Incident At Phantom Hill

INCIDENT AT PHANTOM HILL was merely an incident in (a) the cliché-littered landscape of B-westerns, this example being one of literally thousands (b), the resumes of its genre-durable cast: after all, a job is a job, and (c) Universal’s habit of loading up the bottom-half of double-bills with easy-to-make, easier-to-forget schlock. *

Texas, 1865. The Civil War ending, a stolen Union gold shipment is sought by Yankees and Rebels. Comanches are in the way, so is ‘Memphis’ (not the city), a saloon babe—or dance hall dame, or card sharp gal, or whatever: it doesn’t matter because she’s play-acted by Jocelyn Lane. At 28, La Lane, late of Tickle Me, was muy easy on the eyes, but pure hell on convincingly  reciting dialog. The main good guy is saddle-proven Robert Fuller, the head troublemaker is the always welcome Dan Duryea. Backing various plays are the we-can-do-this-in-our-sleep likes of Claude Akins, Noah Beery Jr., Paul Fix and Denver Pyle. They—and we—have all been here before, and better.

Either director Earl Bellamy (tons of TV) or his editor (Gene Milford, slumming: he boasted some major credits) dropped the ball, because while the stuntmen earn their pay, the lazy continuity in some of the action scenes is just plain laughable. At any rate, the screenplay, written by Frank S. Nugent and Ken Pettus, won’t win anyone over to the genre. **

The poster art went the full Montesquieu with “A MILLION DOLLARS IN GOLD WAITS FOR 2 DESPERATE MEN and a BLONDE WILDCAT!” and “NOW THRILL to TVs famed frontier fighter ROBERT FULLER in his first starring motion picture role!!!”  Alas, at 32, Fuller’s good luck on TV (Laramie, Wagon Train, Emergency! ) didn’t carry over into features.

Also in the cast: Tom Simcox, Linden Chiles, William Phipps, Don Collier, Mickey Finn, Bing Russell. It went down the memory hole, grossing $1,700,000, 108th place that year.

* The slate of second-rate westerns boring sparse audiences in 1966 included Ride Beyond Vengeance, Return Of The Seven (Fuller and Akins again), Waco, Johnny Reno, Apache Uprising, Gunpoint, and a wan remake of The Plainsman. The last two came from Universal, which also fowled some genre duds higher up on the pecking order, cast-wise, in The Rare Breed, The Appaloosa, and Texas Across The River. Keeping the genre on life support that year were The Professionals, Duel At Diablo and Nevada Smith.

** Frank S. Nugent, who co-wrote the script, died at 57, one month before the movie was released. Regrettable then, that this turkey was his last shot, with credits that included numerous classics, among them The Searchers and The Quiet Man.

Nugent on John Ford: “I have often wondered why Ford chose me to write his cavalry films. I had been on a horse but once—and to our mutual humiliation. I had never seen an Indian. My knowledge of the Civil War extended only slightly beyond the fact that there was a North and a South, with West vulnerable and East dealing. I did know a Remington from a Winchester—Remington was the painter. In view of all this, I can only surmise that Ford picked me for Fort Apache as a challenge.”    Stick with Nugent’s Ford fables, and leave the incidental Incident At Phantom Hill in the trivia basket.

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