The Deserter


1971

Brief Synopsis

A young soldier's resilience is tested and his loyalties divided when he joins the French Foreign Legion during the Algerian uprising against France.

Film Details

Also Known As
La spina dorsale del diavolo, Ride to Glory, The Devil's Backbone, The S.O.B.s
Release Date
Apr 1971
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica S.p.A.; Heritage Enterprises, Inc.; Jadran Film
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
Italy, Yugoslavia and United States
Location
England, United Kingdom; Morocco; Almeria,Spain; Rome,Italy; Yugoslavia; Spain

Synopsis

Upon reaching the mission settlement where he is to meet his wife, cavalry captain Victor Kaleb finds her barely alive after being tortured by Apache Indians. Kaleb shoots her to spare her further suffering, then rides after the perpetrators. Returning to Fort Bowie with the body of an Apache dressed in his wife's clothes who he has apprehended and killed, the captain bitterly assails commander Maj. Brown for not offering the village church mission proper protection and allowing his wife to visit there unescorted. When Brown protests that the attack of the marauding Apaches was unanticipated, Kaleb denounces Brown as a coward and declares he is leaving the army. Brown warns Kaleb about the consequences of his action, but when Kaleb ignores him, Brown accuses him of being his wife's actual murderer. Enraged, Kaleb shoots Brown in the arm and leg, then departs. Two years later, Gen. Miles arrives at Fort Bowie with several troops and visiting British officer Capt. Crawford, who is eager to learn of American military methods. Miles meets with Brown, who has been promoted to colonel, to demand an explanation of why the campaign against the Apaches continues to go poorly. Pointing out that Apache warrior leader Mangus Durango inhabits an area across the Mexican border known as the Devil's Spine, Miles reveals his concern that the Apaches are in a position to wipe out both the cavalry and all friendly nearby natives. Brown declares that crossing the border without provocation would result in his court martial, but is surprised when Miles abruptly asks about Kaleb. Reading from Kaleb's file, Brown relates that Kaleb was born in Yugoslavia and brought to America at a young age. After his parents' deaths from cholera, Kaleb joined the army and served with great distinction with the Union forces during the Civil War. After deserting upon the death of his wife, Kaleb was court martialled in absentia and found guilty on seven counts, including the attempted murder of Brown. Brown reluctantly admits Kaleb has waged a very successful one-man campaign against the Apaches since deserting but he now suspects Kaleb is dead. When young Lt. Ferguson interrupts to inform Miles that Kaleb has recently been sighted, the general orders Ferguson to bring him to the fort. A few days later, Ferguson and his troopers return in haggard condition, having been plagued by Kaleb, who refused to return with them. Miles then learns that two cavalry scouts, Native American Natchai and Tattinger were friends with Kaleb and asks them to go in search of him. In the mountains beyond the fort, Kaleb and his German Shepherd dog soon discover the scouts. Kaleb refuses to go with the men, but after they successfully ambush a group of Apache stalking them, Tattinger is injured and Kaleb reluctantly agrees to help return him to the fort. Upon arriving at Fort Bowie, soldier Schmidt attempts to arrest Kaleb, but Miles intervenes and meets with the former captain privately. The following day, Brown refuses to believe Kaleb's revelation that the cavalry patrol outside of the fort has been lost to the Apaches. Miles then shocks Brown by informing him that Kaleb has been reinstated to his former rank to train a small group of men in Indian fighting tactics, thus preparing them to attack Durango in Mexico. Miles overrides Brown's protests and reveals his intention to secure an official pardon for Kaleb as well. That afternoon, Kaleb tests the men's endurance and attitude, selecting the hostile Schmidt, belligerent Irishman O'Toole, the deceptively docile reverend and explosives expert Reynolds, troublemaker Jackson, gun specialist Orozco and surgeon Scott. Crawford and Ferguson request permission to join the group and Kaleb agrees. The men depart Fort Bowie and soon come upon the remains of the patrol, whom they bury. Over the next few days in the hot desert, Kaleb drills the frequently antagonistic men in fighting tactics, turning basic objects like rocks, sand and tree branches into weapons. Crawford complains about the crudeness of these methods, but when Kaleb takes on Jackson and overpowers the armed, larger man easily without a gun or knife, Crawford reconsiders. The men also learn about explosives, Gatling guns and rock climbing. When O'Toole falls to his death from a steep mountain terrain similar to that of the treacherous Devil's Spine, Kaleb advises the men that mistakes have deadly effects. One night, a scouting group of Apaches surround Kaleb and the men who having anticipated the ambush, kill all the Indians except for one who is tortured into revealing Durango's plan to attack the cavalry the night of the next full moon. Kaleb returns to the fort to inform Miles, who approves the captain's plan to climb the Devil's Spine and make a surprise assault on Durango from the rear. Brown declares the mission cannot proceed as he has contacted Miles' superior at Brigade headquarters, who is sending an investigator to look into the details of Kaleb's reinstatement. Furious, Miles then orders Brown to accompany Kaleb's outfit, which will depart at sunrise. Kaleb leads the men directly into Mexico, crossing the Rio Grande the first day. Upon arriving at the base of the Devil's Spine, the men construct an elaborate crane in order to lift the horses, pack mules and gunnery to the mountaintop. At a gorge, the men construct a swinging bridge for the pack animals, but after a successful crossing, Jackson and Schmidt accidentally fall off the cliff. That night, the soldiers attack a group of Apache scouts and Ferguson is killed. The only Apache survivor is a young boy who Kaleb is about to kill, when Natchai stops him. The boy escapes and, grabbing a knife, fatally stabs Tattinger before fleeing. Knowing the boy will warn Durango, the men hurry to his encampment and find the Apaches in the midst of their war dance. The soldiers surround the Apaches and attack with dynamite and numerous Gatling guns. Kaleb confronts Durango, only to find his pistol is empty, but is saved by Orozco, who kills the Apache leader. A fatally wounded Reynolds survives long enough to light the fuse for a strategically placed explosive which detonates, setting off a rock slide that demolishes Durango's camp. Returning to the fort with the handful of survivors that includes Brown, Kaleb learns from Miles that his request for a pardon has been denied, and consequently, the captain faces arrest and imprisonment. Brown declares this impossible, as he will report that Kaleb was killed at Devil's Spine. The other men agree to corroborate the story, allowing the grateful Kaleb to disappear back into the desert and remain free.

