Cast & Crew
In Aug 1876, Black Cloud and his elusive renegade Comanches, the only Indians not at peace with the white inhabitants of the Southwest, attack a scouting patrol seeking the Comanche chief as it stops for water at the desert town of Dry Buttes. During the night, Black Cloud sends a stampede of horses into the town, followed by overwhelming numbers of Comanches. The town is burned to the ground, and all but six cavalrymen are killed. These survivors, led by flinty Sgt. Matt Trainor, head into the desert for the one-hundred-mile trek back to Fort Macklin. Not long after their departure, they encounter a stagecoach driven by Romany O'Rattigan and carrying three passengers--argumentative whiskey salesman Henry Ruppert, former scout Prophet Satterlee, and elegant Julia Lanning, the sister of Fort Macklin's commander, Maj. Lanning. The threat of Comanche attack unites the two parties, and the thirsty soldiers are relieved to see that O'Rattigan carries a large water barrel on the coach. When a group of Comanches later attacks the coach, however, the water barrel is shot full of holes. Trainor takes the offensive and the Indians retreat, but Trainor now believes that the only safe route to the fort is through the hills. Because this route will add miles to the trip, they decide to take Satterlee's advice and visit an abandoned trading post in search of water. On the way, they encounter a man who identifies himself as a cattle buyer but whom trooper Jim Starbuck recognizes as a murderer named Denver Kinnaird. Trainor places Kinnaird under arrest, and the party moves on to the trading post. There they learn, to their dismay, that the well Satterlee described has gone dry. Buried in the sand are quantities of carefully wrapped guns that look just like the ones Black Cloud has been using, and Trainor realizes that the weapons were placed there by the gunrunner who has been supplying the Comanches. Not knowing what else to do, Trainor rations the rest of the water. While on night watch, young soldier Billy Creel worries that they will all die soon. His friend, Rusty Potter, tries to distract him with stories, but to no avail. The next day, the group comes upon a Kiowa boy named Little Knife, who attends a reservation school but was captured by Black Cloud while hunting. Little Knife, having chewed through his bindings and escaped, asserts that Black Cloud hates all Indians who are at peace with the white man, but Trainor distrusts the boy and leaves him behind. Julia argues that the boy deserves at least a drink, but Trainor relents only after seeing him running to catch up with the stagecoach. An old soldier named Floyd, who was injured in the Dry Buttes battle, passes out from lack of water, but there is none left, and he dies. Little Knife then remembers that during dry spells, his people got water at an old mission some miles away. At the mission, Little Knife locates the well, but finds that the water only drips from its source. The party catches the precious drops in buckets, but it takes hours to fill each container. The travelers take cover among the ruins of the mission as two Comanches approach. The soldiers capture them, and one of the Indians admits that the rest of the Comanches under Black Cloud are on their way to the mission to find water. Seeing a way to stop Black Cloud for good, the sergeant suggests that they send a messenger to the fort for troops, while they stall Black Cloud at the mission. Starbuck considers this plan suicidal, but the group nonetheless votes to attempt it. Because of his small size, Little Knife is given a horse and sent to Fort Macklin. When the Indians arrive, there are so many of them that Trainor is forced to light the dynamite the men have placed around the mission. The explosions are forceful enough to drive the attackers off, but trooper Martinez is killed. Little Knife, meanwhile, rides until his horse drops and then continues the journey on foot. At the mission, Black Cloud meets Trainor under a flag of truce, but because the chief will not surrender his guns, the sergeant refuses to give the Indians the many gallons of water he claims they have stocked at the mission. During another battle that night, Ruppert, who has done little else but complain, sacrifices his life to save Satterlee. The next day, O'Rattigan, dressed in his finest clothes, again tries to offer Black Cloud water in exchange for Comanche guns. Black Cloud rejects the offer, and O'Rattigan is shot in the back as he returns to the mission. Meanwhile, Little Knife, having long since run out of water, crawls slowly across the sand. The next night, as Julia watches over the wounded O'Rattigan, Starbuck sees a bill of sale in Kinnaird's gear and realizes that he is the gunrunner. Kinnaird runs from the mission, but Starbuck pursues and shoots him. The Comanches shoot Starbuck, and later, Rusty is killed while again trying to comfort Billy. Stunned, Billy pours the last of the water into the dead man's mouth, and just then, Black Cloud launches another attack. This time the Indians penetrate the mission, but as they begin to jump through windows and over walls, Maj. Lanning and his troops arrive from the fort. The cavalry finally defeats Black Cloud, after which Billy, Satterlee, Trainor, O'Rattigan, Julia and Little Knife are honored and thanked by the commander. Trainor declares that those who died gave their lives for something worthwhile.
