The Plainsman (1966)

THE PLAINSMAN,1966 remake fodder from Universal, redid a popular Gary Cooper-Jean Arthur entertainment made by Cecil B. DeMille in 1936, hoo-haw around frontier figures Wild Bill Hickok, Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane. Custer is tossed in for the heck of it. Enough genre fans dutifully trooped in to give it a gross of $2,000,000, then left theaters grumbling that they’d plunked down a couple bucks for a bag of wet sawdust.

Army vet/gambler/scout/two-gun sureshot Bill Hickok (Don Murray) tries to stop an Indian War with the help from rough-hewn buddy Bill Cody (Guy Stockwell). He’s pestered by the feisty attentions of Jane (Abby Dalton), hassled by a snotty lieutenant (Bradford Dillman), and challenged by bad-tempered ‘Crazy Knife’ (Henry Silva). It all comes out in the end, but not until history’s been twisted into a tumbleweed, bad dialogue has been spewed like buckshot and the budget-required number of extras topple off their horses and/or get the critters to fall down & roll over.

Lazily directed by David Lowell Rich, scribbled by Michael Blankfort, it’s a cowpie. Scenic Arizona locations (Wolf Hole Valley, Moccasin Mountains, Paiute Wilderness Area) contrast with bad rear-projection work and obvious studio sets. John (then Johnny) Williams zestful score tries to impart some spirit, suggesting a grandeur the rest of the movie, both forced and anemic, doesn’t deliver.

The cast must have felt downhearted, stacked with once-bright careers waning or stalled. Murray’s earlier shot at A-list stardom was spent; Stockwell, after a strong role in The War Lord, was dumped carelessly dumped by Universal into a sequence of tepid projects; Dalton’s cute-sexy persona, familiar from TV shows, didn’t translate at all here, she’s grating (the lousy script, weak direction and cheesy costumes don’t help); Dillman by now consigned to thankless roles as a prig.

Others collecting paychecks include Simon Oakland (headdress adorned and “Injun”-speakin’ as Cheynne chief Black Kettle), Leslie Nielsen (biding time and paying mortgage bills as Custer), Edward Binns, Percy Rodrigues, Terry Wilson (Wagon Train veteran), Walter Burke, Emily Banks (wake up, Trekkies, it’s ‘Yeoman Tonia Barrows’!), Roy Jenson, Doodles Weaver and John Mitchum. 92 minutes.

 

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