wagon train who’ll have to cross a desert and face converging Apaches to survive. And the kids are a fine collection of young actors (Susan Kohner, Felicia Farr, Nick Adams, and LASSIE’s own Tommy Rettig) all fun to watch. Things wrap up with a mess of unconvincing courtroom speechifying after a short-changed action finale, but the feel-good ending is worth the dodge.

DOUBLE-BILL: Daves’ best Western, 3:10 TO YUMA/’57, avoids the whole Native American race issue and goes for pure nail-biting suspense. Much better than the recent (2007) remake.

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