Pillars of the Sky

Over the years there has been a good deal of ill-informed, and one might even say uninformed, material written and spoken about the classic western, and the depiction and treatment of the Native American Indian has arguably attracted the lion’s share of this negative commentary. That’s perhaps a slightly blunt way to open a post but it does rankle some to see unjustified assessments go unchallenged, not least because it contributes to critical neglect of the genre and a subsequent lack of appreciation and/or interest among potential viewers. Today, it feels as though we are increasingly living in a world of absolutes, one of stark blacks and whites where the very idea of nuance or shading is either dismissed outright or mercilessly lampooned. I suppose that one of the aspects that regularly draws me back to the classic 1950s version of the western is both the ease and the courage with which so many productions navigated moral, and historical complexities. Pillars of the Sky (1956) is an interesting entry in the decade’s Indian cycle,  one which adds religion and its influence on the conflict on the frontier into the blend.

It’s Oregon a few years after the end of the Civil War, and First Sergeant Emmett Bell (Jeff Chandler) is responsible for patrolling the reservation in tandem with his Nez Perce scouts. The general direction of the tale is a familiar one for anyone who has seen more than a few westerns from this era. Treaties will be compromised in the name of progress, trust betrayed in the name of expediency, and conflict stoked up off the back of misunderstandings. Still, before the storm comes the calm, represented by the peace efforts of missionary Dr Joseph Holden (Ward Bond). Holden is one of life’s true believers, a man who seeks to bring civilization and all the benefits he associates with his religion to the varied tribes sharing the reservation. Bell presents a more pragmatic face but one which is no less sincere or well-meaning for that. The arrival of the new commanding officer with with orders to supervise the construction and policing of a road through the territory spells trouble. For the army these are orders that have to be executed, for the Indian they are evidence of further hollow promises – whatever the perspective, the end result will be a fight nobody really wants yet one nobody really knows how to avoid either.

Adapted from a Will Henry story, Pillars of the Sky is a typically mature piece of work, eschewing any temptation to paint in broad brush strokes and present the viewer with a simplistic heroes and villains stand-off. As is the case in so many conflicts, there are no clearly delineated good or bad guys, just people manipulated by circumstances and personal loyalties into a situation that can all too easily slide out of control. What sets this production apart from other thoughtful appraisals of the frontier wars is the prominence afforded to the religious aspect. Now some may find this overdone, and I can imagine that accusations of excessive piety might be leveled. Personally, I’m not sure that it has to be approached in that way – the theme here relates to co-existence as far as I can see. Digging a little deeper, it deals with the idea of reaching an accommodation, and on a number of levels. There is of course the wider accommodation being sought between two competing civilizations and cultures, while a range of smaller and more personal examples are to be determined among the characters.

Let’s look at some of those characters then. Firstly, Jeff Chandler’s hard-bitten Sergeant Bell is man having to come to terms with a number of changes and challenges in his life. He has gone from being a Civil War officer to a peacetime non-commissioned man, leading to some amusing confusion for a young lieutenant who served under him in the past and still finds himself saying “Sir” to the man he’s now giving orders to. Bell’s struggle is dual one: he must reconcile his humanitarian instincts with the prickly toughness his years of hard experience have brought about while at the same time assessing his feelings towards a woman he loved and then apparently lost. That woman is Calla Gaxton (Dorothy Malone) and her own path is far from certain, having come west to make a final choice between her old flame Bell and her husband Captain Gaxton (Keith Andes). While this triangle is supposed to add another layer of drama to the story, it ends up as one of the weaknesses for me, with Malone underused and the competition between Chandler and Andes proving something of a damp squib alongside the genuine explosiveness of the main plot strand.

