The Last Wagon


1h 39m 1956

Brief Synopsis

When a handful of settlers survive an Apache attack on their wagon train they must put their lives into the hands of Comanche Tod, a white man who has lived with the Comanches most of his life and is wanted for the murder of three men.

Film Details

Release Date
Sep 1956
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 19 Sep 1956; New York opening: 21 Sep 1956
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Sedona, Arizona, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Comanche Todd, a white man reared by Comanche Indians, is captured by Sheriff Bull Harper, who has accused Todd of murdering three of his brothers. As the sheriff drags Todd along by a rope, they encounter a wagon train of teenagers and children, led by Col. William Normand of the Union Army. The wagon train is on its way to Tucson through the dangerous Canyon de la Muerte, and Harper warns Normand about the imminent danger posed by the Apache Indians. Harper decides to ride along with the train, and, as the group rests for mealtime, he ties Todd to a wagon wheel. Although the sheriff has refused to allow his prisoner to eat or drink, Billy, a young boy traveling to Tucson with his sister Jenny, brings the nearly starving Todd a plate of food anyway. When Harper shoots at Billy, Normand intervenes, telling the sheriff that they are Christian people, and demanding that he untie and feed the prisoner. Later, when another teenager gives Todd a puff of his tobacco pipe, the sheriff almost shoots the young man, but Todd manages to throw an ax at Harper's chest, killing him. Normand is furious and warns Todd not to try to escape, as they plan to turn him over to the law. Later that night, one of the teenage boys encourages some of the children to go for a midnight swim, including Normand's two motherless daughters--Jolie, from his first marriage to an Indian woman, and Valinda, the offspring of his second marriage to a white woman. When the group returns, they discover that an Indian ambush has taken place and that their families have been killed. Todd, who had been left on guard by the teens, is the only one found alive, and while Billy and Jenny greatly admire Todd for his bravery, the other half of the group thinks he is an Indian-loving murderer. Jolie decides, along with Billy and Jenny, to trust Todd, but Valinda loathes the man and believes all Indians to be dirty savages, including her own sister whom she deeply resents. Todd's first order, much to the teenagers' shock, is that they cannot bury their dead relatives, as the graves would signal to the Indians that some of the camp was left alive. That night Todd witnesses the gathering of Apaches, who are planning to retaliate for an attack on them, which left many women and children dead. Todd returns to the camp and says the group must move fast to avoid the warring Indian bands. During the journey, Billy and Todd become fast friends. One day, as Todd teaches Billy how to trap a rabbit, an Indian appears with bow and arrow, but Todd shoots him before he kills the boy. Valinda is then bitten by a rattlesnake, and Todd saves her, despite her bad temper and screaming, which he fears will alert the Indians to their presence. Later, two Apaches appear, and Todd challenges them to hand-to-hand combat, killing them and saving the group from an Indian attack. While recovering from her snakebite, Valinda begins to soften and offers Todd the key to his shackles, which he has worn around his wrists for the entire journey. Todd then hears Indian drums and discovers hundreds of Indians gathered. He tells the group that he will keep watch from a cliff, but at the sound of his signal, they must ride fast to the west. Believing it might be her last night alive, Jenny goes to sleep with Todd, who kisses her and then offers to share his life with her. The next morning, when a group of Cavalry scouts arrive, Todd deduces who the Indians are targeting. When the soldiers ask if they have seen Comanche Todd, the group stands by their new friend and says that Todd is "Mr. Putnam," husband of Jenny and father of Billy. Todd is disappointed to learn that there are only eight Cavalry men, as three hundred Indians have been tracking them and are ready to attack. When the Indians do attack, Todd and the soldiers manage to trick the Indians and make it out alive. During the battle, however, one of the soldiers sees Harper's sheriff's star, which Todd had taken from Harper as a memento. Now aware of Todd's true identity, the Cavalry men take him to Redrock Bluff, where Todd is tried by the Bible-reading General Howard, a Civil War hero and famed Indian fighter. Todd explains that he killed the four men in retaliation for the murder of his wife and sons. Then Jenny gives a speech about how Todd saved them all, and each of the adolescents recounts what Todd did for them. After Howard gives Jenny and Billy custody of Todd, the wagon train moves on to Tucson and the new family, Todd, Jenny and Billy, ride away.

