THE LAST FRONTIER was one of eleven westerns Anthony Mann directed between 1950 and 1960, the genre entries comprising one quarter of his total credits. It’s the least known of the array, and while not among the best, it is more entertaining than some and has enough of interest to serve for fans of frontier stories.
Three trappers (Victor Mature, James Whitmore and Pat Hogan), living rough and free in the woods of Oregon, are told to beat it by the regional Native Americans who are fed up with white incursion, specifically a fort, commanded by a zealous martinet (Robert Preston). Signing as scouts, the trios loyalties are tested by the army’s rules, and the rather oafish Mature takes a simplistic “me want” hankering to Preston’s dissatisfied wife (Anne Bancroft). Will there be a noisy Soldier vs. Braves showdown or two? Do we get inklings that another arrogant West Pointer will have to learn the hard way? Will we take issue with the script having Red Cloud, who operated out of Wyoming, be on the warpath in Oregon, or that Oregon is represented by location filming in Mexico, with mighty Popacatépetl looming on the horizon? Nah, it’s a 98-minute Saturday matinee from 1955, with no big axe to grind.
Mature’s performance is an odd mix of hammy and heartfelt (he’d just done Chief Crazy Horse, accurately filmed in the Black Hills)–his drunk scenes are pretty bad. Bancroft is okay, Guy Madison is on board as a good guy officer to counter Preston’s nastiness. Preston does best of the lot as the unsympathetic, somewhat twisted Colonel with a glory streak masking his lack of passion. He’s a little weird, this one.
Pretty good action scenes, and the camera work from William C. Mellor gets some mood mileage from Mann’s ominous compositions and the fresh, smell-the-pines scenery.
It only made around $1,000,000, trooping in 106th for the year. With Russell Collins, Peter Whitney, Manuel Donde, Jack Pennick and Guy Williams.