Film review – Revolt at Fort Laramie (Lesley Selander, 1957)

12 Angry Men, 3:10 to Yuma and The Bridge on the River Kwai may be more fondly American films from 1957, but Lesley Selander’s Civil War drama isn’t without its merits, even if the production values and a slightly generic premise make it just short of enjoyable.

The story is set in 1861 at the titular Fort Laramie in Wyoming, an outpost at which a cavalry of northern and southern USA soldiers await a trade with Native Americans of gold as part of a peace deal. However, just before the deal is completed, the American Civil War breaks out. At this point, the inner rivalries within the outpost threaten to bubble over and cause a mini civil war to rival that breaking out throughout the country.

There is a decent cast assembled to play out the film. John Dehner portrays Maj. Seth Bradner, a southerner in charge of the outpost, whilst the two factions are led by Confederate Sgt. Darrach (Robert Keys) and Federal Sgt. Serrell (Bill Phillips). Northern Captain Jamie Tenslip (Gregg Palmer) is in love with the major’s daughter Melissa (Frances Helm). There’s enough complexity to make for an engrossing storyline that should bring with it excitement.

Where it falls down is that the cast seem like they’re going through the motions. They’re delivering their lines, but for some reason the performances are devoid of any emotion. The film should really be much longer to flesh out the various storylines to bring them to life, but I’m not convinced the actors had it in them. The result is that even at 70 minutes the film feels like it’s dragging.

Harry Dean Stanton makes an early appearance in the film as a character called Rinty. The only thing less convincing than his acting is his fake harmonica playing. 

However, the worst performance in the film is from Don Gordon as a Sioux scout. I spent ten minutes wondering why there was a Mexican mixed up in a civil war issue. Fortunately, a Native American accent wasn’t required when he delivered brilliant performances in the likes of The Towering Inferno, Bullitt and Papillon.

It’s not a brilliant film, it’s not the best film about the subject matter and it’s not top of many of the actor’s greatest performances. It’s fine. Just an average western film from a time when the cinema market was flooded with them.

Revolt at Fort Lamarie can be bought on DVD now. Or you can simply watch the entire film online using the link above.

Film review – The Revenant (Alejandro González Iñárritu, 2016)

Watching The Revenant was an ordeal. Realistically gritty, putting the viewed in the centre of the action at all times and not afraid to show a bit of gore, that I felt so uncomfortable was inevitably a deliberate choice and will be one of the reasons it inevitably wins big at the awards ceremonies this year.

The story is set in 1823 in Louisiana Purchase, which the modern world now knows as North and South Dakota. It opens with a good old-fashioned Western movie standoff: the hunters are in the woods stockpiling pelts when they are ambushed by a group of Arikara Native Americans. The scene is one of the grittiest and most brutal opening battle sequences since Saving Private Ryan. People from both sides are blown up, arrows pierce any and every body part and nothing is watered down or censored.

The hunters are led by Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson), whilst the team includes hostile John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and the experienced Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio). Hostility is felt between Fitzgerald and Glass; the former has been partially scalped by Native Americans and the latter has a son, Hawk, from his relationship with a native.

revenant screenshot

Come on guys. He’s done enough for the award this year.

The most famous scene from the film, in which Glass is brutally attacked by a female bear as he tried to hunt her cubs, is almost betrayed by a lack of convincing CGI. Fortunately if you believe in it enough, DiCaprio saves the day with a wholly convincing portrayal of a man desperately fighting for his life. It’s really difficult to watch but strangely mesmerizing, every grimace making you want to turn away and look closer in equal parts.

Tom Hardy is completely unlikeable as John Fitzgerald, just as he should be. There is literally nothing good about his character and it’s another huge achievement in Hardy’s young career.

As the final shot plays out, DiCaprio looks straight down the barrel of the lens and into our eyes. In the film, Glass is showing a whole range of spoilery emotions. In the real world, it felt like DiCaprio was saying to us “I’ve been attacked by a bear, had valleys dug into my back, been left for dead, thrown off a cliff, almost drowned, shot at, climbed inside a dead horse, eaten raw meat, learned the native Arikara language and almost frozen to death… so can I have an Oscar this year please?” I don’t think anyone who sees this could deny him of it. Not this time around.

The Revenant is on general release now.