Film Details

Release Date
Sep 1956
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 19 Sep 1956; New York opening: 21 Sep 1956
Production Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Distribution Company
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Country
United States
Location
Sedona, Arizona, United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 39m
Sound
Stereo
Color
Color (DeLuxe)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Last Wagon (review #2) - THE LAST WAGON - Underrated 1956 Western from Director Delmer Daves on DVD


In its perspective on frontier clashes in the Wild West, 1956's above-average western The Last Wagon is a sort of transitional movie. Its sympathy with the Native American plight was probably enlightened at the time, but that sympathy is pretty limited and certainly doesn't extend to including any full-blooded Indian characters like, say, John Ford's later Cheyenne Autumn, another Richard Widmark picture. No, in Delmer Daves' The Last Wagon you'll have to make do with a white man who's chosen to live with Comanches and a half-breed young woman who lives with whites.

The white man in buckskin is Comanche Todd (Widmark), who we never actually see with his tribe. When we first see him, he's being pursued by two lawmen (George Mathews and Timothy Carey) through rough Arizona Apache territory. After Comanche Todd bushwhacks the second, the sheriff played by Mathews (who looks and sounds like a bulldog in a Tex Avery cartoon) nabs the fugitive and starts literally dragging him back towards town. The two fall in with a wagon train of settlers who ask the sheriff to accompany them, but these Christian settlers don't cotton to the lawman's cruel treatment of Comanche Todd, murder suspect or not. When a group of teenagers goes off for a secret midnight swim that night, they return to find Apaches have slaughtered the entire traveling party and pushed the wagon to which Comanche Todd was chained off a cliff. The two who've taken the biggest shine to him (Felicia Farr's older Jenny and her pre-teen brother Billy, played by Tommy Rettig of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and TV's Lassie) rescue him, but the group of six is split over having an Indian-sympathizing murderer lead them through hostile territory. The half-breed, Jolie (Susan Kohner of Imitation of Life), has no problem with it, but her bigoted half-sister (Stephanie Griffin) and two snotty teen boys (Nick Adams and Ray Stricklyn) do.

The action plot takes the group on a tricky path to safety on one level, and to the group's total acceptance of Comanche Todd on another. Here's where the "enlightened" perspective of the movie comes off rather toothlessly: not only does The Last Wagon not show him have any friendly interaction with Natives, but he kills two Apaches in a hand-to-hand face-off in order to protect the young settlers and later signals a squad of cavalrymen so they'll avoid an Apache ambush. We hear that Comanche Todd has lived with the Indians for 20 years, and that the men he killed had raped and murdered his Comanche wife and killed his two young sons. For someone who's "gone native," he's awfully estranged from his tribe. It's as if the movie is afraid to challenge our sympathy for him by showing him have affinity with the Apaches, whose ways he knows well.

It's not the shaky message of tolerance that holds up so well (director Delmer Daves did it better in 1950's Broken Arrow). It's the action, the locations, the CinemaScope cinematography (by Wilfred Cline) and Widmark. From the opening chase, The Last Wagon uses its Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona setting very well. Cline seems to be using a crane for shots that peer into and over the crannies of the peaks and valleys, and it's a touch you don't normally see. From the very striking opening, in which Comanche Todd, in the foreground looking in the same direction as we are, shoots a far-off man on horseback, the action has impact, and Widmark enhances it by an athletic performance in which he clearly does many of his own stunts. Like Jimmy Stewart in The Man from Laramie, seeing the star being pulled through the brush by an adversary's horse immediately boosts the protagonist's credibility. Widmark also gets his hands dirty during Comanche Todd's knife fight with the two Apaches, and brings his natural edge to the character. He could never convincingly play a squeaky-clean hero, yet Comanche Todd isn't a giggling psycho a la Kiss of Death's Tommy Udo, either. He's a decent guy who's been driven to extreme, indecent behavior, the sort of guy Widmark was born to play.

