Cast & Crew
Ted De Corsia
In the period after the Civil War, circuit rider William Van Orsdel, known as Brother Van, is entrusted by the Indian bureau of the federal government to distribute seeds of wheat and corn to the Indians of the frontier and teach them to be farmers. When he sees white men rob some Sioux of their cattle and shoot one brave, Van rides to help the wounded man, Little Wolf, son of leader Wolf Chief. The Sioux leader expresses little interest in the seeds and warns that if the cavalry do not protect the Indian's cattle, as agreed upon by their treaty, there will be war. Learning that the Indians got the cattle from Indian agent Grat Bandas, Van rides to see him. Bandas, who routinely cheats the Indians out of supplies and has been stealing their cattle, is plotting to start an Indian war so that the cavalry will open the land to settlers. He plans then to establish one of the biggest cattle spreads in the territory. Van explains to Bandas that although he is not an ordained minister, he has dedicated his life to missionary work and wants to teach the fallacy of war and violence, and the benefits of working the land. After Van leaves for the nearby town of Deadwood, Bandas sends two of his men, Art Corbin and Magee, to kill him. Corbin shoots Van in the shoulder from a distance, but a lone rider, Link Prescott from Texas, sees the attack and shoots Magee in the shoulder, driving them off. Link takes Van to the ranch of Owen and Myra Sutter, and their attractive daughter Lynn, of whom Captain Ellis North of the cavalry is fond. At supper, Van relates that he became a preacher after witnessing, at age fifteen, the horrors of the battle of Gettysburg. Link believes that Van's words have no place on the frontier unless they are backed up with a gun and advises him to leave. Aware of Link's reputation as a crack shot, Bandas hires him for protection in case of Indian raids. After Bandas' men catch Little Wolf, whom Bandas has accused of horse stealing, Corbin ties him up, planning to cripple and shoot him, but Link objects, saying he should be brought in for trial. Corbin's cigarette stub then starts a fire that that threatens to engulf Little Wolf, and when Link tries to put it out, the others grab him. Watching from afar, Van stampedes wild horses in front of the outlaws and unties Little Wolf, who, before riding off, gives beads to Van. As Corbin is about to hit Van, Link stops him, saying the valley people would run them out of the country if Van were harmed. Link warns Van not to lose the beads, which will allow him to travel safely through Indian country. Later, when Lynn rebuffs Link's pleasantries, Van tells her that Link was responsible for saving Little Wolf, and she agrees to invite him to the dance next Sunday to raise money for the church. At the dance, Captain North jealously watches Lynn dance with Link. In the midst of the party, they notice smoke coming from the nearby Bowers ranch, where Bandas' men are shooting flaming arrows taken earlier from Little Wolf. In the melee, Corbin deliberately shoots Andy Bowers. When Bandas admits to Link that it was his idea to provoke a war, Link quits. Corbin shoots Link in the arm and is about to finish him off, when they hear riders approach and hide Link in the shed. Sutter, Van, North and his troops arrive to question Bandas about the raid, and Bandas says that Little Wolf is the ringleader of the rebellious Indians. Van asks North to let him try to persuade Wolf Chief to bring those renegades responsible for the raid to Deadwood, and Captain North consents. Meanwhile, Link revives and rides off. He hides his horse and saddle at the Sutter ranch, and when Corbin and his cohort arrive, Lynn hides Link in her room. After they leave, Link tells the Sutters that Bandas and his men plan to start a war. They suggest he take refuge at an old mine opening on the ridge until he fully recovers. Meanwhile, Van meets with Wolf Chief, who agrees to bring any guilty Indians to Deadwood the next day. However, when he arrives, he relates that Little Wolf had his bow and arrows taken from him and that none of the Sioux were involved in the raid. When Captain North orders says he must hold Wolf Chief in jail until he finds out who is lying, the Indians kidnap Lynn, thinking she is Captain North's girl, and threaten to kill her if they do not release Wolf Chief. North leaves to arrange for a squadron to be sent to the area and tells Bandas that he is holding him responsible for Wolf Chief's safety. Lying that Lynn is dead, Bandas goads the townspeople into lynching Wolf Chief and gives them the keys to the jail. Just as they are about to lynch the Indian, Van stops them and says he believes that if Wolf Chief is released, he will set Lynn free. He accuses Bandas' men of shooting Andy Bowers, and while he and Bandas argue, Wolf Chief escapes and rides off. Bandas and his men chase Wolf Chief, and when Link, now recovered, arrives, he and Van pursue them. During a battle, Van tackles Corbin as he tries to get a clear shot at Link. Link kills Bandas in a shoot-out and then wounds Corbin, who is about to shoot Van. Wolf Chief, wounded in the fight, releases Lynn, and as the Indians ride off, Link offers his services to Captain North, who congratulates him and Lynn.
Ted De Corsia
Will J. White
John Mccarthy Jr.
The working titles of this film were Brother Van and Showdown in Deadwood. According to a Daily Variety news item, Republic purchased the book in February 1950. Film Daily noted that William Van Orsdel, known as "Brother Van," was a "Pennsylvania evangelist who preached in Montana is the 1870's." According to information in the file on the film in the MPAA/PCA Collection at the AMPAS Library, the first script submitted for approval was dated January 6, 1954. Hollywood Reporter stated that the filming was set to begin on February 20, 1954. No information has been located concerning the reason the project was halted at that time. In 1955, a Hollywood Reporter news item noted that Warren Duff was assigned to write the script, but no information has been located to determine if any of Duff's material was used in the final film.
In October 1955, a PCA official urged Republic Pictures to contact George A. Heimrich, of the National Council of Churches Film and Broadcasting Commission "to make certain that there will be nothing in your finished picture which might give any possible offense to Protestants." Heimrich responded to the studio, complaining that the script for the film made Brother Van "a secondary character" to Link Prescott. Heimrich urged the studio to make Van "as least as important" as Link, "and try to minimize his tendency to be naïve in things practical as regards human relations."
The Lawless Eighties marked the first of seven films produced by Ventura Productions, Inc., an independent production company organized by Rudy Ralston and Joseph Kane, who had been producers for Republic Pictures. Ralston was the brother of actress Vera Ralston, who was married to Republic Pictures head Herbert Yates. According to a March 1957 Los Angeles Times news item, Ventura productions were filmed on the Republic lot and distributed through Republic.