The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Glory Guys

For over two years, I've been a Netflix member and have caught up with a lot of movies that were either impossible to find or I just wasn't willing to buy to actually see them.  Over the two years, Netflix has added many features but maybe none better than the ability to watch a long list of movies instantly through your computer or even by downloading through your TV.  There are some hidden gems among these many movies, but you've just got to find them.  I stumbled across a western today I've long wanted to see, 1965's The Glory Guys.

I don't know how many years back, but I caught the last 10 or 15 minutes of this on TCM when I got home from school.  Because it looked good and I was interested in seeing it again, it obviously hasn't been on TCM and of course is not available in any format.  Thank you, Netflix, for making it available.  With a screenplay by infamous director Sam Peckinpah, this western is a thinly veiled version of the massacre at the Little Big Horn when George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Cavalry were wiped out by a huge grouping of plains Indians. TV director Arnold Laven is listed as the movie's director, but rumors persist that Peckinpah handled some of the directing duties.  For a western that is long forgotten, it has too many positives to be left behind as it is.

After fighting the Apaches in the southwest, Captain Demas Harrod (Tom Tryon) is transferred to Fort Doniphan by the orders of famed Indian fighter General Frederick McCabe (Andrew Duggan).  He is assigned a company in the renowned 3rd Cavalry, but the men are a motley group of misfits with little experience with horses or firearms.  With the help of his company sergeant, Gregory (Slim Pickens), Harrod goes about whipping the men into shape for the coming campaign. Harrod also finds himself in a fight for the hand of widowed gunslinger Lisa Woodard (the always lovely Senta Berger) against Army scout Sol Rogers (Harve Presnell). All their problems aside though, the 3rd Cavalry is part of a huge campaign meant to control the plains Indians for good, and Gen. McCabe is looking for glory in the process, no matter the cost in men.

Part of the reason this western has been forgotten over the last 45 years is the casting of the leads, Tryon and Presnell.  Neither actor was a big star coming into 'Glory Guys' and neither would be afterward.  They're the type of roles you can see much bigger names taking over, but for me I thought the two did solid jobs.  Tryon can be a tad wooden at times, and Presnell's character is underwritten and underused, but they have a good chemistry together as they fight for Berger (and who'd blame them?). The unnecessary love triangle isn't as awful as it could have been thankfully, and besides a few scenes that kill momentum in the middle is left by the wayside.

More than a few things here reminded me of Peckinpah's other 1965 western, Major Dundee.  The big ones are obvious, a cavalry story fighting Indians serving as the basis for both movies' story.  But then there's the location filming in Durango, Mexico for both, and the casting of Berger, Pickens, and Michael Anderson Jr. in an eerily similar role to the one he played in Major Dundee. Whoever ended up directing more of 'Glory Guys,' there is the distinct feel of a Peckinpah movie whether it's seeing the same locations or just the dynamic among male characters.  Peckinpah had a knack for tough, hard-edged male characters who fight and fight only to side with each other when the chips are down.  There is a code among men like these, and they tend to live by it no matter the end result.  So yes, it may be an average western, but it's elements like this that help lift it up a notch or two.

What works best when the story isn't focusing on the love triangle is the training and development of Harrod's D Company as they arrive at the fort only to turn into highly competent cavalry soldiers.  Pickens is perfectly cast as tough Sgt. Gregory with Anderson Jr., a very young James Caan as brawling Irishman Anthony Duggan (the accent is must-hear), Adam Williams, and Erik Holland rounding out the recognizable faces in the company.  Peckinpah's screenplay is at its best when dealing with the training and the camaraderie that develops among these men.  The characters lean to outlines more than red-blooded characters, but Cann especially stands out, as does Anderson Jr.  Tryon's Harrod pushes his men because he's seen Gen. McCabe's dangerous battlefield tactics and knows the better prepared his men are, the more likely they'll make it through alive.  I wish more time could have been spent with D Company, but what's here is quality.

Now onto one of my self-named elements of movies I love, the sense of doom.  With a story about an eventual massacre, you know where everything's going to end up.  The last 45 minutes are dripping with tension as the 3rd Cavalry unknowingly rides to their doom.  The actual battle is a spectacle to behold, hundreds of cavalry and Indians on horseback going toe to toe.  Clearly some serious money was spent on the finale, an epic, well choreographed and constructed battle that would preview similar scenes in Major Dundee and The Wild Bunch.  If you're a Netflix member, I recommend checking this one out, and if not, keep an eye out for it.  How hard is it to find? I couldn't even find a trailer or a video clip.

The Glory Guys (1965): ***/****

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