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Tomahawk

29 Jan

Over the years I’ve tried to turn the spotlight where possible on those films which I reckon have either been unfairly maligned or, more commonly, just fallen between the cracks and slipped off the radar of movie fans. As a lover of westerns, I’ve found that the genre provides an especially rich vein to mine with respect to neglected gems. This is partly down to the sheer volume of pictures made during the western’s heyday, and also the gradual decline in interest in the genre, not least from a critical perspective. In my own small way, I’ve looked to draw a little attention back towards westerns and maybe encourage others to explore a little deeper. I particularly like the more socially aware pictures of the early 50s, those movies which did their best to offer entertainment and simultaneously encourage thought on the part of their audience. George Sherman’s Tomahawk (1951) is one such film – it’s a handsome looking, well paced work that not only contains a potted history lesson but also approaches the Indian Wars in a mature and intelligent way.

The film is bookended by one of those strident, self-important and frankly grating narrations that became fashionable in the documentary-style noir pictures of the post-war years. In many ways this is an inauspicious opening and one that doesn’t really blend in with the rest of the film. The time and context are established but I feel that this could have been achieved just as well, and with a good deal less piety, via the more traditional method of using rolling captions. Anyway, it’s Wyoming in 1866, at the time the Bozeman Trail is drawing in settlers and prospectors. The fact that this route west passes through Sioux hunting grounds, and violates previous treaty pledges, has the potential to spark off a major conflict with Red Cloud’s warriors. The problem is exacerbated by the government’s decision to build Fort Phil Kearny as a garrison to house an army detachment and offer protection to travelers. The construction proved a sore point with the Sioux, and the film concentrates on a compressed version of the bloody events that ensued, namely the Fetterman Massacre and the Wagon Box Fight. It includes all the major players in those battles and gives the story a new twist by adding in a revenge aspect. Everything unfolds from the perspective of Jim Bridger (Van Heflin), a trapper and former scout who allows himself to be coaxed back into service for personal reasons. Bridger is disparagingly referred to by some as a “Squaw Man” – a man who has taken an Indian girl as his wife – and it’s this status that forms the basis for his decision to return to scouting duties. The Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 is one of the most notorious atrocities to take place on the frontier, when Colonel Chivington led his irregular cavalry in a raid on a Cheyenne village, butchering and mutilating in the region of 150 of the inhabitants, the majority of whom were women and children. Bridger, who suffered a grievous loss in this massacre, has spent the intervening years hunting those responsible. When the young Cheyenne girl, Monahseetah (Susan Cabot), with whom he’s traveling believes she has recognized one of Chivington’s men among the troops detailed to the new fort, Bridger takes up the offer to scout for the army once again. At first, there exists an uneasy truce between the Sioux and the soldiers, Red Cloud being shown as a man willing to compromise so long as his people aren’t faced with aggression. However, the hotheaded hatred of the Indians by a young officer, Lieutenant Dancy (Alex Nicol), leads to an inevitable killing and matters start to spiral ever downward. The new fort soon finds itself under effective siege, with Dancy and Captain Fetterman (Arthur Space) seeking to discredit Bridger in the eyes of the garrison commander and downplay his estimate of the strength of Red Cloud’s forces. The movie covers the essentials concerning the build up to and aftermath of the Fetterman Massacre but alters some details for the purposes of storytelling – most notably by compressing the timeline and shifting some of the responsibility away from Fetterman himself.

