YELLOWSTONE KELLY, the real far-ranging frontiersman, occupies an exploit-hewn niche in the saga of the Wild West as a soldier, hunter and scout. The colorful 1959 Warner Brothers matinee sporting his nickname occupies a warm nostalgia bunk for aging western veterans raised on the weekly adventures of its rugged star, Clint Walker, hero of 108 episodes of TVs Cheyenne, and from familiarity with his co-stars of the period. It’s six decades now since this trim and handsome 91-minute buckskin yarn joined that year’s posse. In twenty quick summers it’ll be the same life span the movie had from its subject. Time flashes by as quickly as arrows from a Lakota bow or ricochets from a Winchester. As Burt Kennedy’s script has it, with Kelly referring to a river that is the divide from Sioux country, “I’ll tell you once more, Major. On this side, you’re in trouble. Over there, you’re dead!” Reckon so: we wouldn’t have it any other way…*
The 1870s —out West (the script blithely makes the usual, accepted-by-fans hash of geographical and tribal accuracy). Taciturn, respected Kelly (Clint) takes on youthful and eager partner ‘Anse’ (Edward Byrnes) for his fur-trapping forays into disputed territory. War chief Gall (John Russell) is okay with Kelly but not too thrilled with the white-eyes, blue-coated soldier boys who come arrogantly prancing into Sioux lands. When Kelly and Anse take on the care of wounded Arapaho maiden ‘Wahleeah’ (Andra Martin), it’s only a matter of time before Warner Brothers copyrighted gunshot sounds punctuate the dialogue. That ranges from the usual stilted speak-in-bromides ‘Indian-talk’ such as Wahleeah giving forth with “No man can take my love. It must be given as the sun gives warmth in the gray of dawn” to the more trenchant exchange between a presumptive cavalry officer and the reflexive hero—MAJ. TOWNS: “In other words, you refuse.” KELLY: “In any words, I refuse.”
Well-directed by action veteran Gordon Douglas, this kick back & enjoy oldie was filmed on some lovely Arizona locations around Flagstaff and Sedona and in the Coconino Natl.Forest. Low-key, handsome and imposing (he had a great voice) Walker fills the Kelly boots with assurance. The 32-year-old star did 3 westerns for Douglas starting with the neat Fort Dobbs in ’58, finishing up in ’61 with Gold Of The Seven Saints. This one was the most successful, targeting 60th place in ’59, with a gross of $4,300,000. Warner’s pushed Walker’s audience familiarity from Cheyenne, and buoyed it with the same TV popularity of Byrnes (77 Sunset Strip) and Russell (Lawman). Pretty, blue-eyed starlet Andra Martin (married at the time to another popular Warners’ TV cowboy—and future right-wing lunatic—Bronco‘s Ty Hardin) bailed on Hollywood a few years later.
Other Warner’s contract players adding to the couch & popcorn relaxation: Ray Danton, Claude Akins, Rhodes Reason and Gary Vinson, plus there’s a ropy newcomer named Warren Oates. Good action sequences were a Gordon Douglas specialty (The Charge At Feather River, Them!, Santiago, Rio Conchos) and this oater has its share.
* Spittin’ lead and spoutin’ advice in ’59: Rio Bravo, The Hanging Tree, Warlock, The Wonderful Country, They Came To Cordura, Last Train From Gun Hill, Day Of The Outlaw, No Name On The Bullet and Ride Lonesome. Turn on the boob tube and you had Clint’s Cheyenne and Russell’s Lawman, plus Maverick, The Rifleman, Wagon Train, Gunsmoke, The Rebel, Have Gun Will Travel, Riverboat, Laramie, Bronco, Tales Of Wells Fargo, Bat Masterson, The Life And Times Of Wyatt Earp, The Restless Gun, Colt.45, Wanted: Dead Or Alive, Cimarron City and Bonanza. And a half-dozen more…
** “The wishbone will never replace the backbone.” Kennedy’s screenplay was based not on the historical, quite interesting Luther Kelly, but off a novel by Clay Fisher. Fisher’s real name was Henry Wilson ‘Heck’ Allen (1912-1991), and he also wrote under the name Will Henry. Fisher/Henry western titles numbered more than 50 (the slim paperbacks were always available on spinner racks in drugstores and markets back in the ‘olden days’). Eight of these comfort-westerns were made into films, including The Tall Men, MacKenna’s Gold and Pillars Of The Sky. Along with the outdoor tales, Heck was a gag man for Tex Avery, so a lot of funny bits from dozens of classic cartoons can be traced to ‘Heck’.