Ward Bond’s missionary offers  him a good role, allowing him to indulge in some larger than life bluster while displaying an equal measure of compassion. And there you have the conflict faced by his character – how best to apply his Christian principles to circumstances and an environment inherently hostile to such ideals. When it comes to portrayals of army brass, it’s common to see inflexible martinets blindly provoking violence yet Pillars of the Sky offers a welcome way around that tired cliché by having Willis Bouchey play an officer who is aware of his own fallibility. Lee Marvin adds another colorful supporting role to his CV as a characteristically hard drinking Irish sergeant. There’s a good deal of broad comedy in his part but plenty of pathos too in his later scenes in the aftermath of the big Indian attack. On the other side of the battle lines, Michael Ansara gives good value as the warrior Kamiakin who has firmly rejected the missionary teachings and contrasts nicely with Sydney Chaplin’s devout and devoted scout.

George Marshall might be best known for making the classic Destry Rides Again – mind you, I’d argue that his own remake of that film Destry in 1954 runs it very close. His long career covered most genres and he made a handful of other notable westerns in the 1950s in The Sheepman and The Guns of Fort Petticoat. I’d rate this among his better movies, for the rich and less common theme and the superb visuals too. CinemaScope westerns are attractive as a rule and the the shooting of the Oregon locations, with the help of cinematographer Harold Lipstein, is quite breathtaking at times, managing to recall Frederic Remington paintings in some shots.

Pillars of the Sky has been released on DVD in a variety of territories over the years and I suspect the same master will have been used for all of those. Universal International productions have a distinctive look and as viewers we’re fortunate to be able to enjoy so many of these via excellent prints and transfers. I have the German release of this movie from Koch and it looks very fine with a sharp, detailed and colorful image. In brief, this is a strong western, and another that has not received its full due, perhaps in part because of the reasons I alluded to in the introduction above. So, if anyone who is keen on westerns has yet to see this one, I recommend they look into it – it has action, drama, visual splendor and intelligence. Check it out.


47 thoughts on “Pillars of the Sky

  1. Have not seen this, but from your quite impressive review will look it up. As always, Jeff Chandler is ‘watchable’ in westerns, film noir and some sword and sandals flicks. Best regards.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you like it when you do get round to it, Chris.
      I’m a fan of Chandler’s work. As you say, he made a range of genre pictures throughout the 50s and while some are better than others he was never less than watchable, and very often a lot better.


  2. An intriguing review, Colin, and a good case is made for searching it out.

    I fondly remember as an 8-year old coming home from school and being outraged on being told by my Mum that she had been to see this film that afternoon. A western, without me!! I suspect she was a bit of a fan of Jeff Chandler. She was also a Rock Hudson fan and at least she took me to see “GIANT” on release (probably a bit adult for a child really but that never bothered me).

    Back to “PILLARS OF THE SKY” (shown here as “THE TOMAHAWK AND THE CROSS” btw). I’ve STILL not seen it!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s most kind, chum. Ideally of course, I wouldn’t feel the need to lament in the first place, but that’s just going to take me further down the same road! Anyway, if blogging has any real world value, then raising even a little awareness of lazy classifications and dismissals, and so perhaps making a few people somewhere pause and think, is probably worth the effort.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one of those movies that I like a bit more every time I see it. There are a lot of the complexities you mentioned hidden away in this thing, letting you peel away one layer only to find another. The direction, performances and cinematography are strong enough to keep me coming back, making sure I go through all those laters.

    Glad you gave it some attention. I’ve always felt this one was sadly underappreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I’m kind of surprised too that t hasn’t had more critical attention, for the reasons you mentioned. There is plenty of depth and I imagine it would be a good candidate for one of your commentary tracks should anyone get round to a Blu-ray release.


  4. Never heard of this film but I will definitely check it out – great cast and it sounds intriguing. I enjoyed your write-up and how true about the sad wrap that westerns get. Most of the people who talk about how Indians are always portrayed as villains have not seen many westerns. I find it hard to name even five films that gave the impression that Indians were the “bad guys”. Most of the time it is crooked settlers, gamblers, sadistic or greedy Calvary men or traders that stir-up the trouble in the film. Usually, if an Indian is a villain than the plot first establishes that he was previously wronged because of a broken treaty or the murder of a blood-brother and is usually an outcast to his tribe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad to be able to bring it to your attention, it’s well worth checking out.
      I fully concur that Indian as villain westerns are the exception rather than the rule, especially among the better genre examples from the 50s, and feel the misconception can’t be corrected often enough.