George Sherman has never really got his due as a director; he worked in a variety of genres but his westerns for Universal in the 1950s in particular constitutes a strong body of work. His movies tend to be well paced and, more often than not, play around with interesting themes. Tomahawk packs a lot of story into its 80 minutes yet, despite moving at a fair clip, never sacrifices coherence. Aside from the standard cavalry versus Indians stand-off at the heart of the tale, there’s a revenge story and a commentary on the dubious treatment of the Indians blended in too. I think it’s a credit to Sherman’s skill that all these elements are handled well, and that the finished film is never less than entertaining. The majority of the action takes place outdoors, with Sherman and cameraman Charles P Boyle making the most of the Dakota locations. Sherman manages to convey the beauty and expansiveness of the landscape, leaving the viewer in no doubt why men like Red Cloud were prepared to fight and die if necessary to safeguard their ancestral lands. The film makes no bones about where its sympathies lie; the character of Bridger is as much of a guide for the viewer as he is for the army. It’s through his eyes that we’re invited to see things, and this allows us to experience the personal conflict of a man torn by his love for and understanding of the Indian way of life, and his sense of duty to the country of his birth. As such, the film never shies away from depicting the duplicity and inherent racism of Indian policy at the time, yet does its best to address the complexity of the situation too. I feel it slots nicely into that cycle of early 50s westerns that tried to come to terms with a particularly tumultuous period of US history.

Van Heflin’s stoic presence is the glue that holds the picture together. He had that lived in look that was just right for playing a toughened frontier scout, and the necessary physicality to make the action scenes seem authentic. I think one of his strengths as an actor was the thoughtful, introspective quality that he was able to bring to his roles, and the character of Bridger allowed him to explore that. You could argue that the revenge motif that runs throughout the movie was a tacked on extra, but it’s very important in helping to flesh out the character of Bridger and explain his motivation. Without the whole Sand Creek back story, Bridger would be just another westerner with a fondness for Indians. The scene where he explains his background to Yvonne De Carlo not only provides something for Van Heflin to get his teeth into, but it also makes it clear to the viewer where his passionate advocacy of the Indian stems from. Heflin rarely gave a poor performance in any movie, and Tomahawk saw him touch on grief, compassion, love and fury convincingly – a real three-dimensional figure rather than a caricature or stereotype. Yvonne De Carlo always brought a kind of tough glamour to whatever part she played, and some of the technicolor movies she made in the late 40s and 50s really highlighted her beauty. Although she was essentially playing the love interest in this film, her character’s real purpose was to draw out Heflin. Therefore, the romantic aspects never actually overwhelm the main focus of the story, serving to complement it instead. The chief villain of the piece was Alex Nicol as the sneering racist. He always seemed at his best playing the bad guy (check out The Man from Laramie for another performance that’s certainly interesting), and Tomahawk gave him the chance to indulge in some great rodent-like nastiness. The film boasts an extremely strong supporting cast, including a small part as a trooper for a young Rock Hudson. Susan Cabot met a very tragic end in real life but she was a very attractive screen presence in her time. I thought she brought a really sweet allure to the role of Monahseetah. In addition, there are well-judged turns from Jack Oakie, Preston Foster and Tom Tully.

Tomahawk is available on DVD in a number of territories, including the US (as part of Universal’s MOD programme) and the UK. Before those editions were released Mondo Entertainment in Germany put the title out as part of a licensing arrangement with Universal, and that’s the copy I have. I have to say that the transfer on that disc is fantastic – it’s sharp, clean and has the kind of eye-watering colours that show the cinematography off to great effect. The film is offered with a choice of the original audio or a German dub, and no subtitles of any kind are present. Extras are confined to text biographies of Yvonne De Carlo and Rock Hudson (Hudson’s name gets prominent billing on the cover too despite his minor role – no mention of Heflin at all) and advertisements for other titles in the range. All told, I feel Tomahawk is an excellent little film that rarely seems to get a mention. Sherman paints some lovely images, packs in the action, tackles tough themes, coaxes solid performances from his cast and entertains all the way. Frankly, this really ought to be better known and more widely seen. It’s definitely a movie to check out if you get the opportunity – I don’t think it will disappoint.

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30 Comments

Posted by on January 29, 2013 in 1950s, George Sherman, Rock Hudson, Van Heflin, Westerns

 

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30 responses to “Tomahawk

  1. le0pard13

    January 29, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Y’know, I think I saw this one as a kid watching television. The scenario painted sounds very familiar. BTW, since you mentioned it in the review, I began 2013 reading Larry McMurtry’s ‘Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the American West: 1846–1890′. It covers the true stories of those terrible massacres, Sacramento River, Mountain Meadows, Wounded Knee, and the Colonel Chivington-led Sand Creek (among others). I highly recommend the book. It’s a relatively short non-fiction volume. Thanks, Colin.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Thanks very much for the tip Michael. I’ve read Dead Man’s Walk, Comanche Moon and Lonesome Dove by McMurtry but never got round to any non-fiction. That book sounds very interesting, and pretty grisly too I imagine, and I’ll try to pick up a copy.

