Sunday, October 25, 2015


For those of you in the US who have the Encore package of channels, you have a chance to catch the western Warpath tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM on Encore Westerns. I don't think it's available on any video format, so those of you without the Encore package are probably out of luck.

Edmond O'Brien stars as John Vickers. In the opening scene, he shows up at some stereotypical old west town, where he finds a man and questions him. Then Vickers gets in a gunfight with the man and shoots him dead after the other guy draws on him first! Thankfully the local marshall will testify to the fact that Vickers was drawn upon and shot in self-defense, as it will allow him to leave town without such icky inconveniences as having to stand trial. It turns out that there's a train depot in town and a bunch of cavalrymen are going to be getting on the train there. Vickers is planning to join them. But before that he meets lovely Molly Quade (young Polly Bergen), who is being harassed by drunk Sergent O'Hara (Forrest Tucker). Vickers stands up for Molly and gets in a fight with O'Hara, winning the fight.

That fight is ultimately a bit of a problem, because Vickers is on his way north to the Dakota Territory to enlist with Custer's 7th Cavalry. O'Hara, for his part, is already an officer in the 7th. And more interestingly, Vickers was an officer in the Civil War, and a good one. But when he gets to the fort to enlist in the cavalry, he insists on starting off as a private. Clearly Vickers has some sort of ulterior motive.

Sure enough, it turns out that he killed the guy back in the opening scene because that guy was one of three people who ambushed and killed his fiancée several years earlier. Vickers basically lost the will to do anything other than find the people who killed her, and has spent all these years trying to find the three guys who did it. He has reason to believe that the other two are in the 7th Cavalry, which is why he's come here to enlist and presumably why he doesn't want any of the responsibilities of being an officer getting in the way.

Vickers gets put in O'Hara's batallion, and the two quickly develop a mutual hatred for each other. O'Hara doesn't care for Vickers largely because of that fight, while Vickers is beginning to get the distinct feeling that O'Hara might have been one of the three guys who killed his fiancée. Oh, there's also the fact that both of them have taken a liking to Molly. Molly's father Sam (Dean Jagger) seems to prefer O'Hara to Vickers.

I mentioned a few paragraphs ago that these folks are part of Custer's 7th Cavalry. That name Custer (played here in a small role by James Millican) is important, because anybody who knows their American history will know that Custer was the general who led the cavalry into the disastrous battle at Little Big Horn where he and his men were wiped out by the Sioux. So we can expect that there are skirmishes with the Sioux in this film, and that the looming battle is going to play an important part in the plot. There's really no other reason to have Custer as a character in a western.

Everything comes together when a bunch of settlers come out looking for a cavalry escort to the lands they're settling. O'Hara has deserted because he is in fact one of the people who killed Vickers' fiancée, while Vickers is leading the settlers. Who should show up in the migration but the Quades? Sam has good reason for taking up with these people moving further west. But before that can happen the Indians raid the wagon train and take all of the key characters hostage....

There's a lot going on in Warpath that's been seen in a whole bunch of other westerns. There's nothing particularly wrong with Warpath, but there's nothing particularly noteworthy about the movie, either. Pedestrian sounds like it has negative connotations, so I don't think that's the word I'd want to use to describe this movie. It's competently made, and certainly entertains, but at the same time there's something about it that just doesn't make it particularly memorable. Still, I think fans of the genre will enjoy this one. It's also in very nice Technicolor, although it was done a few years before Cinemascope came around to make the scenery really stand out.

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