  5. Another one I need to see. The religious dimension sounds fascinating actually. And can’t really get enough of Dorothy Malone, always a bit underused (but then so often best when being “bad”). I completely take your point about representation. But I suppose it’s a question of how far back you go. I guess if you had to draw up a list of pre 1950 films in which native Americans are just ‘injuns’ it wouldn’t be very long?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Late 40s and gradually on into the 50s is when you can perceive the genre coming of age, growing in confidence and maturity, and peaking around the turn of the following decade. For me, the sheer volume of progressively themed examples is significant.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s great to read this thoughtful and positive view of it. This is an excellent Western, moving as drama and in its reflection of that history and visually beautiful too. It’s one that I’ve always liked, and have seen it a fair number of times since its first release in 1956, the last time maybe about a year ago.

    I like the interplay of religion with the white/Indian conflict as shown here. I’ve never felt that it proselytized for Christianity, showing things straightforwardly with different views about this each being given weight. There is that scene of the meeting to try to negotiate the issues and the character of Timothy played by Sydney Chaplin has a provocative speech about which he is quite impassioned, along the lines that in relation to the white man, if the Indian is now to survive their way must be be “to follow him.” Those are forceful words and he makes a good case, even if in the end it’s arguable.

    Then there is the ending, that final shot in the devastated chapel, with the surviving white and Indian characters together and the most unexpected figure rising to the occasion to get beyond himself and strike a note of reconciliation for everyone. It’s very affecting, with that slow track out to take in all that is there. I’m trying hard not to give this away too much; it’s not a twist really, as it’s what the film has been thrusting toward.

    I personally most like checkered protagonists, so respond well to the character of Sergeant Bell here. I generally like Jeff Chandler in any event (really I always do)–he had a lot of military characters, seems kind of born for command and suits those roles well (is there a greater Chandler film than his very last one MERRILL’S MARAUDERS, directed by Samuel Fuller?). But in many roles, and some of the military ones too, Chandler can also effectively project something darker, and can be persuasively neurotic. This falls in there somewhere, in an interesting way. Bell is personally flawed, but he also has the most mature and balanced vision of anyone in the film about white/Indian relations.

    Colin, though I agree with most of what you say about it and do agree that it’s greatest strength is in that main story around the white/Indian history of the time and how that plays out here, I will defend the Chandler/Malone/Andes triangle as at least having a place in the movie and working pretty well. It’s a
    long unreconciled situation, so well reflective of the primary historical context for that reason, and reveals things about these characters, especially Bell, that play well against that. I won’t argue that Malone has had better roles than this one, but “underused” seems a bit much to me because she makes the most of what’s there. She was in a lot of Westerns, always so believable in them with that Texas twang and aura of an independent spirit and a strong will even if she is sorting out a troubled life. Maybe in line with her two Sirk films coming along, some really first-rate roles for her are coming along in Westerns in the years just ahead, “Quantez” and “Warlock” using her especially well, but again I’m fine with this one too. It doesn’t need to the movie’s greatest strength to work.

    Given the subject here, you’d think this would be a George Sherman film more than a George Marshall film. But I don’t miss Sherman or anyone else as Marshall really did a beautiful job, one of his best I believe. We know that Marshall really preferred comedy most, and in Westerns too–he is the one who pushed DESTRY RIDES AGAIN decisively in that direction (his remake, as closely as it follows it, actually plays a little better for me, maybe because of when it was made). These Western comedies can work very well for him, and it’s most true of THE SHEEPMAN I believe–I really like that one–while ADVANCE TO THE REAR (1964) is not so fresh but has a gag worthy of Buster Keaton when Confederate spy Stella Stevens tries to escape on a raft and it immediately sinks! But what is interesting is that if it’s not a comedy, as with PILLARS OF THE SKY, he can be just as good and take it seriously, picking up all the dramatic nuances and finding this more meditative style. He can be surprising so he’s someone I never count out.