       
  2. Jeff Flugel

    January 29, 2013 at 3:16 am

    This sounds like a terrific western, Colin! Other than his late-career BIG JAKE, I don’t believe I’ve seen any of George Sherman’s 50s westerns (though i have WAR ARROW on disc). The cast lineup is a strong one. I’ve always liked Van Heflin; you’re right in highlighting his thoughtful, introspective quality as well as his sturdy physical presence. I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming all your terrific, in-depth reviews of both well-known and little-seen westerns. The genre might be moribund but it seems the tide of appreciation is slowly turning back in its favor. I think the work you’re doing one your site, cataloging and discussing these films, is playing an important part in keeping these films alive and in movie lovers’ minds.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 9:40 am

      Hi Jeff. I like this film a lot, although I guess that’s obvious from what I’ve written. I have a lot of time for these kinds of films which don’t try to be some sweeping epic, which concentrate on telling a good story on a modest scale yet manage to check all the boxes.
      Sherman might not get much critical attention but he was a capable and at times very stylish director. Big Jake is a very enjoyable movie, coming late in Sherman and Wayne’s careers and featuring good work from both of them. War Arrow is a fair effort, though I think all of Sherman’s output for Universal in the 50s is worth checking out.

       
  3. David Arrate

    January 29, 2013 at 3:54 am

    Nice work, Colin! This one’s been on my radar since 2007. Looking forward to checking it out soon.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 9:43 am

      Thanks David. This film doesn’t get mentioned much when westerns of the period are discussed but it really is pretty good. I could live without the opening and closing narration, but the rest of it ought to satisfy.

       
  4. Prashant C. Trikannad

    January 29, 2013 at 6:45 am

    A fine review, Colin. I love westerns too, both films and books, usually my first choice of fiction aside from war and spy thrillers. I haven’t seen this film and I am not familiar with either Van Heflin or Yvonne De Carlo. My little understanding of western films about Indians is that directors have been true to the Native Americans and their depiction and treatment, which you alluded to in your review. A Whiteman’s sympathy for the Indians appears to be a recurring theme in western novels, and I have read a few where this subject is handled well.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 9:54 am

      Hi Prashant, and thanks. I read a fair few western books myself and generally enjoy even the more formulaic efforts. If you haven’t seen anything with Heflin or De Carlo then you have some treats in store. Heflin remains very underrated in my opinion – Shane, 3:10 to Yuma, Gunman’s Walk, The Raid and this film represent some of his best work.
      I agree that it’s not actually so uncommon to see relatively sympathetic portrayals of the native American people on screen, especially once we get to the 1950s. There are certainly plenty of examples of movies which use them basically as bogeyman figures, but that’s far from being the case across the board. Some of the most interesting films of this period try to take a more balanced and thoughtful approach than they’re often credited with.

       
  5. Cavershamragu

    January 29, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Never given Sherman as much as a second though to be frank, so thank for that very useful corrective and Heflin and DeCarlo certainly sound like an unusual combination, bith, as you say, rather good at playing tough people. Fascinating to hear about this one, which I’ve not seen, thanks Colin. Especially for its approach to racism in Westners, which I’ve been mulling over after going to watch DJANGO UNCHAINED at the weekend (planning to see that one?)

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 10:54 am

      I’ve come to really appreciate Sherman as a director. He was no auteur, though I’m a little suspicious of that particular term anyway, but rarely produced below par work. He had a good eye for composition and a real sense of pace when it came to storytelling.

      I was planning to see Django Unchained last weekend as it happens but something came up and prevented it. I’ve been a little ambivalent towards Tarantino in the past, enjoying some of his films while some others have left me cold. I feel he tends to be too derivative at times and, despite a clear love of cinema and its heritage, often falls victim to overblown staging of scenes. However, the film has been getting very favorable reviews so I will give it a go.

