Cast & Crew
In 1863, as the tide of the Civil War turns against the South, Confederate captain Alan Westcott is assigned to an undercover mission in Lawrence, Kansas. Traveling as former Union officer turned horse-trader Michael Davis, Westcott carries new orders to infamous guerrilla war leader, Capt. William Clarke Quantrill. Arriving in Lawrence, Westcott meets the local Union commander, Maj. Matthews, who warns him of Quantrill's continual raids, then presents him to the town's Vigilance Committee, which includes Judge Wood and Sheriff Alden. As part of Westcott's cover, he offers to sell the army much needed horses, and Matthews agrees. Wood is suspicious of the newcomer, however, and asks Westcott if he knows former school teacher Charlie Hart. Westcott denies knowing Hart then, a short while later, surreptitiously meets with fellow Confederate agent Fred Thomas. Fred informs Westcott where he can contact Quantrill and, under Westcott's questioning, identifies Hart as a local man who shocked the town when he betrayed and murdered two friends involved in assisting runaway slaves. At the local stable, Westcott meets young Joel Welter and his attractive aunt Sue and decides to rent a room at Sue's boarding house. That afternoon, Westcott follows Fred to his meeting with Quantrill's second in command, George Todd, and watches as the pair is surprised by Alden and a small posse. Although Fred panics and is killed attempting an escape, Westcott pulls a bandana over his face and rescues Todd. In gratitude Todd takes him directly to Quantrill, who is hiding in the hills with his girlfriend Kate Clarke. Westcott relates that the new orders from Confederate headquarters are to destroy the Union arsenal in Lawrence, which pleases Quantrill. Westcott then asks Quantrill to provide him with horses to authenticate his cover with the Union army. That evening at the boarding house, Sue impresses Westcott with her sincerity when she tells him that, despite the murder of her and Joel's parents in an early Quantrill raid, she remains happy to continue living in Lawrence. The next day, Wood visits Westcott at the boarding house to confide that he believes Quantrill is actually Charlie Hart. Wood explains that Sue was engaged to Hart before the murders and, sensing Westcott's attraction to Sue, cautions him not to mislead her. Later when Westcott joins Matthews at headquarters, he finds out that Union reinforcements are scheduled to arrive soon. On his way to tell Quantrill, Westcott runs into Kate, who flirts with him, then advises him to beware of Quantrill, who is dangerous. At the hideout, Westcott confronts Quantrill about being Hart. When Quantrill angrily admits his identity, Westcott cautions him that Lawrence is a military target, and the raid is not an opportunity for vengeance. Quantrill reluctantly agrees, then takes Westcott to a meeting with Indians to trade for horses. Westcott suspects that the natives are renegades and shortly after concluding the deal, the group is stopped by two Cherokees who declare that the horses have been stolen from their tribe. To Westcott's dismay, Quantrill callously murders the Cherokees. Furious over Quantrill's hot-headed, reckless action, Westcott orders him not to participate in the arsenal raid. Quantrill does not protest, but privately continues plans to turn the raid into a vengeful attack on Lawrence. Meanwhile, Westcott takes the horses to Matthews, who is pleased with the deal. When Joel excitedly informs Westcott that there is a great deal of activity at the stables, involving several pack mules and stages, Westcott realizes that the arsenal is being transferred. As Westcott prepares leave town to tell Quantrill's men about the transfer, he is stopped by Alden and brought before the accusing Cherokee chief. Westcott insists that he bought the horses legitimately, but cannot provide a bill of sale and is jailed by Alden. When Wood visits Westcott to relay Sue's support, Westcott asks to see Joel, then uses the boy to escape. At the hideout, Westcott tells the men that they should wait to strike the arsenal transport until after it departs Lawrence. Quantrill refuses, insisting that they attack the town immediately. Westcott then attempts to take command of Quantrill's men, but is quickly overpowered. After Quantrill and the men depart, Kate gets Westcott's lone guard, Hager, drunk, then knocks him out and helps Westcott escape. Hager revives and shoots Kate when she tries to prevent him from following Westcott. Westcott then ambushes Hager and kills him, before rushing to Lawrence to warn of the impending attack by Quantrill. The town leaders remain skeptical of Westcott until he confirms Wood's suspicion that Quantrill is Hart. The town rapidly prepares a defense and as they wait, Westcott confesses his identity to Wood, who assures him that Sue will understand. Quantrill and his men make two savage attacks upon the town, but, with Westcott's help are beaten back. After Quantrill is killed by Westcott, Westcott surrenders to Matthews. With Wood's intercession, Westcott is sentenced to military prison only until the war's end, when he intends to return and settle in Lawrence.
