THE COMMAND occupies a niche in movie history as the first western in CinemaScope, with the new wide-screen process, popular star Guy Madison and tons of action churning up good matinee profits back in 1954. It may have also set a record for the number of ‘salutes’ executed in a 94-minute time span, the arms of assorted non-coms and officers vigorously snapping into obedience more times than you’d see in a year at West Point.
‘Capt. McClaw’ (Madison), a doctor with no combat experience, takes command of a disgruntled troop of cavalry, charged with screening an infantry outfit escorting a wagon train through Indian country, ablaze with hostility after the Custer massacre. By the time nine separate action sequences have ceased racket, McClaw has won the admiration of hard-butt ‘Sgt.Elliott’ (James Whitmore) and bellowing dinosaur ‘Col.Janeway’ (Carl Benton Reid), dealt with smallpox, developed new tactics and managed to make out with voomsome ‘Martha Cutting’ (Joan Weldon). Capt. McClaw does this despite Guy Madison possessing no more than two facial expressions. Anyone ever count how many crusty-but-swell sergeants Whitmore played? The bluster-riven screenplay has Reid overdose on yelling, to the point where the character has a welcome heart attack. Miss Weldon, who co-starred with Whitmore in the same-year classic Them! gets to display more amore than she was allowed in the Ant Movie, and gets the requisite bare-shoulder-scene, the excuse here being for a smallpox vaccination (kudos to the writer!). Harvey Lembeck provides loud, obvious, unfunny comedy relief and Ray Teal plays a nincompoop surgeon shown up by McClaw. The portrayal of the Native Americans is offensive; they’re on hand to get mown down by Army firepower. *
“I got a uniform and a conscience. Right now, the uniform covers the conscience.”
Over-spirited 50s nonsense was directed by David Butler, filming his skirmishes back when some areas of Southern California had not yet been turned into residential blots—Agoura, Thousand Oaks and Calabasas. Russell Hughes wrote the script, from Samuel Fuller’s adaptation of “Rear Guard”, a novel by James Warner Bellah.
Adept buffs will spot Denver Pyle and John Beradino. Dimitri Tiomkin whipped up a noisy score, not one of his best. Film came in 41st place for the year, grossing $7,100,000.
* I must’ve seen this when I was a kid, but memory fails. Finally caught up with it, and the verdict is, ‘yes, I would have loved it as a kid’, because of all the action, but its dumbness is a hard row to hoe viewed through grownspun eyes.
For better or worse—mostly better—the western genre was hopping in ’54: Vera Cruz, River Of No Return, Broken Lance, Drum Beat, Apache, Garden Of Evil, The Far Country, Johnny Guitar, Saskatchewan, The Violent Men, Ride Clear Of Diablo, Destry, Track Of The Cat, Taza Son Of Cochise.…