       
      • Cavershamragu

        January 29, 2013 at 11:17 am

        I think DJANGO does work on its own terms and Waltz, Jackson and DiCaprio are especially good. Just tried looking up TOMAHAWK in IMDb and darn it if they haven’t got it under another title, BATTLE OF POWDER RIVER – drives me mad that they do that!

         
        • Colin

          January 29, 2013 at 11:36 am

          The cast of Django Unchained is definitely very strong and I do intend to see it. It seems like an interesting premise for a story.

          As for titles, it is a pain when they are alternately listed according to US and UK variations.

           
          • Cavershamragu

            January 29, 2013 at 2:22 pm

            Drives me mad sometimes that they donlt mke alternate title easier to see. Looking at Sherman’s filmography there are not a lot fo titles that I think I’ve seen axcept maybe for the late Wayne reunion BIG JAKE (quite a popular movie in its day as I recall) and maybe a couple of others. Just toddling off to hang my head in shame …

             
            • Colin

              January 29, 2013 at 2:41 pm

              To be fair, a good deal of his stuff wasn’t that easy to see until quite recently. Even now, there are significant gaps on DVD – Reprisal! is a notable absent title and Dawn at Socorro, although the latter is due in a TCM set in the US soon.

               
  6. john k

    January 29, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Great piece Colin and as you say the film should be more well known.
    For a less pro-Indian version of events try THE GUN THAT WON THE WEST a
    Sam Katzman cheapo version of the same events using tons of stock footage;
    mostly from BUFFALO BILL.The movie is fun if you are in a silly frame of mind.
    The trouble is the stock footage does not match the story and you never see the
    cavalry use the title rifles in the climatic battle.
    As you probably know I am a huge George Sherman fan and will not bore everyone
    by going over stuff I have posted on the Fifties Westerns site.Other top-drawer Sherman
    films are DAWN AT SOCORRO and the fine anti-racist Western REPRISAL!
    Regarding Alex Nicol during the Sixties I worked with a guy who had recently returned
    from a lenghty stay in Spain;with he and his wife trying to get by selling their art/craftworks
    The couple landed up somewhere broke at the same time Nicol was filming one of his
    Spaghetti Westerns (RIDE AND KILL aka RISE & KILL aka BRANDY)
    Anyway Nicol took pity on the couple and stood them several meals and even got them work
    as extras on his film.Telling me this tale and explaining what a nice guy Nicol was my
    co-worker was amazed that I had seen the film only the previous night. So he and his
    wife went over to the Essoldo Hackney only to discover their scenes had been cut from the film.
    Alex was never better as a heavy but had a varied career doing other stuff as well.
    He was a favorite of George Sherman appearing in many of his films.
    He made several British B thrillers in the Fifties;which people now refer to as Brit Noir.
    The best of these HEATWAVE (aka HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE) actually has a knockout
    performance by Sid James,of all people as a sweet-natured millionaire married to a
    femme fatale. Nicol actually commented on how good an actor he thought James was.
    THE GUILDED CAGE is another very good Brit Noir starring Nicol.NIcol also teamed up with
    Terry Thomas in the diverting comedy thriller A MATTER OF WHO. He obviously enjoyed
    working in England.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 12:30 pm

      Hi John. I know you’re a big fan of Sherman too, and I hope that, as his films become easier to see now, he starts to get a bit more recognition.

      That’s a great little story about Nicol and his generosity towards your colleague – sounds like he was a really decent guy. Of the three British movies you mentioned, I’ve only seen Heat Wave and I thought it was a first rate little picture. Both Sid James and Alex Nicol are very good in their respective roles and it has a genuine noir atmosphere, something that’s not always the case with British films of this type.

