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Not to be confused with the Disneyland TV episodes produced in 1954-1956 which starred Fess Parker as the true-life frontiersman and Alamo hero (and which launched a nationwide craze), Davy Crockett, Indian Scout (1950) is a low-budget western adventure from Edward Small Productions, released by United Artists. The Davy Crockett on view here is played by George Montgomery in homespun style, although there is no coonskin cap to be seen, and this Davy is occupied with the Indian Wars of the 1840s, more than a decade after the fall of the Alamo. That's because this cowboy hat-sporting frontier hero is a fictional nephew of the more famous Davy Crockett, which the title doesn't clarify and is revealed during tossed off dialogue a good twenty minutes into the picture.
The picture opens with a thuddingly literal narration setting up the time and circumstance; we are told "in 1848, the United States and Mexico signed a peace treaty that opened up the great Southwest to the wagons of the Pioneers, but when they came to occupy it, they found a lot of other early Americans who didn't know or care about our deal with Mexico. They had the idea it was their country." A wagon train with an Army escort is attacked by Indians, incurring many losses. Once the party reaches Fort Gardner, Col. Pollard (John Hamilton) convenes a hearing he suspects that a spy within the party tipped off Tribal Chiefs to the movements of the wagons. Mr. Simms (Erik Rolf) leaps ups during the hearing to accuse Red Hawk (Phillip Reed), a Cherokee. Army scout Davy Crockett (George Montgomery) vouches for Red Hawk and explains that it was he who arranged a meeting with Sleeping Fox (Chief Thundercloud), who told Crockett of the tribes' intent to wage war on the settlers. In flashback, Davy and Red Hawk rescue a lone wagon from an attack. The wagon is occupied by Frances Oatman (Ellen Drew), a schoolteacher from St. Louis, and her driver, a deaf mute named Ben (Paul Guilfoyle). Oatman joins with the wagon train that is attacked. Later, Crockett accompanies the wagon train through a mountain pass, but keeps the exact route secret in an effort to have the spy reveal themselves during the trek.
Davy Crockett, Indian Scout was made at a time when movie westerns were starting to reveal some sympathy for the plight of the Native Americans who clashed with settlers over treaties that are constantly broken. Delmer Daves' Broken Arrow and Anthony Mann's Devil's Doorway (both also from 1950) were certainly more nuanced and subtle in their treatment of the issue; the dialogue from Davy Crockett, Indian Scout is clunky and obvious (the screenplay is by Richard Schayer from a story by Ford Beebe), but the intent is clear in this campfire scene featuring the two leads:
Davy: I wonder why it can't always be peaceful like this. There's a powerful lot of land in this country enough for everybody, Indians and the Whites alike, if they'd only portion it out.
Frances: That's been tried by treaties. Settlers always move into the Indian's lands.
Davy: Yeah, I aim to do sumpthin' about that someday. I'd like to go to Washington like my uncle did the famous Davy Crockett.
Some of the exciting and well-staged scenes of wagon trains braving the narrow mountain passage and doing battle with Indians were "borrowed" from an earlier Edward Small/ United Artists feature, the superior Kit Carson (1940), directed by George B. Seitz.
Reviews of Davy Crockett, Indian Scout were blunt and not very positive. Writing in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther noted that the film had two distinctions: "There's nary a cowboy in sight and its hero is not the Davy Crockett of Alamo fame. He's only the famous frontiersman's cousin (sic)....As played by George Montgomery, he's a gent who recognizes that there are good and bad Indians and even saves his sidekick, Red Hawk, and Frances, that brave's girl friend, from the Army's wrath. In between there's lots of fireworks and little logic." In The Rotarian, Jane Lockhart wrote that the movie's "good cast [is] wasted on a film so filled with clichs [and] fantastic heroic exploits by unerring scouts as to be almost a burlesque of movie westerns."
The title of Davy Crockett, Indian Scout was shortened to just Indian Scout in its early airings on television, no doubt in a respectful nod to the popular Disney series, and perhaps in a bid to rectify the misleading nature of the original moniker.
Producer: Edward Small
Director: Lew Landers
Screenplay: Richard Schayer; Ford Beebe (story)
Cinematography: George Diskant, John Mescall
Art Direction: Martin Obzina, Rudolph Sternad
Music: Paul Sawtell
Film Editing: Kenneth Crane, Stewart Frye
Cast: George Montgomery (Davy Crockett), Ellen Drew (Frances Oatman), Phillip Reed (Red Hawk), Noah Beery, Jr. (Tex McGee), Paul Guilfoyle (Ben), Addison Richards (Capt. Weightman), Robert Barrat (James Lone Eagle), Erik Rolf (Mr. Simms), William Wilkerson (High Tree), John Hamilton (Col. Pollard)
By John M. Miller