    Jerry, I am sorry what happened to you with this in 1956 (and hope you will see it before too long–it’s pretty easy to get and the Westerns Horizons set from Universal has DAWN AT SOCORRO, BACKLASH, SASKATCHEWAN and HORIZONS WEST with it, beautiful set all of which I’ve now watched).
    I will tell you that if my own mother had ever kept me from seeing a Western, I’d probably have disowned her! Actually, though, the reality was that she let me go to a lot of movies by myself, even at a fairly young age, so saw so many of these movies then (could never get to them all of course), something that I’ve always appreciated.


    • As usual, lots in there to ponder, Blake. Just to run with the points about Malone and the triangular relationship in the story: I don’t necessarily mean to imply any criticism of Malone’s work here. I do agree with you that she made the best of what was available to her in the part, but the way that part was written gave her much less to do than she was capable of. That’s what I meant by “underused” – given only a limited opportunity to make something more of a role that had a great deal of promise.


    • I’m not surprised, Jerry, given your own taste and fluency with movies of those times. Anyway, glad to hear that. I kind of meant it as a light remark about my mother, though she did trust me to go on my own and it’s a time of my life that I treasure.

      It was my father who loved Westerns, and I learned a lot about how to see them from him, for which I’ve always been grateful. A lot of it in line with what we’re talking about here, too.


      • I don’t know why that didn’t follow rather than precede you, Jerry. I did hit “reply” at the end of your post. Well, you know what I meant (don’t know where this one will go).


        • It’s just a quirk of the WordPress software, guys – replies to certain comments don’t always seem to “stack” naturally for some reason, but the person replied to usually gets a notification that the reply relates to their comment, so I guess it all kind of works itself out in the end.


      • Thanks, Blake. I took your enjoyable comment in the light-hearted manner you intended, my friend. Our Mums are both to be thanked (apart from ‘Pillars Of The Sky’!!).
        Btw, Colin, I’ve ordered a copy as a result of all this enjoyable chat.


  7. Excellent discussion here and most interesting to me. I will make a point now of getting the film.

    Actually, Blake, usually my Mum was very obliging. She introduced me to Joel McCrea and Richard Dix, for starters, and then took me (with Dad too if available) to a number of Fred MacMurray’s westerns, making me an instant fan.


  8. I also wanted to comment separately about what you wrote in the first paragraph and some of the comments that followed supporting that. I could not agree more, and agree that these misconceptions about the genre cannot be addressed enough. I think Constance Rose Metzinger had it exactly right with the specific things she said regarding Indians in Westerns, and who the villains tend to be in these movies, though also agree when you qualify for the period in which this is all especially true, the postwar period from late 40s to the turn of decade into the 60s (though there is an unexpected late flowering in 1964, a transitional time, with the classically composed RIO CONCHOS, CHEYENNE AUTUMN and A DISTANT TRUMPET, each of which does beautifully in its own way with the subject).

    One thing that might be stressed is that on the less frequent occasions when an Indian is the antagonist in the 1950s, they are not demonized and are always well-motivated so these movies are very consistent with the other Indian films of the time. A great example is DRUM BEAT (1954), in which Captain Jack/Charles Bronson plays that role. It happens to be the richest role in the film, a complex and interesting character and Bronson is most memorable. You’ll note that I use the word antagonist, not “villain,” because I believe it would simplify it too much to describe him that way. He is positioned in the narrative as he is, but that narrative is a mosaic as an Indian subject, and of course director Delmer Daves, who also wrote it with a historical basis, is rightly considered by everyone to be one of the most “pro-Indian” directors and is not less so in this film.

    The key to the depth and maturity with which Westerns of this great period treat Indians or anything else is that they don’t preach about anything–it’s all given to us through narratives and characters that we can respond to. They are so deeply coming from humanism and the most mature part of their creators’ sensibilities and that taps the same thing in us.

