Monday, October 28, 2013

#1,169. The Horse Soldiers (1959)

Directed By: John Ford

Starring: John Wayne, William Holden, Constance Towers

Tag line: "...Rides Where Only The Great Ones Go!"

Trivia: The film marked the beginning of mega-deals for Hollywood stars. John Wayne and William Holden received $775,000 each, plus 20% of the overall profits, an unheard-of sum for that time

Here’s a little-known John Ford adventure that deserves more recognition than it’s received. Starring the director’s favorite actor, John Wayne, The Horse Soldiers features an action-packed Civil War-era story, and is one rousingly exciting motion picture.

Hoping to cut off the Confederate army’s supply chain, U.S General Grant (Stan Jones) orders Col. John Marlowe (Wayne) to lead his cavalry unit hundreds of miles into enemy territory and destroy a railway supply center in Newton Station, Mississippi. Joined by the company surgeon, Major Henry Kendall (William Holden), Col. Marlowe drives deep into the heart of the Confederacy, engaging the enemy while, in the process, trying to tame an incorrigible Southern Belle named Miss Hannah (Constance Towers), who does everything she can to disrupt the Cavalry’s advance.

Wayne and Holden are excellent as the two officers at odds with one another (following the death of his wife, which occurred during surgery, Wayne’s Col. Marlowe has little time for doctors), and Constance Towers is also strong as Miss Hannah, the patriotic Confederate Belle who catches wind of the Union plan (to keep her from revealing it to the enemy, she becomes Col. Marlowe’s prisoner, accompanying his cavalry on their trek). The real attraction here, though, is John Ford’s impeccable eye for action, culminating in a number of terrific showdowns between the Union and the Confederates. Along with the thrills, there are other “Ford” touches as well, like the scene where the cadets at a Southern Military Academy, all of whom are teenagers, march out to meet the Northern army (when Col. Marlowe chooses not to fight and instead sounds retreat, the rebel teens let out a victory yell).

Produced three years after his classic The Searchers, Ford’s The Horse Soldiers is, along with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, one of the better films from the tail end of the great director’s career.

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