Thursday, May 29, 2014


In the mid-1800s, the western United States was still largely unexplored, and trappers often served as guides for pioneers seeking a route to California. When we meet trapper Kit Carson (Jon Hall, pictured), he is on the road with his buddies Ape (Ward Bond) and Lopez (Harold Huber); they'd be happy to settle in one place for a while, but as Ape puts it, Carson has "horizon fever," always wanting to see what's on the other side of the hill. The three run into an ambush by Shoshone Indians with rifles—Carson suspects that someone has armed them and put them up to mischief—but they escape. When they arrive at Fort Bridger in Wyoming, the last outpost of civilization before the long trek to California, and just when it seems like Carson might agree to stay a spell, he gets talked into guiding a wagon train of settlers led by Paul Terry (Clayton Moore) to California. For a while, they're accompanied by a group of cavalry led by Captain Fremont (Dana Andrews). Both Carson and Fremont wind up smitten with young and lovely settler Dolores Murphy (Lynn Bari); she seems to favor Carson at first, but soon comes to find him a bit too "savage" for her taste, a judgment triggered primarily by the way he and his men torture a captured Indian to get information—though as it turns out, the Indian is actually a Mexican, and Carson realizes that the Mexican General Castro is the mastermind behind the attacking Shoshones, trying to scare away settlers. Fremont and his men take their leave of Carson and Terry's wagon train, but further attacks drive them back together, and soon Carson and Fremont have put aside their differences to plan their move against Castro.

This indie western/adventure is quite fun, more compelling than many of the big studio westerns of the era. Part of it, somewhat surprisingly, is the solid acting. I don't typically associate Jon Hall, beefcakey star of mid-40s exotic adventure tales like ARABIAN NIGHTS, with good acting, but he makes a fine laid-back hero here, and Andrews is a good foil for him. Bari is just as good, and I like the fact that at the end, even though she settles for Andrews, she still seems torn between the two. Ward Bond makes a perfect sidekick to Hall, and distinctive-looking character actress Renie Riano does the same for Bari. Clayton Moore is surprisingly handsome as Terry—I'm more used to seeing Moore as the masked Lone Ranger—though he's not around very long. Good old C. Henry Gordon is quite villainous as Castro. The film also looks good—it helps that some of this was shot on locations in Utah and Arizona rather than just on Hollywood sets. I suspect that this strays pretty far from historical truth, but what 40s historical film doesn't? Good fun. [Netflix streaming]

No comments: