Walk The Proud Land

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WALK THE PROUD LAND—-after decades of reinforcing the image of Native Americans as murderous fiends, select movies of the 50s started to to showcase them in a progressively sympathetic light in fare like Broken Arrow, Devil’s Doorway, Chief Crazy Horse and White Feather. This 1956 Audie Murphy vehicle is the truth-based story of John Clum, the Indian agent who helped bring in Geronimo and keep some peace on the San Carlos Reservation.*  He had to fight the bitter resentment of the Army, used to raking profit off the dismal operations, as well as the natural hostility of some of the tribesmen, people of various disunited bands thrown together by far-off government bureaucracy and indifference.

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It’s a sincere effort, but regrettably dull and cliched. Murphy does his standard okay work. but Jesse Hibbs’ direction is uninspired, there’s virtually no action to add any dollops of excitement over the 89 minutes, and a clash of female co-stars comes off in limp fashion.

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Anne Bancroft, who probably giggled when recalling this, masquerades as an Apache maiden, a servant-gift to agent Clum, and Pat Crowley plays the white girl who becomes his wife: the two don’t like each other. Bancroft is made up and dressed to be more earthy and appealing, in the best Hollywood ‘sexy-savage’ tradition.

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Good color and sound mark the production, which gave jobs to Charles Drake, Tommy Rall, Robert Warwick, Jay Silverheels, Anthony Caruso, Morris Ankrum and Addison Richards. Murphy’s audience didn’t want their action hero to play a pacifist, with this outing corralling around $1,500,000, disappointing enough that the actor scotched his hopes of making a picture about the great western artist Charles M. Russell.  Journeyman Universal Studios director Hibbs had steered the the star in his biggest hit, To Hell And Back, and would work with him a total of six times.

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*Well, credit for trying: after Clum left his three-year term in 1877, his successor freed Geronimo, and the vicious Southwest guerrilla warfare with his Chiricahua band continued for fifteen years. Clum went on to become Mayor of Tombstone and the founder-editor of its newspaper, a backer of the Earps and lifelong friend of Wyatt. He died in 1932, age 81.

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