The Sons of Katie Elder

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rogue's March

Like The Beatles or any other popular group, everyone has their favorite Rat Pack member. Okay, maybe not everyone, but I needed something to write about so back off. Dean Martin is mine, followed closely by Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and bringing up the rear, Peter Lawford. I've never thought of him as a great actor -- typically excelling at playing the condescending ass -- but with 1953's Rogue's March I might be coming around a bit.

A clerk who's never seen a second of actual combat, Capt. Dion Lenbridge (Lawford) gets by because his father, Colonel Lenbridge (Leo G. Carroll), is the commander of his regiment around the turn of the 19th Century. As the battalion is preparing to ship out to India, Dion is set up to look like a traitor for having sold secrets documents to Russian agents. The charge is false, but he has no way of reputing it. Before his long sentence begins, Dion escapes and fakes his own death to get the heat off his back. He has a plan though so he joins up with a different British unit under a false name as a private. Somehow and some way, he's going to redeem his honor and clear his name for the treacherous acts he's been accused of.

To be fair to Lawford as an actor, I'm more familiar with the movies he did later in his career near and around his Rat Pack days. He didn't have to act in those movies. He had to be cool more than anything else, but his cool always came across as smarmy and arrogant (to me at least). Lawford though had been working regularly in films since the early 1940s and has quite a few solid roles to his name, this one included. It's not a great role, and he doesn't really call all that much attention to himself. Like the movie on the whole, things pick up in the second half when he has nothing to lose. He's gotten his comeuppance and now has to fight to prove his innocence no matter how difficult or dangerous. Good, solid part, and a believable heroic lead.

As for the movie itself, it reflects Lawford in the lead role. It is a good, entertaining movie that never amounts to anything greater. The early goings as Lawford's Dion (what the hell kind of name is that even? I want to punch him for the name alone) is set up to take a fall are a little slow-going, but once he fakes his death the story picks up momentum. Director Allan Davis is balancing a lot of characters and relationships in a relatively short movie at 84 minutes so naturally some are not dealt with as much as we might like. 'March' has the distinct feel of the classic Gunga Din from the British army in India to the battle scenes to the hidden, menacing enemy. There's a reason it's been forgotten over the years, but you can certainly do worse.

With a fair share of British character actors (and Americans playing Brits), Lawford doesn't have to carry the movie on his own. Richard Greene plays Capt. Thomas Garron, Dion's old friend who knows the charges cannot be true and a soldier as brave as his friend. Janice Rule is Jane, Dion's fiance who doesn't seem too surprised when said dead fiance comes back from beyond the grave. Carroll is the prim and proper veteran British officer with a stiff upper lip, weighing his sentiment for his son with what he owes to the men of his command. Buried away down in the cast listing are Sean McClory, Michael Pate, and Skelton Knaggs as McGinty, Crane and Fish as three of Dion's friends in the regiments when he re-enlists. Also look for John Lupton as Lt. Jersey, an inexperienced officer who looks to Dion in the heat of battle.

Where 'March' most resembles the classic Gunga Din is in the finale, a British regiment trying to hold off an attack by Indian riflemen. The battle sequences are greatly enhanced by some on-location shooting, 'March' actually being filmed in the spot where the story takes place, the Khyber Pass, a mountain pass linking Pakistan and Afghanistan. The American Southwest wouldn't have held a candle to this spot. The black and white photography aids the location shooting, giving that desert an even more desolate and isolated feel, and the scale of the final battle is pretty impressive for such a small movie. It definitely helps make up for the lack of action in the build-up.

Rogue's March (1953): ** 1/2 /****

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