Cast & Crew
At a prison camp at Rock Island, Illinois, in the autumn of 1864, Captain Mark Bradford, who became the camp commander after injuries ended his fighting career, offers Confederate prisoners the chance to be paroled. In order to be freed, the prisoners must agree to serve as Union soldiers and protect frontier forts against Indians. The Confederates' leader, Colonel Clay Tucker of Georgia, knows that there will be no further exchanges of prisoners and so considers the offer. After seeing one of his men die in the prison, Clay gets Mark's word that the men will not be asked to fight against their own, then breaks a tie vote among the prisoners in favor of going. Clay is demoted to 2nd lieutenant, and the unit joins the 3rd Cavalry of the Army of the Republic at Fort Thorn, New Mexico. Fort Thorn is commanded by the stern, rebel-hating Major Henry Kenniston, who is frustrated that an injury suffered during his first battle has kept him from the war. At dinner, the major's sister-in-law Elena, a Mexican-American from Monterey, breaks down in tears when Clay relates that he fought at Chancellorsville, where her husband, the major's brother, lost his life. Mark, who fell in love with Elena on the day of her wedding, is surprised to find her there, and she states that Kenniston wrote her that she could reach the fort with an Army supply train, then travel to Monterey with an escorted wagon. She has now been at the fort for six months, and in addition to becoming frustrated with Kenniston's excuse that he cannot spare a wagon escort, she is tired of his over-protective attitude and romantic aspirations. When the Southerners chase some Indians into a mountain pass, Kenniston orders "retreat" sounded, then reprimands Clay in the presence of his men for almost riding into a trap. After the Southerners, obeying Kenniston's orders, execute two men for running whiskey and guns to the Indians, they find out that the men were agents of the Confederate government. Feeling that Kenniston has broken their agreement, Clay joins his disgruntled men in planning to desert. Kenniston then sends the Southern troops to escort a wagon train West, hoping that if they desert, they will do it then, while he is expecting it. Although Kenniston takes Elena's name off the lists of passengers, she hides in the parson's wagon and when Mark spots her hiding, he says nothing. Along the way, Clay learns that Elena has come along, and after he allows her to stay, they grow fond of each other during the trip. The night before the troops plan to bolt for Texas, Ephraim Strong, a Confederate agent who has masqueraded as a merchant, tells Clay of his plan to link Confederate Texas with the Pacific Ocean. Strong hopes to defeat the blockade that is strangling the South and make Californian gold available to the Confederacy. Strong urges Clay not to desert, but to return and gain Kenniston's confidence, as Fort Thorn is the only block between Texas and Tucson, and also bring Elena back, so as not to antagonize Kenniston. After their return, Kenniston still does not trust Clay even though he brought Elena back, and when suspicious wagon tracks are spotted in the vicinity, Clay is not chosen for the patrol. When the son of the feared Kiowa chief Satank is captured, the chief and his warriors approach the fort to demand the boy's return. Kenniston, calling the son a "rebel," orders him shot, whereupon Satank issues a threat and leaves. Meanwhile, Clay has received orders to take his troops to rendezvous with a wagon train and proceed with it to California. Clay takes over command of the patrol from Mark, who had come to regard him as a friend, but when he learns that the fort is surrounded by Satank and his braves, Clay and his men decide to go back, as they know that women and children will die if they desert. During the fight with the Indians, Mark is wounded, and Clay rescues him when an Indian tries to kill him. After fighting has temporarily ceased for the night, Clay apologizes to Elena, who is helping to nurse the wounded, for bringing her back, and she sadly relates that before he died, Mark confessed he loved her. A note attached to a flaming arrow arrives with a message that the Indians demand the lives of the officers in revenge for the murder of Satank's son, but that they will spare the others. Kenniston then decides to go alone to his death and turns over command to Clay, who is now respectful of Kenniston's integrity. When he leaves the fort and the gates close, Kenniston issues an agonizing scream, and his body is recovered the following day after the Indians leave. A rider then arrives with the news that General Sherman has completed his march to the sea and that Savannah is surrounded, leaving the Confederacy cut in half. As the Union soldiers whoop at the news and sing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," the rebels proudly sing "Dixie." With the news that the war will soon be over, Elena comforts Clay, who despairs that there is now nothing left to go home to. She asks for help to rebuild her home at the fort, and in Spanish, tells him it will all seem better tomorrow.
Jay C. Flippen
Noah Beery [jr.]
Harry Von Zell
George K. Hundley
Fabian Chevez Jr.
William H. Doyle Jr.