       
  7. Blake Lucas

    January 29, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    Very good account of a very underrated Western. Colin, I’m sure you already know that I too am a great fan of George Sherman–he is in fact one of my twelve favorite directors for Westerns–so I appreciate that you want to take up for him and and give him some attention. His films during Universal-International contract, especially the Westerns, are conspicuously good (and there are good ones before at Republic and Columbia too). And I think post-contract he remains strong through THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA, COUNT THREE AND PRAY, REPRISAL!, THE HARD MAN and (back at U-I) THE LAST OF THE FAST GUNS, which is for me his masterpiece.
    After that, maybe he struggles somewhat at his level of filmmaking in a changing Hollywood, like a lot of other talented directors did.

    I will go a little further than you–I am an auteurist though never use the word “auteur” in terms of which director is one and which one isn’t because I think all directors for good or ill, sometimes strikingly and sometimes not, do inflect their films. Sherman has a fair amount of individual style, especially the way he uses locations, and also motifs–redemption and reneweal, important in many Westerns, plays across his work in several genres and is beautifully treated in some of the Westerns (I’m thinking most of all of DAWN AT SOCORRO, THE TREASURE OF PANCHO VILLA, THE LAST OF THE FAST GUNS). All of his Indian Westerns are pro-Indian and even more than other directors in the 50s pro-Indian cycle, he seemed committed to articulating that point of view. By the way, though I pretty much agree with everything you said about TOMAHAWK, I do like the opening and closing narration–I think the way it’s written at the beginning is fairly restrained and nicely corresponds to the balanced tracking shots down the lines of Indians and soldiers. I couldn’t agree with you more about Van Heflin and his Westerns you named in the comments especially–I know that’s come up before. What he brings to a movie like TOMAHAWK cannot be valued enough.

    Finally, it’s simply a beautiful movie, which I think movies, especially Westerns, should be, even with the strain of tragedy drawn from history that this has.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 11:26 pm

      Yes Blake, I know you’re another fan of Sherman’s work. At the moment, I guess the fan club remains quite small, but I do believe that greater exposure for his movies may help spread the word.

      I think I remember hearing or reading Robert Mitchum dismiss the whole auteur theory, insisting that filmmaking was in essence a collaborative task. Personally, I remain undecided on the matter, like I said I’m suspicious. To my mind, an auteur should be someone whose impression on a movie is indelible, meaning that you can watch that film, without any knowledge of its background, and be able to say that it’s the work of x or y, or whoever. In reality, we pretty much never watch anything that blind, so we’re already carrying so baggage to our interpretation of what’s on the screen. I don’t know if that’s making sense though. For example, let’s suppose we watch something by Welles or Ford or Hitchcock. We already know that we should be on the lookout for particular motifs, either visual or thematic, and so our perception tends to be coloured by expectation. In the end though, I’m just not sure. Let’s say I remain open-minded on the issue.

       
      • Blake Lucas

        January 31, 2013 at 7:43 am

        I don’t want to make this elaborate, Colin, but I already tried to convey that I try to follow a nuanced kind of auteurism. There is not one simple auteurist view. There is what I consider a very radical kind where no one counts but the director and everyone else is some kind of automaton. I think that’s ridiculous and doesn’t acknowledge reality. For myself, I consider everyone’s contribution important and so many people working on a movie (writers, cinematographers, art directors, editors, composers, actors, et al.) are all creative people who have something to bring to it.

        But as long as you have an open mind, consider this for a moment. Why can’t a movie be both a collaborative effort and the work of an individual artist? For me, an auteurist point of view simply acknowledges that all the other contributions are gathered in and come through the director, and will find the deepest understanding of the whole work by taking his/her sensibility as the key to it.

        Everything counts, but it’s the sensibility and style of the director which inflects what’s there, no matter whether he or she initiated the project or not. And that director may be especially interesting in what they do bring. It’s in that sense I wanted to put forth that George Sherman can be seen rewardingly in auteurist terms, as someone more than just a capable professional.

