Saturday, June 19, 2021

Walk the Proud Land

I hadn't intended to blog about two westerns back to back, but I noticed yesterday evening that a movie sitting on my DVR, Walk the Proud Land is coming up on StarzEncore Westerns tomorrow at 2:43 PM. With that in mind, I watched it to do a review on today.

Audie Murphy stars as John Clum, a real person who would go on to be mayor of Tombstone, AZ at the time of the famous gunfight at the OK Corral. But this movie is set several years earlier, in 1874, when Clum first shows up in the Arizona Territory to be an agent from the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the San Carlos Reservation for Apaches. It's a difficult job, in part because the restive Apaches under chief Eskiminzin (Robert Warwick) and rebellious Geronimo (Jay Silverheels) don't care for the white man or their agents, and in part because the Cavalry only supports force. Clum has a more humanistic attitude toward the Apache.

At the reservation, Clum meets Tianay (a hilariously miscast Anne Bancroft), an Apache widow who is attached to Clum's residents and acts as a sort of wife-in-waiting even though Clum has a fiancée in Mary (Pat Crowley). Boy isn't Mary going to be surprised when she gets out to the reservation and finds Tianay and a husband who can't quite satisfactorily explain how Apache culture led to his and Tianay's relationship.

In any case, as I said earlier, Clum wants to treat the Apache with more dignity, although it's going to require some work on their part as attacking the whites creates obvious problems. Not all of the provisions Clum orders are reaching the reservation, and the Apaches say that they would be just as comforable hunting for their meat, leading Clum to request that the Apaches be armed. If you've seen enough westerns, you'll know that the Cavalry is alarmed by this, but Clum gets his way. He even gets the Apache to have some autonomy on the reservation, setting up a sort of police force and parallel justice system that will enforce the laws on the reservation, which causes problems when a couple of white hunters get caught hunting on Apache land.

Clum's actions do win sume grudging respect for the Apache on the part of the cavalry, and some respect for him personally from Eskiminzin. But Geronimo still isn't happy, and plans a revolt with the guns that they've gotten from Clum. Clum and the tribal police force have to go round up Geronimo or face being killed....

Audie Murphy wasn't a bad actor, but as with Elvis Presley in the 1960s, Murphy get typecast by the studio and never really given a chance to show his range. Walk the Proud Land is interesting in that Murphy isn't quite playing the sort of Old West action hero that he would in a lot of the other westerns. Murphy does a good job here. The less said about Bancroft, the better.

Having read a little more about Clum, I get the impression that Walk the Proud Land has a lot of the same problems with reality that many Hollywood biopics have, having to fit a real person's story into the coventions of Hollywood, and even more so, western, storytelling. The romantic conflict is irritating, and the Apache dance sequence at Clum and Mary's wedding goes on too long. But overall, Walk the Proud Land is an interesting enough western.

Walk the Proud Land is available on DVD from a pricey Universal MOD disc.

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