Daniel Decatur Emmett
Julia Ward Howe
Maj. Philip J. Kieffer
R. A. Klune
Charles Le Maire
Harry M. Leonard
Frank S. Nugent
Maurice De Packh
Fred J. Rode
Two Flags West
The film underwent a few title changes and casting incarnations before it was released as Two Flags West, directed by Robert Wise from a screenplay by writer/producer Casey Robinson (according to the AFI, 20th Century Fox originally bought the story as a vehicle for Victor Mature). Joseph Cotten takes top billing as Confederate Colonel Clay Tucker, an honorable soldier as loyal to his men as to his cause, who swears allegiance to the Union under Lincoln's conditions only to save his troops from the fatal conditions of the POW camp. Cornel Wilde, introduced with patch over one eye to announce the injury that bumped him from battle, is Union Captain Mark Bradford, whose respect for Tucker as a soldier and an officer overcomes his resentment of him as an enemy. Bradford leads this unit to their assignment on the frontier, a fort in New Mexico commanded by a bitter Major Kenniston (Jeff Chandler), who doesn't bother to hide his resentment of his new Confederate troops or his distrust of their motives. Linda Darnell is the beauty in the midst of the men as the young widow Elena, a Spanish rose from Monterey intent on returning home but stuck at the fort due to attacks from the local tribes. The supporting cast is filled with memorable character actors, most notably Jay C. Flippen as an aging Union officer and Noah Beery, Jr. and Arthur Hunnicutt as Johnny Rebs loyal to Tucker.
Director Robert Wise apprenticed at RKO under Orson Welles (as editor of Citizen Kane, 1941) and Val Lewton, the legendary producer of intelligent and evocative low-budget horror films who promoted Wise to director on the tender The Curse of the Cat People (1944); he carried the lessons of the two mentors to a career of smartly-made and intelligently-directed films. Two Flags West, his tenth feature and his second western (after the shadowy, film noir-tinged Blood on the Moon, 1948), was his first production after leaving RKO and his first film for 20th Century Fox.
Two Flags West was shot on location in New Mexico at San Ildefonso Pueblo, a small community of Tewa Indians about twenty miles out of Santa Fe, and Wise and cinematographer Leon Shamroy made dramatic use of the locations. The film opens in darkness within the confines of a Union POW camp, which Wise shoots entirely inside the clapboard barracks of the prisoners, smothering the characters in shadow and a suffocating claustrophobia. Shamroy's photography enhances the atmosphere with striking set-ups marked by shafts of light cutting through the gaping holes in the building and caught in the heavy air. As the prisoners sign on to frontier duty, their journey takes them through increasingly open scenes, from the forests of the Midwest to the vastness of the New Mexico desert under bright, sunny skies. Mesas and mountains in the distance give the cavalry outpost a sense of isolation, alone in a barren desert, and come to the foreground when venture out to give the country a rugged beauty. The movement from darkness to light and confinement to openness mirrors the journey of the characters, who remain divided by competing allegiances but slowly find common cause under the threats of the frontier.
It was a sometimes difficult shoot. The cast and crew lived in a camp near the location, living in semi-rugged quarters that once housed construction workers, and were beset by sandstorms that more than once shut down the production and kept them stuck inside. Linda Darnell hated making westerns, as she suffered from hay fever and an allergy to horses, and was unimpressed with some of her co-stars. "Cornel is seemingly trying to be halfway decent but I still avoid him as much as possible," she wrote in a letter to her husband. "Joe Cotten is an awfully stuffed shirt, and a lush to boot, but Jeff Chandler is a dreamboat, a good actor, and a real down to Earth guy." Wise, too, was impressed by Chandler, who spent his days off hanging around the production. "I just love to watch Joe Cotten," he explained to Wise. "His is such a marvelous technician. I'm studying him and learning so much."
Though Frank Nugent only received story credit on the finished film, his sensibility is evident in elements that recall with his earlier John Ford cavalry films. Kenniston's bitterness and hatred for both the Confederacy and the Native American tribes that he (quite irrationally) sees as invaders of American territory looks forward to the scars of the Civil War and the fierce hatreds harbored by Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1956). Not that Two Flags West is as rich or evocative as that film, but it is an adult and thoughtful production that explores the conflicts of men who are both enemies and allies in the waning days of the Civil War.
Producer: Casey Robinson
Director: Robert Wise
Screenplay: Casey Robinson (screenplay); Curtis Kenyon, Frank S. Nugent (story)
Cinematography: Leon Shamroy
Art Direction: Chester Gore, Lyle Wheeler
Music: Hugo Friedhofer
Film Editing: Louis Loeffler
Cast: Joseph Cotten (Col. Clay Tucker), Linda Darnell (Elena Kenniston), Jeff Chandler (Maj. Henry Kenniston), Cornel Wilde (Capt. Mark Bradford), Dale Robertson (Lem), Jay C. Flippen (Sgt. Terrance Duey), Noah Beery (Cy Davis), Harry von Zell (Ephraim Strong), John Sands (Lt. Adams), Arthur Hunnicutt (Sgt. Pickens).
by Sean Axmaker
"Robert Wise On His Films," Sergio Leemann
"Hollywood Beauty: Linda Darnell and the American Dream," Ronald L. Davis
Two Flags West
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
Born on September 10, 1914 in Winchester, Ind., Wise was a child of the Depression who quit college to earn a living in the movie industry. He began as an assistant cutter at RKO, where he worked his way up to the position of film editor and earned an Oscar® nomination for his bravura work with Orson Welles on Citizen Kane. He also edited The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) for Welles, along with several other RKO films.