Film Details

Also Known As
La spina dorsale del diavolo, Ride to Glory, The Devil's Backbone, The S.O.B.s
Release Date
Apr 1971
Premiere Information
not available
Production Company
Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica S.p.A.; Heritage Enterprises, Inc.; Jadran Film
Distribution Company
Paramount Pictures Corp.
Country
Italy, Yugoslavia and United States
Location
England, United Kingdom; Morocco; Almeria,Spain; Rome,Italy; Yugoslavia; Spain

Articles

Richard Crenna, 1927-2002


Actor Richard Crenna, the versatile, highly respected character actor of television and film, died on December 17 of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles. He was 75.

Born on November 30, 1927 in Los Angeles, California, Crenna was the son of a pharmacist father and a mother who managed a number of small hotels in the Los Angles area the family owned, where Crenna was raised. At the tender age of 11, he was encouraged by a teacher to audition for a radio show, "Boy Scout Jamboree" at the nearby KFI-AM radio studio. Little did he realize that it would be the start of a very long and prosperous career.

Crenna found steady radio work for the next several years, culminating in 1948 with his breakthrough role of the goofy, squeaky-voiced Walter Denton in the hit radio series Our Miss Brooks. Crenna carried the momentum of his success to television when he spent four more seasons as Walter on Our Miss Brooks (1952-1956). Almost immediately after the run of that show, Crenna scored another hit series as Luke McCoy in the rustic comedy The Real McCoys (1957-1963) co-starring Walter Brennan.

Although he had been acting in films since the early '50s Crenna roles didn't come to critical notice until the mid '60s, appearing in Robert Wise's acclaimed The Sand Pebbles (1966) as the stalwart gunboat captain co-starring Steve McQueen; Terence Young's intense thriller, Wait Until Dark (1967), as a criminal who terrorizes a blind Audrey Hepburn; and another Robert Wise film, the Gertrude Lawrence biopic Star! (1968) playing the high profile role of Richard Aldrich opposite Julie Andrews.

Crenna's profile slowed down in the '70s, despite a brief return to television comedy in Norman Lear's political satire All's Fair (1976-1977) with Bernadette Peters. That show may not have lasted long, but Crenna bounced back with a resurgence in the '80s with a string of hit character parts: Lawrence Kasden's stylish film noir Body Heat (1981), as Kathleen Turner's ill-fated husband; Ted Kotchoff's hit Rambo: First Blood (1982), as Colonel Samuel Trautman, Sylvester Stallone's former Commander; Gary Marshall's excellent coming-of-age tale The Flamingo Kid (1984), one of his best performances (for which he received a Golden Globe nomination) as a smooth, charismatic gin-rummy champ who takes Matt Dillon under his tutelage; and many other quality roles in theatrical and made for television movies.