        I don’t want to go on about this lot. I depart from some of my auteurist colleagues in not being doctrinaire that unless a director has some auteurist imprimateur I won’t seriously consider a film. You’ll note in this regard that in discussions of NIGHT PASSAGE that some blogs linked to this one have engaged in (and I know you’ve written on it too and joined those discussions) I’ve taken up for it as a worthy film, even though I revere Anthony Mann. I don’t think this makes me not an auteurist–instead, I observe that the movie is different than if Mann had directed it, but not unpleasingly so, and that even if he was pretty much a novice and never became a major director, did, Neilson’s inflections do make it the individual work that it is, and that James Stewart, Borden Chase, Aaron Rosenberg and William Daniels all bend to different direction in a way that is significant, for all their greater experience and past association with Mann.

        By the way, Henry King is one of my favorite American directors, if not as much as John Ford (but I don’t rate anyone the equal of Ford) so the unfair comparison of the two cited by you and John Knight has always annoyed me tremendously. King was very much his own man and made so many superb movies.

         
        • Blake Lucas

          January 31, 2013 at 7:50 am

          Correction–“…even if he was pretty much a novice and never became a major director, Neilson’s inflections do make it the individual work that it is…”

          And gives me a chance to restate–I never use the word “auteur” about any individual director, but prefer to approach this in my own way.

          But by the way, Colin, I recently had an interest in reading all of your pieces on Fritz Lang movies (all interesting too) and felt in those you seemed to always approach him in an auteurist way. I didn’t misread those, did I? Seems to me if anyone proves auteur theory, it’s Fritz Lang.

           
          • Colin

            January 31, 2013 at 10:34 am

            Ha! You got me there! :)

            In my defense, I’ll repeat that I remain open-minded on the whole question. Earlier I gave examples of Welles, Ford, Hitchcock (and Mann) as widely acknowledged auteurs. Lang would have to be included too, as there is a visual and thematic style that we associate with his work. I won’t go back over everything again, but I do like the idea that you posited in the previous comment about the auteur as the channel for the collective contributions of others.

             
        • Colin

          January 31, 2013 at 10:25 am

          I think that’s a fair enough, and fairly convincing, argument. If I read you correctly, it boils down to the auteur director acting as some kind of channel through which the creative contributions of others can be distilled and focused in a particular way? If so, then that’s reasonable in my opinion.

          I’m definitely not trying to be dismissive of auteur theory but, as I said earlier, I am suspicious of it. My problem is generally with that rigid interpretation which, taken to extremes, relegates the work of performers, writers, cinematographers, producers, and all the others involved essentially to the role of pawns to be utilized by the director. I cannot go along with that, and it’s nonsensical to me.

          Your mention of Night Passage, and the matter of what kind of film it became due to Mann’s replacement by Neilson, is relevant here. Mann would be considered an auteur while Neilson most certainly would not. The finished picture is different to what we might have expected with Mann at the helm, but it’s still a satisfying experience. We have the same personnel involved, with the exception of the director. Rigid adherence to auteur theory would suggest that the result should have been a train wreck of a movie, but that’s not the case at all. Sure, it’s not the same film as we would have got had Mann directed but it’s satisfying enough on its own terms. I guess Neilson’s relative inexperience meant that the contributions of others altered the overall focus – not necessarily in a bad way, just different.

           
          • Vienna

            January 31, 2013 at 3:40 pm

            Colin , I always feel you are so balanced and reasonable in everything you write. Even if I told you The Train Robbers is in my Top 20 westerns, I know you would be kind and not dismissive!
            I’m on the fence about the auteur theory. When I read about Hawksian or Hitchcock themes, I remember both had writers behind them.
            Novelists and original screenplay writers create characters and situations. So you could argue any themes are theirs. Of course some of the best directors have a large input , or are writers themselves.
            As you say, film making is essentially a collaborative business and the director ( or often the producer back in the day) has the final say in the interpretation of the writing.
            What does it all boil down to (to paraphrase John Carradine). Do you like a movie or don’t you. All that matters.

             
            • Colin

              January 31, 2013 at 7:50 pm


              What does it all boil down to (to paraphrase John Carradine). Do you like a movie or don’t you. All that matters.

              Yes, there’s a lot of truth in that.

              Having said that, I enjoy teasing out the reasons why a particular movie, or even aspects of a movie, appeals to me. It forces me to appraise both the film and my own approach to it, and can often lead to a stronger appreciation of the work. What’s even better is when others chip in and add their own take on things too, and thus we get a wider sense of how the film is viewed.
              We’ve been having a great chat along similar lines as a result of this post over at Toby’s place, and it’s worth checking out.

               
  8. Blake Lucas

    January 29, 2013 at 11:02 pm

    In the back of my mind I thought maybe I was forgetting one of Sherman’s 1955-1958 films, post CHIEF CRAZY HORSE at U-I and I was. That’s COMANCHE, another good film in the Indian cycle and with a lot of affinities with TOMAHAWK especially although in this case I think the earlier film is better. COMANCHE also has a sobering dose of history that sees the Comanche side, but the genre was moving from the wider historical canvas to more intimate subjects and Sherman’s later 1956 movie REPRISAL! is one of these, as noted an anti-racist Indian movie set in a town and more of an individual drama, and as something that differs more from the earlier ones, this was good for Sherman and also rates as one of his best.

     
    • Colin

      January 29, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      No arguments from me regarding the quality of Reprisal! – I think it’s an excellent film, and it’s disappointing it’s not been released on DVD as yet.

      Comanche is one I’ve never seen. I noticed a DVD of the movie is available in Spain but I understand it’s not a great transfer. Sherman’s film films always looked beautiful, as you said yourself before, and I’m loathe to watch it in a less than perfect form.

       
  9. Rod Croft

    January 29, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Collin,
    encouraged by your review of “Tomahawk”, I checked on George Sherman’s directorial history and was suprised at the number of his movies that I had seen in my youth.

    The films that particularly came to mind, other than those previously mentioned, were:

    “Chief Crazy Horse” (1955 ) with Victor Mature, wherein major historical events are told from the Indian perspective. Because of this approach it is an interesting film, beautifully filmed in Dakota in CinemaScope and Technicolor.

    and “Count Three and Pray” (1955) with Van Heflin, Phil Carey, Raymond Burr, Nancy Kulp and introducing a very young Joanne Woodward. This sadly neglected western attracted considerable attention when first released. Once again the use of CinemaScope and Technicolor enhanced its appeal.

    It is unfortunate that such a fine and respected actor, ( both film and stage), as Van Heflin, winner of the Best Supporting Actor Acadamy Award for “Johnny Eager”, (1942) and participant in numerous major films such as “Shane” and “3.10 to Yuma”, is almost forgotten. His solid, restrained, and thoughtful performances were not as “showy” as others and perhaps this is the reason.

     
    • Colin

      January 30, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Hi there Rod. Sherman’s filmography is packed with little gems, isn’t it? I’m most impressed with his westerns but he did plenty of good work in other genres too.

      Sadly, I have to agree that Van Heflin is something of a forgotten man these days. He was a very naturalistic actor, and that style seemed to fall out of favour with the rise of the method. As you say, the restrained quality of his performances, while making them seem more grounded and real, may be one of the reasons he’s not so well remembered.

       
  10. john k

    January 30, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Back to Alex Nicol,briefly; his two other Brit Noirs were THE BLACK GLOVE (a.k.a.FACE
    THE MUSIC) and STRANGER IN TOWN. I am glad that you enjoyed HEATWAVE Colin,I
    love the moment when Alex and Sid are loading up Sids boat with crates of beer and Sid
    breaks into his “trademark” laugh!
    Interesting comments on the Auteur theory one I have problems with at least as far as UK
    followers go. A friend of mine who I constantly argue with backs up the theory with the
    following rubbish:
    John Ford and Henry King made loads over films over at Fox;all of Fords films are masterworks
    and Kings certainly are not.This winds me up to say the least; I point this fellow towards
    THE GUNFIGHTER but he just does not get it!

     
    • Colin

      January 30, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      I’m pretty sure I have a copy of The Black Glove on one of those VCI Hammer doubles.

      That’s an interesting point about Henry King. He wouldn’t be categorized as an auteur yet he made some fine and distinctive films – The Gunfighter being an excellent example – during his time at Fox.

       

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