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Last of the Comanches

Last of the Comanches(1953)

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teaser Last of the Comanches (1953)

One of the most remarkable war films released during World War II was Columbia Pictures' desert adventure Sahara (1943), which starred Humphrey Bogart, on loan from Warner Bros. The film, directed by Zoltan Korda, was unusual for its international cast and crew and its minimal use of wartime propaganda it told of an American tank platoon joining forces with British troops against the Nazis in North Africa. Lack of water becomes the main dilemma for the squad and a group of civilians and enemy combatants who join them. The lack of water is turned into a weapon as the Sergeant played by Bogart tricks oncoming Nazis into believing that the Allies control a functioning well at an abandoned post.

Sahara was remade quite faithfully ten years later as a western, Last of the Comanches (1953). Directed by Andre De Toth, the film shifts the action to the American West of 1876. As Cavalry Sgt. Matt Trainor (Broderick Crawford) leads a patrol to negotiate with renegade Comanche chief Black Cloud, they stop in the small town of Dry Buttes. During the night, the town is raided by Comanches and burned to the ground. Trainor and five of his men survive and attempt to head back to their base at Fort Macklin. They encounter a stagecoach and band together as a group to defend against attack and conserve water. Among the stagecoach riders are salesman Henry Ruppert (Chubby Johnson), scout Prophet Satterlee (Milton Parsons), and Julia Lanning (Barbara Hale), the sister of Trainor's commander at Ft. Macklin. The group picks up more stragglers, including gunrunner Denver Kinnaird (Hugh Sanders) and Little Knife (Johnny Stewart), a boy who had been imprisoned on Black Cloud's reservation. The group finds a trickle of drinking water at a deserted mission, and Trainor decides to make a stand against the approaching Comanche Indians, who are also in dire need of water.

Last of the Comanches featured one actor who also had appeared in Sahara - Lloyd Bridges played one of the tank battalion survivors in that film, as well as the very similar role of one of the Cavalrymen in the later Western. The film belongs to Broderick Crawford, though, as the Cavalry Sergeant who must make tough and unpopular decisions when the situation seems hopeless, yet keep enough wits about him to fool the approaching enemy. Broderick Crawford was in the midst of a flurry of roles following his Best Actor Oscar win for All the King's Men (1949); he was one of the few film stars of the early 1950s who easily bounced between roles on television (in anthology dramas like Four Star Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre, and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars) and prestigious parts on the big screen. Two years after appearing in Last of the Comanches Crawford began his long run on the series Highway Patrol (1955-1959).

The war film Sahara featured an all-male cast, so the prim stagecoach traveler played by Barbara Hale in Last of the Comanches had no equivalent in that movie. Hale had been a busy actress since the early 1940s, first as a supporting player at RKO in films from the Falcon series and, occasionally, more notable movies such as The Boy with Green Hair (1948). Hale moved on to leading roles, most notably in The Window (1949) at RKO and Lorna Doone (1951) for Columbia. Shortly after Last of the Comanches Hale began her career in television, and it was in this medium she became a household name - as Della Street from the long-running TV series Perry Mason (1957-66) as well as its numerous TV movie spin-offs.

Last of the Comanches director Andre De Toth and his two color cinematographers (Ray Cory and Charles Lawton Jr.) may have felt a need to compete with the sterling black-and-white work done in Sahara by director Zoltan Korda and ace cinematographer Rudolph Mate&eacc. There are several interesting photographic flourishes in Last of the Comanches, including long sequences at sunset in which the speaking characters appear entirely in silhouette, and instances of hand-held camera shots during some action scenes. De Toth's next film would be his most famous The House of Wax (1953), the first film from a major studio (Warner Bros) shot in 3-D. Famously, De Toth was given this important assignment in spite of the fact that he wore an eyepatch and could not see depth himself. As Last of the Comanches demonstrates, though, he had a terrific eye for composition which gave a great sense of depth to otherwise "flat" films.

Producer: Buddy Adler
Director: Andre De Toth
Screenplay: Kenneth Gamet
Cinematography: Ray Cory, Charles Lawton Jr.
Film Editing: Al Clark
Art Direction: Ross Bellah
Music: George Duning
Cast: Broderick Crawford (Sgt. Matt Trainor), Barbara Hale (Julia Lanning), Johnny Stewart (Little Knife), Lloyd Bridges (Jim Starbuck), Mickey Shaughnessy (Rusty Potter), George Mathews (O'Rattigan).

by John M. Miller

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