Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Last Wagon

I've mentioned before that I appreciate Richard Widmark as an actor more now than I did when I was a kid. He's the star of another of those Westerns that I missed somehow, THE LAST WAGON, and does a fine job in a pretty hardboiled role.

He plays an outlaw known as Comanche Todd, so called because he was raised by the Comanche after he was the only survivor from a massacre. As THE LAST WAGON opens, he's on the run from the law, charged with murder.

It's not long before he's captured by a brutal sheriff who plans to take him back to hang. There seems to be some personal history between the two of them, and that comes into play later on in the plot. The two of them encounter a wagon train that's on its way through Apache country, and sure enough the wagons are attacked. By a fluke, there are about half a dozen survivors, including Todd, and since he's the only one with any experience, it falls to him to get the others through to safety.

On that simple storyline hangs quite a bit of moral ambiguity and complexity. It's a bit of a "Grand Hotel" plot with an assortment of characters, each with his or her own back-story. There's some romance along the way, as Widmark's character falls for an immigrant woman played by Felicia Farr, and a lot more action including an encounter with the U.S. Cavalry and some big explosions before the true climax comes in a tense courtroom scene.

As I mentioned above, Widmark is excellent as Comanche Todd, and the rest of the cast, which includes Nick Adams from THE REBEL and Tommy Rettig from LASSIE, is pretty good, too. The movie looks great, with a lot of long shots of spectacular Arizona scenery. It was directed by Delmer Daves, never a particular favorite of mine but a director who made some pretty good films anyway, and co-written by James Edward Grant, who who scripted quite a few films for John Ford. THE LAST WAGON is a good film. I never quite got caught up in it the way I thought I might, but I still think it's worth watching.

It also serves as an example of how times have really changed. Talking about the Comanche girl he married when she was fifteen, Widmark says, "With girls and horses, the younger you break 'em in, the better." Any character with a line of dialogue like that in a movie these days would be a despicable villain instead of the hero.


August West said...

If you ever get to the Sedona AZ area it's quite easy to find the locations of where most of the scenes were shot for "The Last Wagon." I did it a few years ago and they are all beautiful.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.