So the result may not be in the same league as 3:10 to Yuma, the gripping western that was Daves' next movie (and one of the best of all 1950s westerns). But if you're up for a mid-'50s studio western, you can do a lot worse than The Last Wagon. Like the other recent Fox western DVDs, its disc has several galleries of posters, ads and stills, but no other extras.

For more information about The Last Wagon, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Last Wagon, go to TCM Shopping.

by Paul Sherman
The Last Wagon (Review #2) - The Last Wagon - Underrated 1956 Western From Director Delmer Daves On Dvd

The Last Wagon (review #2) - THE LAST WAGON - Underrated 1956 Western from Director Delmer Daves on DVD

In its perspective on frontier clashes in the Wild West, 1956's above-average western The Last Wagon is a sort of transitional movie. Its sympathy with the Native American plight was probably enlightened at the time, but that sympathy is pretty limited and certainly doesn't extend to including any full-blooded Indian characters like, say, John Ford's later Cheyenne Autumn, another Richard Widmark picture. No, in Delmer Daves' The Last Wagon you'll have to make do with a white man who's chosen to live with Comanches and a half-breed young woman who lives with whites. The white man in buckskin is Comanche Todd (Widmark), who we never actually see with his tribe. When we first see him, he's being pursued by two lawmen (George Mathews and Timothy Carey) through rough Arizona Apache territory. After Comanche Todd bushwhacks the second, the sheriff played by Mathews (who looks and sounds like a bulldog in a Tex Avery cartoon) nabs the fugitive and starts literally dragging him back towards town. The two fall in with a wagon train of settlers who ask the sheriff to accompany them, but these Christian settlers don't cotton to the lawman's cruel treatment of Comanche Todd, murder suspect or not. When a group of teenagers goes off for a secret midnight swim that night, they return to find Apaches have slaughtered the entire traveling party and pushed the wagon to which Comanche Todd was chained off a cliff. The two who've taken the biggest shine to him (Felicia Farr's older Jenny and her pre-teen brother Billy, played by Tommy Rettig of The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T and TV's Lassie) rescue him, but the group of six is split over having an Indian-sympathizing murderer lead them through hostile territory. The half-breed, Jolie (Susan Kohner of Imitation of Life), has no problem with it, but her bigoted half-sister (Stephanie Griffin) and two snotty teen boys (Nick Adams and Ray Stricklyn) do. The action plot takes the group on a tricky path to safety on one level, and to the group's total acceptance of Comanche Todd on another. Here's where the "enlightened" perspective of the movie comes off rather toothlessly: not only does The Last Wagon not show him have any friendly interaction with Natives, but he kills two Apaches in a hand-to-hand face-off in order to protect the young settlers and later signals a squad of cavalrymen so they'll avoid an Apache ambush. We hear that Comanche Todd has lived with the Indians for 20 years, and that the men he killed had raped and murdered his Comanche wife and killed his two young sons. For someone who's "gone native," he's awfully estranged from his tribe. It's as if the movie is afraid to challenge our sympathy for him by showing him have affinity with the Apaches, whose ways he knows well. It's not the shaky message of tolerance that holds up so well (director Delmer Daves did it better in 1950's Broken Arrow). It's the action, the locations, the CinemaScope cinematography (by Wilfred Cline) and Widmark. From the opening chase, The Last Wagon uses its Oak Creek Canyon and Sedona setting very well. Cline seems to be using a crane for shots that peer into and over the crannies of the peaks and valleys, and it's a touch you don't normally see. From the very striking opening, in which Comanche Todd, in the foreground looking in the same direction as we are, shoots a far-off man on horseback, the action has impact, and Widmark enhances it by an athletic performance in which he clearly does many of his own stunts. Like Jimmy Stewart in The Man from Laramie, seeing the star being pulled through the brush by an adversary's horse immediately boosts the protagonist's credibility. Widmark also gets his hands dirty during Comanche Todd's knife fight with the two Apaches, and brings his natural edge to the character. He could never convincingly play a squeaky-clean hero, yet Comanche Todd isn't a giggling psycho a la Kiss of Death's Tommy Udo, either. He's a decent guy who's been driven to extreme, indecent behavior, the sort of guy Widmark was born to play. So the result may not be in the same league as 3:10 to Yuma, the gripping western that was Daves' next movie (and one of the best of all 1950s westerns). But if you're up for a mid-'50s studio western, you can do a lot worse than The Last Wagon. Like the other recent Fox western DVDs, its disc has several galleries of posters, ads and stills, but no other extras. For more information about The Last Wagon, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Last Wagon, go to TCM Shopping. by Paul Sherman

