THEY RODE WEST because they couldn’t think of anything else to call this mediocre 1954 western, whose gross of $2,100,000 put it 118th in the year’s throng, which included at least 33 entries in its genre. Directed by Phil Karlson, other than being decently performed, it’s distinguished only by some facets of production trivia. *
Having suffered three bad doctors in a row (a drunk, a hop head and a butcher) a cavalry unit hopes new surgeon ‘Lt. Allen Stewart’ (Robert Francis) knows what he’s doing. But when they find out he’s sympathetic to the nearby Kiowa tribe, the men consider him a race traitor. Then the Kiowas and Comanches team up to attack the fort, which is also stricken with malaria, and the new man rises to the occasion.
Written by vaunted veteran Frank S. Nugent (The Quiet Man) and the less exalted DeVallon Scott, this at least got the dirt on Army doctors of the period: they weren’t exactly beloved, especially after their mostly horrendous record during the Civil War. Otherwise, there’s the colonels’ niece (Donna Reed) who puts her best flirt forward, an Indian-hating captain (Philip Carey), an Irish sergeant who likes whiskey, a white girl gone native (May Wynn), inaccurate placement of the Kiowas and Comanches in obvious Californian hills instead of the Texas plains, and some unexciting, under-staffed action scenes with some particularly sloppy tactics employed by the Indians. Not a high scorer on the authenticity scale.
With Onslow Stevens, Jack Kelly, Roy Roberts, Frank de Kova, John War Eagle, James Best, Myron Healey, Harry Lauter, James Anderson and Buck Bucko (a real cowhand from Yakima, Washington: had to include him just ‘cuz of the name). 84 minutes.
* The distinguishing characteristics of this cavalry-Indian fracas—-(1) it was one of just four pictures Robert Francis appeared in before his death in an airplane accident in 1955; (2) after her well-deserved Oscar win for From Here To Eternity, Donna Reed only had a few worthwhile movie credits (The Last Time I Saw Paris, Ransom!), somehow getting plunked into a batch of mediocre westerns like this (Gun Fury, Three Hours To Kill, The Far Horizons—pretty, anyway, as Sacajawea—and Backlash) before zeroing in for great success on TV; (3) it’s a weak sister for writer Frank S. Nugent, whose saddle sojourns include Fort Apache, Three Godfathers, She Wore A Yellow Ribbon, Wagon Master, The Tall Men, The Searchers and Gunman’s Walk; (4) even though its Native Americans are still portrayed in cardboard fashion, it was part of the trend toward a more sympathetic look at how they were treated. So there’s that.