    A few other of the main misconceptions one still hears so often (along with what is said about Indians): one is about women of course. I wrote on this at length given the opportunity because I was absolutely fed up with hearing from shallow feminist critics than women in Westerns were pallid stereotypes and peripheral to the films. Again, it’s the opposite that’s true, but I won’t go on about this more right now.

    There is also the wrongheaded notion (though I admit that late decadent Westerns support it in a way classical ones do not) that Westerns are in love with violence and gunplay. That is a terrible misreading–violence in art can be cathartic and it is here, but what that means is not that we enjoy killing or root for it. In Westerns, death and killing are given great weight, and the characters we care about will let it weigh heavily on them. How many 50s Westerns are there where the characters have lived by gunfighting or outlawry and want to lay their guns down, the very best thing they could do? Nor is there ever any joy in revenge, but there is redemption in turning away from it.

    There has never been a more mature genre in any art form on this subject. Really, it’s not 1950s Westerns that love violence and a gun culture, and that’s especially true when contrasted to our own time, conspicuously in America, where these things have actually become insane, to tragic effect.

    Again, misunderstandings about the genre are something that cannot be addressed enough, and we’re right to feel strongly about this The Western became an artistic pinnacle in the period we are talking about, and deserves the more true and fair perception some of us here yearn to see in a wider embrace.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Great contribution there, my friend, folding in references to a number of misinterpretations that have grown up around the genre. You only have to watch something like Arrowhead, for example, to see how uncharacteristic the more reactionary views were and how stark the contrast in approach is with the vast majority of productions of the era.
      And I do think that the overall shape the genre took on with the rising popularity, and latterly the elevated critical response to, the spaghetti western has helped to skew the way certain aspects are perceived.


  9. Blake, I wholly agree with you that Captain Jack portrayed by Charles Bronson was the ‘ richest and memorable’ role in Drum Beat and to me that was and still is the most powerful portrayal of an Indian warrior in a western. Best regards.


  10. We are all in agreement about the somewhat unpleasant tone of “ARROWHEAD” but then we are surely not really intended to see Heston as Al Sieber as a heroic figure? The portrayal is of an embittered and rather tragic figure.
    Certainly too, the fine “BROKEN ARROW” and “DEVIL’S DOORWAY” at the start of the decade were not the very first time Indians were portrayed so sympathetically. Col. Tim McCoy made some very good points in his 1932 western “THE END OF THE TRAIL”, even though the film was a humble ‘B’ and not typical at that time maybe.
    But it was the 1950s, as Blake says, when the western arrived at its greatest maturity and beauty. The ‘Spaghettis’ sadly did the genre no favours although the classic western was already in decline by then.


    • It’s ages since I last saw Arrowhead and I mainly remember coming away with a generally negative vibe from the whole thing. I should give it another look some time to see how it plays with me now, I suppose.
      And you remind me (again) here that I need to build up my knowledge of 30s westerns.


      • I wouldn’t rush to see ARROWHEAD again, Colin, as I doubt you’d feel differently. I had a negative reaction even as kid (and that rarely happened with a Western)–I remember I felt depressed when it was over (but felt better after seeing the co-feature THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO, which I did like very much even that first time). I pushed myself back to it a few times over the years so at least came to an understanding of what’s there and why I did dislike it, but those weren’t happy viewings either. I’m not trying to discourage you–wouldn’t do that about any Western of the period–but there are probably so many better ones to see again or for the first time.

        A movie from about that same time this made me think of is THE SAVAGE (1952). I don’t have a clear impression now because it’s been so long but my memory of this is positive. I thought of this partly because of Charlton Heston who here plays a white man raised by Indians, so the story treats the conflicted loyalties that come into play for him. A good film in the Indian cycle as I recall, and interesting too because it was directed by George Marshall, another of his serious Westerns like PILLARS OF THE SKY. Does anyone here who remembers it better have any thoughts? This is one that I would like to see again.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m glad you brought up The Savage as it’s one I thought about when writing this piece due to the Marshall connection. I’ve never seen it though and would appreciate hearing the thoughts of anyone who has.