The Last Wagon - Richard Widmark in THE LAST WAGON on DVD


The Last Wagon (1956) is a gem which deserves rediscovery. Newly out on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, this Richard Widmark western boasts an intriguing story, compelling characters, good acting, a fine score, and spectacular scenery. Widmark stars as "Comanche Todd," a white man who was raised mostly by Indians. Following an exciting opening shootout, a sheriff (George Mathews) starts to bring him in for murder when they cross paths with some peaceful settlers. The settlers don't much care for the sheriff's brutal ways, and frankly, neither do we. Suffice it to say, without giving away too much of the plot, that Widmark soon finds himself leading a handful of young settlers through dangerous Indian territory. Among them are a brother and sister played by Tommy Rettig and Felicia Farr, half sisters played by Susan Kohner and Stephanie Griffin, and two other young men. As they learn to trust Widmark, he and Farr fall in love. But will they make it to civilization? And if they do, what about Widmark's wanted status?

The direction by Delmer Daves and the screenplay by Daves, James Edward Grant, and Gwen Bagni Gielgud keep us riveted. It is a testament to their skill that the movie contains barely any dialogue for the first ten minutes, instead using images to tell the story. Widmark himself doesn't speak for even longer, even though he's in every scene. This helps intrigue the audience, as we aren't sure at this point whether he's a vicious murderer or somehow falsely accused. We want to hear what he has to say for himself. It may be that the finest test of a movie actor's ability is his skill at conveying thought and emotion when silent. Widmark passes with flying colors.

The Last Wagon has some edge, with several scenes of shocking violence that is always kept just offscreen. One character, for example, gets an axe tossed in his face. At another point, we see just glimpses of the aftermath of a brutal Indian attack. Our imagination fills in the rest. Through it all, director Daves doesn't shy away from composing shots to show off the jaw-dropping landscapes around Sedona, Ariz., where the picture was filmed.

The young supporting cast backs up Widmark well. Felicia Farr is lovely, even if she does seem a bit young for Widmark. The actress would later marry Jack Lemmon. Susan Kohner, best-remembered for Imitation of Life (1955), in which she played Juanita Moore's light-skinned black daughter who passes for white (and was Oscar-nominated), is effective as a half-Indian whose sister, Stephanie Griffin, hates her for it. And child actor Tommy Rettig is fine as the young teen who looks up to Widmark as a father. Rettig played little "Jeff" on the Lassie TV series and also appeared in The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) and other movies. His wholesome on-screen image was just that, an image, and as he had trouble getting adult roles he fell into drug and financial problems. Toward the end of his life, however, he found some success as a software designer.

Also in the cast, George Mathews makes a vivid impression as the brutal sheriff, and Douglas Kennedy registers strongly as the settlers' leader, Col. Normand, despite limited screen time. The powerful-looking Kennedy had over 150 credits in movies and television over his career, working right up to his death at age 57 from cancer.

The Last Wagon is presented by Fox on a flipper disc, with one side letterboxed and the other pan-and-scan. Do yourself a favor and watch the letterboxed version so you can see the entire image as it was meant to be seen. Extras include three photo galleries and trailers for this and other Fox pictures. The trailer for The Last Wagon features a bizarre tagline which doesn't make much sense and has nothing to do with the movie, but it's amusing enough: "The Last Wagon. You lived in it. You fought in it. You loved in it. And sometimes, you died in it."

