The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

Arrow in the Dust

When I recorded four westerns off of Turner Classic Movies in January, I figured I'd lucked into something. I'd seen none of them, much less heard much about any of them, so I went in with measured expectations, hoping for at least one or two winners among the bunch. I was surprised as any when I really liked the first three (Gold of the Seven Saints, Fort Dobbs, Drum Beat), and then there was the fourth, 1954's Arrow in the Dust. No perfect 4-for-4 day at the plate this time.

Having deserted his post, U.S. cavalry trooper Bart Laish (Sterling Hayden) is on the run with a patrol not far behind. As he runs, he comes across the wreckage of an ambushed wagon train, his dying friend, Major Andy Pepperes (Carleton Young), among the bodies. Andy implores his friend to complete the mission he couldn't, take command of a wagon train that must get through to Fort Laramie. The Pawnee tribe is on the warpath, and the wagon train is guarded by a small, undermanned company waiting for a commander. Knowing that taking the job could be certain death, Bart poses as the Major and joins up with the train, hoping to bring it in safely while possibly also clearing his name.

 As a fan of the western genre, I can give a movie a pass if it still manages to entertain me in all its badness. This 1954 oater is testing even my limits. It is bad, truly bad. A B-movie that runs just 79 minutes but feels like an eternity has little to nothing going for it. From Allied Artists Pictures, 'Arrow' is one of the weakest westerns I've ever come across.  At least 30 minutes of the already glacial-like story is long shots of the train and the cavalry troop riding around to a generic western score. The script is predictable (if there was a script), the characters taken from the Western Stock Characters 101 list, the action laughable, and in general, a feeling of laziness. Bad, just bad.

I go back and forth with Sterling Hayden as an actor. In movies like The Asphalt Jungle, he's very good, but I think it's because he's working with an ensemble and not asked to carry the picture. In Dr. Strangelove, his wooden delivery works through the ridiculous nature of the story. In a bad B-movie like 'Arrow,' he stands out like a sore thumb. He looks physically uncomfortable in the part, and his stilted, awkward deliveries are as monotone as ever. His "command" comes to respect him, and I'm thinking "What did I miss?" When a movie depends on Hayden to carry an already sub-par story, you're in for a long movies. He also could be the most unrealistic cowboy/trooper I've ever seen. Watch him riding his horse. He always pulls back on the reins, his horse rearing its head with every stride like it's in pain.

Playing the deserter-turned-savoir with no real explanation provided for his desertion, Hayden's Bart makes decision after decision that gets stupider with each one. More and more of his men are killed, but because the story requires it, they love him and respect him. The "action" has a shot of cavalry firing at charging Indians, said Indians falling from their horses, cavalry shooting again. Any hand-to-hand combat is ridiculous, some of the worst choreographed fights ever, including one clumsy fight toward the end with two past their prime old men duking it out. The Pawnees also team up with the Apaches to become the dumbest tribe of warriors ever, charging into a wall of gunfire rather than shooting back. In the end, the cavalry makes it, apparently because the Indians got bored and went home. Who knows for sure.

While Hayden's bad performance is the most prominent, it is just one of many in this flick. Coleen Gray plays Christella (cool name), a single woman driving her own wagon as part of the train. She just hates Bart for how hard he drives the men, but gosh darnit! Wouldn't you know she kinda falls for him too? Hayden certainly gives her a lot to fall in love with. Keith Larsen is Lt. King, Bart's second-in-command, with Tom Tully playing the chubby scout, Crowshaw, who quickly finds out Bart's secret but doesn't say anything. The only other name even worth mentioning is Lee Van Cleef in a supporting role as a trouble-making gunslinger. Watch quick though before he makes a gruesome exit.

If you've made it this far, I appreciate it. I can't recommend this even to western fans, but if you can come up with a good drinking game to go with it, lots of alcohol/booze could make it more enjoyable.  Well, maybe, it's a shot in the dark. Feeling like torturing yourself? Watch the entire movie below.

Arrow in the Dust <---entire movie (1954): */****

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