  11. I second you, Jerry, in what you say about ARROWHEAD. It’s not a movie that I enjoy and Charles Marquis Warren does take what feels like a racist view here (characteristic of his movies perhaps), but what is interesting about a movie sometimes is that it will trouble its own vision of things, and that’s what Warren does there in the character of Sieber, as Heston plays him. I don’t know if I quite go with Jerry in seeing him as “tragic” but perhaps such a lost and embittered figure might be described that way. Still, there is precious little light in this film (really none that I recall now), unlike so many films in the Indian cycle, and it is decidedly unappealing for that reason.

    Jerry is right that there are sympathetic Indian movies before 1950, and that goes back to the silents as well as the early sound movie he mentions (have not seen that and would like to). The tone is already changing in the late 40s and, for example, FORT APACHE is a very powerful Indian film–the first film of Ford’s beloved cavalry and the story it tells show how complex he could be about this. Many of the cavalry characters and their wives (and Thursday’s daughter Philadelphia too) are warmly treated and win great sympathy and affection in the course of the film, but Thursday is not only unsympathetic but clearly in the wrong. On the other hand, Cochise and the Apaches are entirely in the right and deserve all our admiration and respect. They have no choice but to hit back as they do, and it’s pretty harsh when it happens but that’s part of what makes this so effectively provocative a work.

    No question that the Spaghettis contributed a lot to the cheapening of life and cynical attitude about killing in later Westerns (though wouldn’t say that they did that all on their own). Well, enough said about that for me–for now.


  12. Like Jerry I missed this movie first time ’round, but I did catch it at the Odeon Islington,(now sadly a Starbucks) in the 1960’s as a Sunday,one day only double bill. The support feature was THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN; need I say more, except I cannot think of a better way to spend a Sunday evening.
    I’m not completely sold on Religion in Westerns,to be sure there was a spate of such films in the 1950’s. DAKOTA INCIDENT (which Colin likes,but I don’t) also has Ward Bond at his most sanctimonious,certainly not to my taste. PILLARS OF THE SKY as Colin mentions has stunning scenery and I too endorse the Koch DVD. I certainly do not love this film as much as Colin,Toby and Blake but having said that I would get a Blu Ray version in a heartbeat.
    Trivia note: it was PILLARS OF THE SKY that introduced me to Blogland several years back so for some of you the film has a lot to answer for. I was surfing the net (is that phrase still relevant?) regarding this film and ended up on Toby’s blog…one mouseclick leads to another as it were.

    Some fascinating B Movies with a religious theme-Oliver Drake’s THE PARSON AND THE OUTLAW is an odd concoction it has Billy The Kid (aided by Pat Garrett) faking his own death and then strapping on his guns again to face evil Jack Slade (Sonny Tufts) and saving The Good People. An oddity to be sure but not without some merit,especially the veteran cast. Marie Windsor overacts as never before.
    Have not seen any of these hard to source B pics….. THE PERSUADER directed by Dick Ross has William Talman and James Craig and a Religious theme. More of the same with THE PEACEMAKER an early entry from Ted Post. TWINKLE IN GOD’S EYE stars Mickey Rooney,Coleen Gray and Hugh ‘O Brian. Not many folks championing George Blair but Mark of the excellent Noir blog Where Danger Lives really likes him so that’s good enough endorsement for me. I must admit many of Blair’s
    B Noirs/Crime Thrillers sound like they are well worth tracking down.
    Saving the best to last there is the Republic A Movie HELLFIRE from R.G.Springsteen.
    Among all the gunslinging mayhem at the end of the movie frontier hellcat Marie Windsor is riddled with bullets, as the film would have it, her Messiah like wounds seal her redemption. A fascinating movie, recently restored, if only some brave company would release it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to hit on the film that indirectly brought you into the online chat world, John.
      I think mixing in religious themes can add extra layers to movies in general, and it shouldn’t really matter (if everything is handled right) whether one subscribes to or sympathizes with the beliefs on show or not – the philosophical concept of faith and its effects on the human condition can provide lots of dramatic potential as well as food for thought – preachiness or sanctimony are a whole different matter of course and are highly likely to grate with many.
      As usual, thanks for bringing up a number of interesting sounding titles that I’d not heard of – always good to have stuff to keep an eye out for in the future.