For more information about The Last Wagon, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Last Wagon, go to TCM Shopping.

by Jeremy Arnold

The Last Wagon - Richard Widmark in THE LAST WAGON on DVD

The Last Wagon (1956) is a gem which deserves rediscovery. Newly out on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment, this Richard Widmark western boasts an intriguing story, compelling characters, good acting, a fine score, and spectacular scenery. Widmark stars as "Comanche Todd," a white man who was raised mostly by Indians. Following an exciting opening shootout, a sheriff (George Mathews) starts to bring him in for murder when they cross paths with some peaceful settlers. The settlers don't much care for the sheriff's brutal ways, and frankly, neither do we. Suffice it to say, without giving away too much of the plot, that Widmark soon finds himself leading a handful of young settlers through dangerous Indian territory. Among them are a brother and sister played by Tommy Rettig and Felicia Farr, half sisters played by Susan Kohner and Stephanie Griffin, and two other young men. As they learn to trust Widmark, he and Farr fall in love. But will they make it to civilization? And if they do, what about Widmark's wanted status? The direction by Delmer Daves and the screenplay by Daves, James Edward Grant, and Gwen Bagni Gielgud keep us riveted. It is a testament to their skill that the movie contains barely any dialogue for the first ten minutes, instead using images to tell the story. Widmark himself doesn't speak for even longer, even though he's in every scene. This helps intrigue the audience, as we aren't sure at this point whether he's a vicious murderer or somehow falsely accused. We want to hear what he has to say for himself. It may be that the finest test of a movie actor's ability is his skill at conveying thought and emotion when silent. Widmark passes with flying colors. The Last Wagon has some edge, with several scenes of shocking violence that is always kept just offscreen. One character, for example, gets an axe tossed in his face. At another point, we see just glimpses of the aftermath of a brutal Indian attack. Our imagination fills in the rest. Through it all, director Daves doesn't shy away from composing shots to show off the jaw-dropping landscapes around Sedona, Ariz., where the picture was filmed. The young supporting cast backs up Widmark well. Felicia Farr is lovely, even if she does seem a bit young for Widmark. The actress would later marry Jack Lemmon. Susan Kohner, best-remembered for Imitation of Life (1955), in which she played Juanita Moore's light-skinned black daughter who passes for white (and was Oscar-nominated), is effective as a half-Indian whose sister, Stephanie Griffin, hates her for it. And child actor Tommy Rettig is fine as the young teen who looks up to Widmark as a father. Rettig played little "Jeff" on the Lassie TV series and also appeared in The 5000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953) and other movies. His wholesome on-screen image was just that, an image, and as he had trouble getting adult roles he fell into drug and financial problems. Toward the end of his life, however, he found some success as a software designer. Also in the cast, George Mathews makes a vivid impression as the brutal sheriff, and Douglas Kennedy registers strongly as the settlers' leader, Col. Normand, despite limited screen time. The powerful-looking Kennedy had over 150 credits in movies and television over his career, working right up to his death at age 57 from cancer. The Last Wagon is presented by Fox on a flipper disc, with one side letterboxed and the other pan-and-scan. Do yourself a favor and watch the letterboxed version so you can see the entire image as it was meant to be seen. Extras include three photo galleries and trailers for this and other Fox pictures. The trailer for The Last Wagon features a bizarre tagline which doesn't make much sense and has nothing to do with the movie, but it's amusing enough: "The Last Wagon. You lived in it. You fought in it. You loved in it. And sometimes, you died in it." For more information about The Last Wagon, visit Fox Home Entertainment. To order The Last Wagon, go to TCM Shopping. by Jeremy Arnold

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Pre-production news items in Hollywood Reporter yield the following information about this production: Terry Moore and Joan Collins were both considered for the female leads. Actress Lupita Tovar, the mother of actress Susan Kohner, is included in the cast in an April 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item, but she did not appear in the film. An early May 1956 Hollywood Reporter news item adds that rodeo stars Phil Rawlins and Erwin Neal were assigned to the cast, but their appearance in the completed film has not been confirmed.
       The Last Wagon was filmed on location in Sedona, AZ, at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon. In an article in the New York Times, director Delmer Daves described the difficulty he had in finding a pristine location for the film, as his previous western, Broken Arrow, had popularized the region.