Thomas B. Henry
Jerado De Cordovier
The real William Quantrill was a Confederate sympathizer who ran raids along the Missouri Kansas border during the Civil War. Those raids led up to his horrifying raid on Lawrence, Kansas, which was firmly anti-slavery, where he and his men murdered almost 200 civilians. Playing him in the movie, and doing a good job of portraying a man of that low caliber realistically, is Leo Gordon, the man Don Siegel once described as the scariest man he'd ever met. Gordon himself had been a criminal (convicted for armed robbery before his movie career) and if anyone could play someone like Quantrill at the time, it was Gordon.
But to make the story palatable to a wider audience, another character was introduced, one that would work with Quantrill but have ethical conflicts that would turn him around. That character, Westcott, played by Steve Cochrane, is the center of the movie and the ambiguity of his character makes the movie more suspenseful than it otherwise would have been, since the history is already known.
The movie begins with a line of Union cavalry moving through Missouri on their way to find Quantrill. Westcott (Steve Cochran) pulls up and presents papers showing he is a horse supplier for the Union. They let him join the line and make their way to a ridge where Quantrill's men ambush them. During the fight, both sides lose men with Westcott even suggesting a plan to the Union commander that ends the standoff, further cementing his credentials to the commander. Later, when they reach town, the judge who is helping to uncover Confederate sympathizers suspects Westcott might not be on the up and up and lets him know it. When he falls in love with the judge's daughter, things get complicated.
Steve Cochran was a good choice to play the villain/hero since he'd played so many villains before and the audience expected it. And while he never became a huge star he was legendary in Hollywood nonetheless. His legend came from his womanizing more than anything else. On and off the set he was considered a true ladies man but in the movies never became much of a sex symbol. He played so many heavies because he didn't have the kind of roguish charm that turned former heavies like Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart into stars before him. And sadly, he took his love of womanizing to such extremes that it led to his death in 1965. After taking on an all-female crew for his yacht, none of whom actually knew anything about yachting, he set sail for Guatemala from Acapulco, and when he became seriously ill, no one on the yacht but him knew how to sail it. He died from his infection and the yacht drifted aimlessly for over a week, with his corpse onboard, before the "crew" was discovered and rescued.
The real standouts of Quantrill's Raiders are Leo Gordon and Will Wright. Gordon was perfect for the part and plays Quantrill with so much dripping slime and sleaze that the viewer feels dirty just watching him on the screen. As for Will Wright, one of the greatest character actors in all of Hollywood, his judge is the perfect balance of caution and action. He wants to protect his daughter but will do what he has to stop Quantrill. Rounding out the cast are Diane Brewster and Gale Robbins, the two love interests of Westcott and Quantrill, respectively, and in a small role, Glenn Strange, better known to most classic movie fans as the other guy who played Frankenstein's monster. Directed ably by Edward Bernds, who is most famous for directing the Three Stooges several times, the movie is exciting, suspenseful, and the best balance one could bring to a story with such unsavory characters.
By Greg Ferrara
William Clarke Quantrill (1837-1865) led one of the most savage fighting units in the American Civil War and was an early proponent of guerrilla warfare. As mentioned in the film, Quantrill frequently used the alias "Charles Hart" during a crime-spree period before the Civil War. In Missouri, Quantrill married Kate King, who adopted Quantrill's middle name and was known, as the film indicates, as Kate Clarke.
Although Quantrill's Raiders climaxes with Quantrill's infamous attack on Lawrence, KS, the film depicts only a few dozen men with Quantrill. In reality, Quantrill utilized over four hundred men, who killed over 150 Lawrence men in their search for Senator James H. Lane, a leader in the struggle for a free-soil Kansas. Unlike in the film, Quantrill survived the raid to be killed in Kentucky two years later by Union forces. For more information on Quantrill, please refer to the entry for Republic's 1940 production of Dark Command (AFI Catalog of Feature Films: 1931-40).