At the time of his death, Crenna was a member of the Screen Actors Guild board of directors and had a recurring role in the hit CBS dramatic series Judging Amy. In addition to Penni, his wife of 47 years, Crenna is survived by a son, Richard, two daughters, Seana and Maria, and three granddaughters.

by Michael T. Toole
Richard Crenna, 1927-2002

Richard Crenna, 1927-2002

Actor Richard Crenna, the versatile, highly respected character actor of television and film, died on December 17 of pancreatic cancer in Los Angeles. He was 75. Born on November 30, 1927 in Los Angeles, California, Crenna was the son of a pharmacist father and a mother who managed a number of small hotels in the Los Angles area the family owned, where Crenna was raised. At the tender age of 11, he was encouraged by a teacher to audition for a radio show, "Boy Scout Jamboree" at the nearby KFI-AM radio studio. Little did he realize that it would be the start of a very long and prosperous career. Crenna found steady radio work for the next several years, culminating in 1948 with his breakthrough role of the goofy, squeaky-voiced Walter Denton in the hit radio series Our Miss Brooks. Crenna carried the momentum of his success to television when he spent four more seasons as Walter on Our Miss Brooks (1952-1956). Almost immediately after the run of that show, Crenna scored another hit series as Luke McCoy in the rustic comedy The Real McCoys (1957-1963) co-starring Walter Brennan. Although he had been acting in films since the early '50s Crenna roles didn't come to critical notice until the mid '60s, appearing in Robert Wise's acclaimed The Sand Pebbles (1966) as the stalwart gunboat captain co-starring Steve McQueen; Terence Young's intense thriller, Wait Until Dark (1967), as a criminal who terrorizes a blind Audrey Hepburn; and another Robert Wise film, the Gertrude Lawrence biopic Star! (1968) playing the high profile role of Richard Aldrich opposite Julie Andrews. Crenna's profile slowed down in the '70s, despite a brief return to television comedy in Norman Lear's political satire All's Fair (1976-1977) with Bernadette Peters. That show may not have lasted long, but Crenna bounced back with a resurgence in the '80s with a string of hit character parts: Lawrence Kasden's stylish film noir Body Heat (1981), as Kathleen Turner's ill-fated husband; Ted Kotchoff's hit Rambo: First Blood (1982), as Colonel Samuel Trautman, Sylvester Stallone's former Commander; Gary Marshall's excellent coming-of-age tale The Flamingo Kid (1984), one of his best performances (for which he received a Golden Globe nomination) as a smooth, charismatic gin-rummy champ who takes Matt Dillon under his tutelage; and many other quality roles in theatrical and made for television movies. At the time of his death, Crenna was a member of the Screen Actors Guild board of directors and had a recurring role in the hit CBS dramatic series Judging Amy. In addition to Penni, his wife of 47 years, Crenna is survived by a son, Richard, two daughters, Seana and Maria, and three granddaughters. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Working titles for the film were The Devil's Backbone and S.O.B.s. The film's video release, as well as the title of the print viewed, was Ride to Glory. Although onscreen credits include a 1970 copyright statement for Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica, S.p.A., the film was not registered for copyright. The closing credits end with the statement: "An Italo-Jugoslav Co-Production, Dino De Laurentiis Cinematografica, S.p.A. Rome, Jadran Film-Zagreb In association with Heritage Enterprises, Inc."
       An August 1968 Hollywood Reporter news item noted that the film was to be produced by Norman Baer and Skip Steloff as a joint Heritage Pictures and Selmur Pictures production. The item added that the production was to be filmed as a multi-million dollar road-show attraction. By February 1969, Daily Variety reported that Baer had purchased all the rights and Steloff was no longer involved, but his company, Heritage, is still listed "in association with" in the onscreen credits. In September 1969, Hollywood Reporter indicated that Baer had been joined by producer Ralph Serpe. A September 1969 Daily Variety item notes that Dino De Laurentiis was negotiating with Richard Boone for a role. Filmfacts indicated that an Italian version of the film, La Spina Dorsale del Diavolo, was directed by Niska Fulgozi. It is likely that the numerous sequences in the film that have no dialogue were only filmed once and used in both versions. The Deserter was filmed in Almeria, Spain and Rome, Italy.

Miscellaneous Notes

Feature directorial debut for Martin Huberty.