SLAUGHTER TRAIL (director: Irving Allen; screenwriter: Sid Kuller; cinematographer: Jack Greenhalgh; editors:  Fred Allen/Joe Gluck; music: Darrell Calker; cast: Brian Donlevy (Capt. Dempster), Gig Young (Vaugn), Virginia Grey (Lorabelle Larkin), Ric Roman (Chief Paako), Andy Devine (Sgt. McIntosh), Robert Hutton (Lt. Morgan), Robin Fletcher (Nancy Dempster), Ralph Peters (Stagecoach Driver), Lew Bedell (Hardsaddle), Terry Gilkyson (Singalong), Myron Healey (Heath), Ken Koutnik (Levering), Lois Hall (Suann Wilson, fort schoolteacher), Eddie Parks (Black), Chuck Hayward (Wounded Indian); Runtime: 77; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Irving Allen; RKO; 1951)

"Routine western with an unconvincing redemption scene at the end."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Irving Allen ("High Conquest"/"Strange Voyage"/"16 Fathoms Deep") directs this routine western with an unconvincing redemption scene at the end. It has a singing guitar-strumming commentary throughout by cavalry soldier Singalong (Terry Gilkyson, folk singer). The gimmick didn't work for me. The songs include: "Hoofbeat Serenade," "Ballad of Bandolier", "The Girl in the Wood", "Everyone's Crazy 'Ceptin' Me", and "Jittery Deer-Foot Dan." Sid Kuller wrote the lumpy script. The zealous right-wing RKO boss, Howard Hughes, replaced blacklisted actor Howard Da Silva, playing the commanding officer, with Brian Donlevy, and had his scenes re-shot.

A San Francisco-bound stagecoach, in 1882, while carrying mail and two passengers, crosses the "Slaughter Trail" through New Mexico, where it's held up by the notorious Vaughn gang, led by Vaughn (Gig Young) and his his two henchman, Heath (Myron Healey) and Levering (Ken Koutnik). Vaughn takes diamonds from a package in the mail sack and secretly leaves them with his accomplice, Lorabelle Larkin (Virginia Grey), who was posing as a passenger. They scheme to meet in San Francisco. But when fleeing the outlaws need fresh horses and rob them from a small Navajo ranch, killing three Indians with the wounded brave (Chuck Howard) managing to reach Chief Paako (Ric Roman) to report the incident. The Chief breaks the peace treaty with the whites and this forces the stagecoach to remain at Fort Marcy. When Vaughn realizes he can't get out of the territory without being scalped, he leaves the men in hiding and enters the fort posing as a rancher. When recognized because of his peculiar laugh by the other stagecoach passenger, the coffin maker Black (Eddie Parks), he's arrested with Lorabelle. When Vaugn escapes and rejoins his men, he's soon forced to return to the fort for safety. The hard-nosed Fort Marcy commander, Capt. Dempster (Brian Donlevy), refuses to turn the three outlaw killers over to Chief Paako, telling him they must face white man's justice. Paako says if he doesn't comply with his reasonable request, he will attack the fort with his superior forces.

It's easy to predict the outcome, but it's hard to stomach how the arrogant captain decides to free Lorabelle, after accepting her redemption and belief she learned her lesson and will from now on be a righteous woman. It's especially hard to grasp this move after the Captain has a number of his men slaughtered in the Indian attack because of his stubbornness and that he claims to believe in the American judicial system but conveniently circumvents it when it comes to serving justice on a beautiful lady--one the widow is sweet on.

REVIEWED ON 10/27/2013       GRADE: C

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"