Last of the Comanches

Talkie of the Week: aka The Sabre and the Arrow

USA 1953, 85 minutes, color, Columbia Pictures. Director: André de Toth, Written by Kenneth Gamet. Cast: Broderick Crawford, Barbara Hale, Johnny Stewart, Lloyd Bridges, Mickey Shaughnessy, George Mathews, Hugh Sanders, Ric Roman, Chubby Johnson, Martin Milner, Milton Parsons, Jack Woody, John War Eagle

Plot summary: Stuck in the desert without water and food, six soldiers and a handful of civilians are fighting for survival against Black Cloud and his Comanches.

Review: Shot in color as a diverting yet exhausting Western, Last of the Comanches tells the tale of six surviving soldiers from wiped out Dry Buttes who are struggling to escape Black Cloud. Together with a small group of civilians, they are trying to survive in the desert, desperately looking for water until they meet an Indian boy who has escaped Comanche captivity. With his help, they find the last resources his own people used to rely on in the dry season, giving them strength to make a last stand against an overpowering number of Comanche warriors.

Starring Broderick Crawford as Sergeant Matt Trainor, the film is dominated by a group of weathered, hardened men who are fighting for their lives. Barbara Hale supports the cast as Julia Lanning, a young woman whose quiet resilience leaves a lasting impression on the commanding officer without resulting in a romance. The film focuses on the hopelessness of the situation, the fears and frustrations of a group of strangers who are forced to work together in order to preserve a glimpse of hope about their own survival. The images are hot, dry and dusty, leaving the audience thirsty and hungry along with the protagonists. It is the unobtrusive performance of Barbara Hale and her undeniable talent to be the perfect supporting actress that doesn’t turn this film into a draining experience. She is subtle about her character’s fears and growth, and manages to create a believable bond between Julia Lanning and the Sergeant without including too much tenderness.

All in all, the film was blessed with a convincing cast and a quiet, adventurous script that still works its magic on an audience who is fond of classic Westerns. Once available on VHS, the film has not yet been released on DVD but can be seen in occasional reruns on TV. It is one of those gems that grows on you the more often you see it, so be on the lookout and enjoy this rather atypical Western of the 1950s.

Last of the Comanches sample scene