Wise became a director by default when RKO and producer Val Lewton assigned him to The Curse of the Cat People (1944) after Gunther von Fritsch failed to meet the film's production schedule. Wise turned the film into a first-rate psychological thriller, and enjoyed equal success with another Lewton horror film, The Body Snatcher (1945).
Critical praise also was showered upon Wise's Born to Kill (1947), a crime melodrama; and Blood on the Moon (1948), an unusual psychological Western starring Robert Mitchum. Even more highly regarded was The Set-Up (1949), a no-punches-pulled boxing drama that won the Critics' Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Wise moved on from RKO in the early 1950s, directing one of the movies' classic alien invasion films, The Day the Earth Stood Still, for 20th Century Fox.
At MGM he directed Executive Suite (1954), a compelling all-star boardroom drama; Somebody Up There Likes Me, a film bio of boxer Rocky Graziano that established Paul Newman as a major star; and The Haunting (1963), a chilling haunted-hause melodrama. His films for United Artists include Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), a submarine drama with Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster; I Want to Live! (1958), a harrowing account of a convicted murderess on Death Row, with Susan Hayward in her Oscar-winning performance; and the crime caper Odds Against Tomorrow (1959).
Wise served as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Directors Guild of America. He was awarded the Academy's Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966, and the Directors Guild's highest honor, the D.W. Griffith Award, in 1988. He remained active as a director through the 1970s. His final film, Rooftops (1989) was a musical with an urban setting that recalled West Side Story.
The films in TCM's salute to Robert Wise are Citizen Kane (1941), The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945), Born to Kill (1947), Blood on the Moon (1948), The Set-Up (1949), Executive Suite (1954), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Run Silent, Run Deep (1958), B>West Side Story (1959), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) and The Haunting (1963).
by Roger Fristoe
Robert Wise (1914-2005)
The working title of this film was Trumpet to the Morn. The opening credits contain the following statement: "On December 8th, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued a Special Proclamation, whereby Confederate Prisoners of War might gain their freedom, provided they would join the Union Army to defend the frontier West against the Indians." In correspondence included in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department at the UCLA Arts-Special Collections Library, writer Frank S. Nugent stated that he came up with the idea for this film while he was working on the screenplay of She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in the fall of 1948. While doing research, Nugent read a brief statement in the book Fighting Indians of the West, by Dee Brown and Martin F. Schmitt (New York, 1948) concerning the use of paroled Confederate soldiers to man frontier forts at the end of the Civil War. After a futile attempt to locate confirming information, Nugent wrote to Schmitt at the University of Oregon. Schmitt and Brown responded with further information regarding sources of the information, in particular, the seventy-odd volumes of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Nugent noted that over six thousand former Confederate soldiers, after taking a loyalty oath, were "galvanized," and that late in 1864, there was a Confederate conspiracy to open a road from El Paso to California so that Southern sympathizers in California could fight in the war. Nugent's story was originally entitled "The Yankee from Georgia." He submitted it to the Goldwyn Studios and to M-G-M, but although those studios expressed interest, they made no offer until it could be more fully developed.
According to Los Angeles Examiner, Twentieth Century-Fox bought the story with the intention of starring Victor Mature in the role of "Col. Clay Tucker." Richard Basehart subsequently was signed for the role, before being replaced by Joseph Cotten, who was borrowed from Selznick. Kathryn Sheldon was originally scheduled to play "Mrs. Magowan." Location scenes were shot at the San Ildefonso Pueblo, a community of Tewa Indians twenty-two miles from Santa Fe, NM. According to publicity for the film, buildings in the pueblo date from the 1500s. The filmmakers agreed not to come near the tribal kiva (the underground council room), the graveyard or sacred shrines.
In 1951, R. W. Alcorn, a producer, claimed in correspondence with Twentieth Century-Fox that in September 1949 he purchased a story entitled "Between Two Flags" by William R. Lipman, which, he stated, was very similar to this film. Alcorn claimed to have contacted Nugent to work on the story outline, but Nugent denied this, saying he had never been given a copy of Lipman's story. No further information regarding Alcorn's claim has been located.
In April 1957, the Twentieth Century-Fox Hour broadcast a remake of Two Flags West entitled "The Still Trumpet," starring Dale Robertson, who appeared in a supporting role in the original version. The teleplay was written by Curtis Kenyon and the show was directed by Lewis Allen.
Released in United States Fall November 1950
Released in United States Fall November 1950