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Sunday, July 5, 2015

DUEL AT DIABLO (1966)

Rocky Western from Ralph Nelson only finds its form in the last act when an army of Apache warriors take on a U.S. cavalry unit, forcing the diminished company into a boxed-in desert canyon called Diablo. (Sounds like a ballad lyric, no?) Swapping their normal screen personae, James Garner is hair-triggered to implode as an ex-soldier hunting the man who murdered his Native-American wife; while Sidney Poitier, in his first colorblind casting, plays the easy-going ex-sergeant selling ‘unbroken’ horseflesh to the army. Bill Travers does particularly well as the Fort Commander leading the drive of rookie soldiers while Dennis Weaver & Bibi Andersson tag along as a troublesome, unhappily married couple. Some of the big set pieces, with scores of horses and fierce fighting across vast Utah landscapes, are really something to see. But they can’t make up for the many scenes back in town made up entirely of ill-composed shots. (Was the last act done by the second-unit?) And what’s up with Neal Hefto’s odd spotting of inappropriately jolly music cues? Leftovers from his usual light comic gigs? Many faults, then, but still worth seeing. And a tip of the hat to 'silent' co-producer Garner who takes first billing, but gives Poitier the last shot. (Note: Rated Family Friendly, but this is no Kiddie Pic!! In fact, quite violent for its period. Think Middle-School and up.)

DOUBLE-BILL: B-pic legend Val Lewton’s APACHE DRUMS/’51, helmed by Hugo Fregonese, tackles similar situations to better, more unified effect staying largely in town and setting the siege inside a church.

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