John War Eagle
Charles Lawton Jr.
Frank [a.] Tuttle
Last of the Comanches
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
Last of the Comanches
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
Born in Mako, Hungary to the son of a civil engineer, De Toth showed an early artistic bent, having his first exhibit of paintings and sculpture at age 14 and seeing his first play produced at age 18. After obtaining his law degree from the University of Budapest, he began acting, writing and working as a cameraman for cinematographer Istvan Eiben. In 1939, he went to England, where he worked as a second unit director for Alexander Korda on The Thief of Bagdad and other films. De Toth immigrated to Hollywood in the early '40s, and worked with Korda on The Jungle Book (1942) and several other films.
He made his Hollywood directing debut with the 1943 feature, Passport to Suez, a propaganda thriller about the Nazis wanting to bomb the Suez Canal.
Impressed with his ability, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, put the director under contract for one film and the result, None Shall Escape (1944), launched his Hollywood career. This tense, sensitive drama about a Nazi officer made to examine his actions was fascinating in its structure: Set after the war's end, the film centers around the trial of a Nazi butcher, Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), in Poland and makes excellent use of flashbacks illustrating the prosecution's testimony to form the bulk of the film. In a way, the film predicted the Nuremberg Trials after the war.
de Toth earned considerable critical acclaim with the taut, intense noir thriller Pitfall (1948) which he co-wrote. Starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr, this story of a bored insurance salesman who embarks on an affair because he feels stifled in his picture-perfect home (a devoted wife, son, nice house, successful career, etc.) was striking as one of the first films to examine the American dream gone sour. De Toth followed that with a shared Oscar nomination with William Bowers for Best Original Motion Picture Story for The Gunfighter (1950), a haunting character study of a killer (Gregory Peck) trying to live down his past.
His biggest commercial hit came with House of Wax (1953), the movie that launched Vincent Price's horror film career and is still regarded as the best of all three-dimensional films to be released during that period. Unlike other directors who seemed to be dabbling with a new technique, De Toth emphasized character and plot over the special effects: Price was a sculptor rebuilding his wax figure collection (destroyed by fire) by making statues out of his murder victims. The one-eyed de Toth was an odd choice to helm a 3-D film as he could not experience the stereoscopic process, having lost an eye in his youth, but he persevered and it was the most successful 3-D film of its day.
De Toth followed that hit with some fine films: Crime Wave (1954), a hostage thriller that boasts some fine performances by Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson and excellent location shooting on the streets of Los Angeles; The Indian Fighter (1955) an exciting Kirk Douglas vehicle about a wagon master leading his train through rough territory that won accolades for depicting the Native Americans with more depth than contemporary directors; and Day of the Outlaw (1959), the stark, stylish, low budget western about an outlaw (Burl Ives) and his gang taking over taking a small town and matching wits with one of its citizens (Robert Ryan). For many, this film best articulated many of the recurring themes in De Toth's work that would be evaluated only decades later by film scholars: survival, betrayal, the capacity for evil and complexities of human relationships.
In the early sixties film work became increasingly scarce for De Toth and he found himself relegated to directing for television: Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and The Westerner. Tired of the limitations he was finding in Hollywood, De Toth headed to Europe in the '60s, where he found work as an uncredited consultant and location scout on David Lean's extravagant Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He directed a few films abroad, the best of which was the World War II action film Play Dirty (1968), starring Michael Caine, and then he more or less retired from active filmmaking. It was not until recently that De Toth began to receive critical recognition for his entertaining body of work. The last few years have seen several retrospectives and he enjoyed a renewed popularity at film festivals from Scotland to San Francisco. His contributions to film were recognized with the 1995 life achievement prize by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the publication of his autobiography, Fragments: Portraits From the Inside, as well as an interview book, De Toth on De Toth, by Anthony Slide. De Toth was married for a time to Veronica Lake (1944-1952) with whom he had two children. He is survived by his wife, Ann Green.
by Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
The film's working titles were Trails Westward and The Sabre and the Arrow. Although the film depicts the final surrender of the Comanches as a violent affair occurring in 1876, the actual surrender was peaceful and took place on June 2, 1875. The last of the Comanches, led by Quanah Parker, came into Fort Sill in Oklahoma under a flag of truce and thereafter lived on the reservation. According to contemporary sources, the film was shot on location near Yuma, AZ. Modern sources state that Last of the Comanches was loosely based on the 1943 Columbia film Sahara, a World War II drama directed by Zoltan Korda and starring Humphrey Bogart, but that film credits different writers. Lloyd Bridges, who plays "Jim Starbuck" in Last of the Comanches, also appeared in Sahara (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1941-50).