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Escape From Fort Bravo
USA 1954
Directed by John Sturges
Running time 98 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars


One can barely keep the name of John Ford out of one’s mind when watching this Western. Not because it is up to the master’s standard but because, despite following closely to the Fordian style, it falls so far short of it.

The film is set in 1863 in the Arizona Territory during the Civil War. Fort Bravo is both an internment camp for Confederate prisoners and an outpost beleaguered by murderous Mescalero Indians. William Holden plays tough cavalry Captain Roper who believes that the best way to keep the Rebs under control is to instil them with fear. His macho ways get a dint, however, when the beautiful Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker) arrives for the upcoming wedding of her friend, Alice Owens (Polly Bergen), the colonel's daughter who is marrying the West Point educated Lt. Beecher (Richard Anderson ). Roper is smitten but he doesn’t realize that she has really come to free her Confederate  boyfriend, Captain John Marsh (John Forsythe). They duly escape and Roper comes after them. He catches them, but sure enough the Mescaleros bushwhack them and, as the script has been announcing from the get-go they have to fight together for their lives.

Based on a story co-written by Australia’s own Michael Pate, all the typical Fordian elements are here – the dust-bowl fort, the sternly masculine hero, his young foil, the pretty women, the celebratory dance, the guitar-backed vocal interlude, the marauding hostiles, even Roper’s garden out back recalls that of Captain Nathan Brittles in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon (1949). The trouble is that, in general, the film suffers from the sanitized, ersatz production values of the 50s, with too many obviously fake exteriors and Parker's Carla, straight off the stagecoach sporting a wardrobe and a coiffure of which Scarlett O’Hara would have been envious.  In particular the Roper character cries out for the rough-hewn charms of John Wayne, Holden being far too urbane to convince whilst John Forsythe looks like he has not long doffed his pipe and carpet slippers. The highpoint of the film comes at the end when the Whites are pinned down by Indians.

Filmed on location in California's Death Valley, it is briefly interesting with the Indians being shown to have better tactical skills than their apparently usual practice of running point-blank at the soldiers’ guns, driving Roper to the act of sacrificing himself for Carla, Beecher, and Marsh. Sadly the film falls back on the standard “here comes the Cavalry” ending and another stock Western is added to the pile.

 

 

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