      • I agree with Colin on this. Religion makes a good subject for any movie, part of what the movie is about and it can be treated deeply without trying to convert anyone or anything like that. Plenty of top tier movies treat religious themes in great depth–ORDET, FLOWERS OF ST. FRANCIS, SONG OF BERNADETTE, just for starters. I never felt any of these movies insisted on any religious belief and they are all richer than that. And don’t forget that we love the Westerns of these peak years partly for their spiritual nature, whether religion is directly a part of them or not. But sometimes it is–can we agree that THE BRAVADOS is arguably a great Western?; the religious aspect of it is very much a part of it and makes it that much more profound as the account of a difficult spiritual journey.

        Henry King, who directed THE BRAVADOS and SONG OF BERNADETTE often finds the spiritual and at times openly religious side of things in his films and I believe he’s a great director and this is one thing that distinguishes him.

        Incidentally, John K., just observing that the film you saw with PILLARS OF THE SKY is for me one of the most profoundly religious of all films–I mean THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN of course. That’s the direction the movie is meant to go, plainly intended by Jack Arnold, and lifts this to a rare sublimity, and helps to give it a character unlike any other sci-fi film.

        BTW, John K., it’s interesting that in the U.S., I believe the co-feature on the Universal-International double bill was OUTSIDE THE LAW, also directed by Jack Arnold. It definitely was when I saw it, so thought I’d share that.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve recently watched the HD restored Hellfire, it’s perfect. How long do we have to wait for a Blu-Ray?
      Though l expect the fact it is being streamed in USA and UK, the disc sales would be hit. So maybe a long wait.


  13. I only know George Blair as director of several early Rex Allen oaters for Republic, films I would choose to watch over any of the fare listed above (with the exception OBVIOUSLY of “HELLFIRE”). Religion does not often come off well in movies in my experience. However, I feel “PILLARS OF THE SKY” will have a different result – Colin’s recommendation is enough for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I thought about mentioning Tourneur’s sublime STARS IN MY CROWN although the film is not really a Western although it has Western elements, overall it’s more Americana. The religious elements do not overwhelm the sheer power of the story or indeed Tourneur’s inspired direction.
    When in England circa 1964 filming WAR GODS OF THE DEEP a piece on Tourneur appeared in Sight And Sound. Tourneur was delighted that at that time he had been “re-discovered” by various influential French critics. He was even more delighted when the person interviewing him cited STARS IN MY CROWN as a personal favourite. Tourneur was surprised that anyone had actually seen the film, giving the impression that it was more or less “thrown away” by MGM. Tourneur considered STARS IN MY CROWN his own personal favourite and THE FEARMAKERS his least.
    Interestingly,James Mitchell, so good in the Tourneur film and indeed COLORADO TERRITORY, had a rare lead role in the aforementioned THE PEACEMAKER. Religion also features in HEAVEN WITH A GUN,arguably the best of Glenn Ford’s later Westerns, right up to Eastwood’s impressive PALE RIDER.
    I’ve really enjoyed reading the great comments on this thread,especially the diversions detailing the treatment of Native Americans in Westerns. On the previous comments Charles Bronson’s performance in DRUM BEAT has been quiet rightly mentioned. Another stellar early Bronson performance appears in RUN OF THE ARROW a film that divides opinions but is a personal favourite of mine,and one of my most watched Westerns over the years both in cinema and on DVD.


  15. Yes, I certainly agree about “THE BRAVADOS” & “STARS IN MY CROWN”, both with a religious ‘connection’, shall we say, and where it does all work extremely well. Both fine films.
    Thanks, Guys, for reminding me of those 2 very positive examples.


