Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Westerns and the overall filmmaking process. Click here to listen.
Week 180: Little Big Horn (1951)
It’s fascinating that the debut Westerns by the directors I’m studying are so good. I’m thinking of Andre De Toth’s Ramrod and Burt Kennedy’s The Canadians. The same is true of Charles Marquis Warren’s Little Big Horn, his first directorial effort and from what I’ve seen so far also his best.
Do not persuaded by the title. This is not a war film about Custer’s infamous moment in history. It’s about a group of Cavalry soldiers trying to get to him in time to warn him of impending danger, apparently inspired by a true story of such a troop. In many ways, the narrative reminds me of our movie Counting Bullets, taking a band of soldiers and pitting them against incredible odds. The strength of Warren’s movie entirely rests on its characters. There isn’t much to the plot; it’s all about seeing these guys go through struggle after struggle and learning about them as we do.
Lloyd Bridges and John Ireland, who usually play second fiddle to A-listers, take the lead roles here. Both do a great job, especially Lloyd as the gruff commander. I’m not used to seeing the actor in a role like this and it opened my eyes up to his versatility as a performer. Warren presents two complex protagonists and pits them against each other. As I go through his work, his gravitation towards complicated male heroes seems to be a preoccupation for the writer/director.
Some scenes in this movie are unforgettable and elevate it from good to great. I’m thinking of a haunting moment when they find what’s become of their scout, a scene that made me cry when they must leave a wounded soldier behind, and the striking final fifteen minutes.
This is one of the great forgotten Westerns.
Watched at https://ok.ru/video/2721547684532