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, November 5, 2013

Yellowstone Kelly

One of the turning points in the history of the taming of the west in the U.S., the massacre at the Little Big Horn has certainly received its due in film adaptations. Maybe more so is the fallout from the battle that wiped out George Custer and his famed 7th Cavalry. There's been a-plenty of westerns about what happened after the battle, like 1959's Yellowstone Kelly.

It's been several months since the Battle of the Little Bighorn, and well-known trapper and frontiersman Yellowstone Kelly (Clint Walker) has ridden down out of the hills with his trappings from a busy season. He catches a ride on a steamboat where he meets Anse Harper (Edd Byrnes), a young, inexperienced man traveling west, Kelly agreeing to take him along -- somewhat unwillingly -- when he heads back up into the mountains. Kelly is also approached by the cavalry to scout for them in helps of leading an expedition against the Sioux and Cheyenne. The veteran scout knows the land as well as anyone, but he also has an agreement with the warring Sioux so he declines the offer, instead heading out with Anse into the mountains. His decision has been made, but his involvement between the Indians and the cavalry is far from over.

From director Gordon Douglas, this 1959 western is a good but not great entry. It popped up recently on Encore Westerns and with no regular DVD out there for viewing, I wanted to give it a shot. If it doesn't do anything particularly new in the western genre, so be it. It's mostly entertaining. 'Kelly' benefits from some great location shooting in the Coconino National Forest and Sedona, Arizona. This is a Technicolor movie that needs to be viewed in widescreen. Just watching Walker's Kelly ride around through the mountains is a visual treat. Mountains, deserts, it's got it all to produce a great-looking movie. As well, the score from an uncredited Howard Jackson is good, borrowing from themes from They Died With Their Boots On, as well as a familiar tune here and there from The Charge at Feather River. It must be the Warner Brothers file archive.

Right in the midst of his successful TV run on Cheyenne, Walker takes a break to star here, and it's a good part. He's a good if not great actor, as much of a domineering physical presence as anything. The 6-foot-6 actor was certainly a presence on-screen, appearing to tower over his co-stars. He has a good chemistry with another TV star in Edd Byrnes. The experienced trailhand and scout working with the oppositely inexperienced younger man is a familiar genre convention, but it works well here. Neither Walker or Byrnes ever became huge stars, but the TV turned movie stars do very capably here. If there's a weak point, it's when Kelly and Harper rescue Wahleeah (Andra Martin), an Arapaho captive of the nearby Sioux tribe. Byrnes' Harper falls quickly for her, Kelly recommending he stays clear of her. It's just not as interesting as the other story. It's not awful, but it does slow things down in a 92-minute movie. 

This must have been a TV stars convention here for the cast. Star of TV's Lawman, John Russell wears some skin darkener and wears a pair of braids as Gall, a Sioux chieftain who had his life saved by Walker's Kelly years before. Now, he has an uneasy deal with the scout about where he can/can't go. Ray Danton plays Sayapi, Gall's pissed off nephew who wants his Arapaho captive back, and he doesn't care who's trying to stop him. Leading the cavalry contingent is Rhodes Reason as Major Townes, an officer who seemingly learns nothing from the past (i.e. Custer) with Gary Vinson as his Lieutenant, Claude Akins and Warren Oates playing Sergeant and Corporal, no names provided.

The action is kept on the small scale for the most part. An early fistfight has Kelly and Harper teaming to tangle with Akins' Sergeant and his soldiers. The biggest fighting is saved for the finale between the cavalry and the attacking Indians on a desert hillside covered in trees. It's pretty quick and doesn't have a ton of scale, but it's a good action scene. That's the western itself. Nothing flashy, but I enjoyed it. A pleasant time-waster with good locations and cast.

Yellowstone Kelly (1959): ** 1/2 /****

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