  16. While on the subject of religious elements, would someone be kind enough to comment on the movie, The Singer Not The Song. By the way, would it be classified as a western. Best regards.


    • Hmm, a British western, but a western nonetheless if you ask me. I haven’t seen that movie in well over thirty years though and have no idea how it would stand up. I don’t think it’s ever been available for home consumption anywhere in anything other than mediocre versions.


  17. It is probably thirty years (or more) since I last saw it too, Chris. I suppose it is a sort of western though rather melodramatic and overwrought, as I remember it, despite starring two of the biggest British screen stars of the day – Dirk Bogarde and John Mills – both of whom I regard highly.
    Probably worth a go-round anyway…….


  18. Yet another religious themed Western comes to mind but sadly it’s one of those impossible (in the correct 2.35 ratio) to find .RegalScope films. MIRACLE OF THE HILLS (1959) Paul Landres Starring Rex Reason got positive reviews in the trade papers at the time. Variety: “A budget inspirational Western made primarily with the Bible Belt in mind.However its good enough not only to do well in that market but also to fill programs in more sophisticated situations”
    An exhibitors quote: “Fine film all around,should have been in color” Another Paul Landres RegalScope Western from 1959 is the much sought after LONE TEXAN starring Willard Parker and Grant Williams. Again positive trade paper reviews.
    Boxoffice: “This film is first rate”
    Variety: “A strikingly good film.”

    With all the mega billions Disney are making and having taken over Fox wouldn’t it be wonderful if they revived the Fox Archive MOD series and released those Regalscope films in the correct ratio…I’m not holding my breath.

    While on the subject of Paul Landres it’s worth mentioning OREGON PASSAGE has CinemaScope location work that equals PILLARS OF THE SKY albeit on a much tighter budget. The climax does reflect the aforementioned ARROWHEAD but overall the film is far more Native American friendly.

    Coming in November from Koch,Germany on Blu Ray is Arnold Laven’s THE GLORY GUYS. In the days of the strong pound I forked out on the Twilight Time version and I must admit it’s one of the very best high definition transfers of a Western that I’ve ever seen. THE GLORY GUYS was an attempt to see if there was still life in the big budget Cavalry Vs Indians Western to add appeal peppered with appealing up and coming young stars. THE GLORY GUYS is similar in some ways to A DISTANT TRUMPET which Blake mentioned and A THUNDER OF DRUMS. Harve Presnell (as a rugged frontier scout???) is a drawback to THE GLORY GUYS but superb photography (James Wong Howe) and stirring combat scenes save the day. I understand the impressive extras from the Twilight Time version are carried over on the Koch release.

    Finally (phew!) If Toby is still with all this Koch are also releasing A CHANGE OF HABIT on Blu Ray (Elvis and Nuns) knowing what a rabid Elvis fan he is!


  19. Yes, I had seen that, I already have the excellent Aussie Blu Ray from a few years back. I somehow thought Kino had released this one but it was in fact Twilight Time. HOUR OF THE GUN as you say is excellent and it’s fun to compare it to Sturges’ other Earp movie.


  20. Well – a rather belated comment on this thread but I have just watched “PILLARS OF THE SKY” and Colin asked me to come back with my thoughts, once watched.
    I found it to be a mature and intelligently-written western. Most enjoyable too, as Colin predicted.
    Ward Bond was excellent as usual. I noticed the coat and hat he wore in the film he carried forward to his role as Major Seth Adams on TV the following year, by the way.
    Jeff Chandler was terrific as the tough, no-nonsense professional.

    I bought the Pegasus Entertainment release from 2011 and will say that the ‘scope print transfer is an absolute beauty. I doubt that BluRay would be able to improve on it much at all. Stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s good to hear you enjoyed the movie, Jerry, not that I held too many doubts on the score anyway.
      I have a hunch all the various DVD releases will have have been off the same master supplied by Universal – Pegasus put out some fine looking discs of Universal titles around that time – and it should therefore looks more than fine.


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