Warpath

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WARPATH  is what vengeance obsessed Edmond O’Brien is on, seeking those responsible for his gal’s death. He goes so far as joining the 7th Cavalry to track them down, thinking they may be hiding out there. He could have picked an easier time to do it, as it’s 1876 and Custer is preparing to fight the massing Sioux & Cheyenne, thus the dual-meaning title. I remember watching this decades ago as a little kid, thinking it was okay, and was surprised on a recent viewing to find it’s actually pretty good.

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The plot is a bit much, and it goes off the rails in the wrap-up of its 95 minute gallop, with convenient motivation twists that ring false and a too abrupt, unfelt finale, but until then it displays good qualities. The acting is decent, with O’Brien solid as ever (a somewhat offbeat lead for a western, stocky as he is) and formidable bad guys in Forrest Tucker and Dean Jagger. Polly Bergen is a surprise–she’s fine, at 21 pretty as a peach in Technicolor, with startlingly arresting eyes that could give Liz Taylor’s peepers competition.

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Byron Haskin directed, bringing muscularity to the action scenes, with cameraman Ray Rennehan framing pleasing vistas of the wide open Montana locations. It’s a mid-sized production that’s makes the most of its settings and whooping horsebacked extras (members of the Crow tribe), thanks to these pros calling shots behind the lenses. Paul Sawtell provides a robust score.

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Action highlight is a superbly staged battle on an island in a river canyon. Loud and energetic, with an array of panoramic vantage points and roughhouse hand-to-hand melee, it’s a fictional version of the historical Battle of Beecher’s Island (which took place in Colorado in 1868 and didn’t involve the 7th). Western fanciers will approve.

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This did well for a film of its scope, earning rentals of $1,250,000. With Harry Carey Jr., Wallace Ford, James Millican, Paul Fix, Robert Bray, Douglas Spencer, Louis Jean Heydt, Frank Ferguson and Walter Sande.

Polly Bergen

Pretty Polly publicity pose

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