EVERYTHING ABOUT A MOVIE?
|SERGEANT RUTLEDGE (director: John Ford; screenwriters: James Warner Bellah/Willis Goldbeck; cinematographer: Bert Glennon; editor: Jack Murray; music: Howard Jackson; cast: Jeffrey Hunter (Lt. Tom Cantrell), Constance Towers (Mary Beecher), Billie Burke (Cordelia Fosgate), Woody Strode (Sergeant Braxton Rutledge), Juano Hernandez (Sgt. Matthew Luke Skidmore), Willis Bouchey (Col. Otis Thornton Fosgate), Carleton Young (Capt. Shattuck), Judson Pratt (Lt. Mulqueen), William Henry (Capt. Dwyer), Walter Reed (Capt. MacAfee), Fred Libby (Chandler Hubble), Toby Michaels (Lucy Dabney), Charles Seel (Dr. Eckner), Chuck Hayward (Capt. Dickinson), Mae Marsh (Nellie), Cliff Lyons (Sam Beecher); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Willis Goldbeck/Patrick Ford; Warner Home Videos; 1960)|
as the first major Hollywood western to feature
an African-American hero."
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
John Ford's ("Fort Apache"/"The Searchers"/"Seven Women")
big-budget, overlong, schematic courtroom film that can be viewed as a
makeup call to westerns that in the past treated minorities as
second-class citizens and were stereotyped. It stars former NFL football player Woody Strode, stock
player in Ford movies, as the dignified Sergeant
Braxton Rutledge, a cavalry officer of the all-black Ninth Cavalry Regiment being tried for the
rape of a
white woman and a double murder. The film is noted as the
first major Hollywood western to feature
an African-American hero. It's written by James Warner Bellah and Willis
Goldbeck as a sort of liberal tract for the Civil Rights movement in
the air at the time, by showing the framework of a military courtroom
in 1881, in the Arizona Territory, that pursues justice for a former
slave now a "buffalo
soldier"--a term which comes from the
buffalo furs the black soldiers of the 9th wore in winter.
Dabney and her father, Maj. Dabney, are found dead in their
quarters at Fort Linton in the Arizona Territory. Lt. Tom Cantrell
(Jeffrey Hunter) arrives at the U.S. Army's southwestern
headquarters to defend the
accused black soldier, Sgt. Rutledge, who served bravely
under Cantrell in the all-black Ninth Cavalry for over six years, from
the circumstantial evidence.
Because Lucy was raped and beaten before her brutal strangulation, the
case attracts a group of curious and boisterous prejudiced spectators.
Presiding over the court-martial is the officious Col. Otis
Thornton Fosgate (Willis
Bouchey), who ejects the onlookers
from the room. This angers his shallow wife Cordelia (Billie Burke).
trial the film goes into a series of flashbacks, as the smug prosecutor
Capt. Shattuck (Carleton Young)
questions a number of witnesses, starting with the only unprejudiced
witness and love interest of Cantrell, Mary Beecher (Constance Towers),
a woman returning home to Arizona after a long stay in the east and
saved at the railroad station from an Indian attack by Rutledge, to
describe the events that occurred
on the day of the murders. There are a number of overly melodramatic
scenes, until the defense lawyer reveals that his client is innocent
and establishes that a white man is the real culprit.
sequence it shows Rutledge singing "Captain Buffalo" and riding across
the Pecos River to help the
Cavalry when they are attacked
by Apaches. Strode in his
Ford can show with passion the ugly scene of an
innocent black victim of
American racism and give the proper respect due to the black man in the
film, but he's not able to deal with the issues of miscegenation that plagued American life
forever and Hollywood since the days of "Birth of a Nation."
film did a poor box office. Though Strode was generally praised for his
heroic performance. Nevertheless Ford's film must be given kudos for
bringing up real questions about racial relationships that were mostly
ignored previously by Hollywood.
REVIEWED ON 9/21/2010 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