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Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Western Classics - The Last Wagon (1956)

The Last Wagon (1956)
Directed by Delmer Daves

The DeLuxe color looks wonderful in this digital transfer and makes the most of the Arizona landscapes. I've seen this movie several times over the years as it's often run on television, but this DVD offers the best print I've ever seen. I watched the film as a standard DVD but played through a blu-ray system which upscaled the picture somewhat but even on a standard player this looks terrific.

Comanche Todd (Richard Widmark) a white man who has been raised by the Comanches starts of the film as a fugitive who is captured by the brutal Sheriff Bull Harper. When Todd is captured by the sheriff he is brutalized by the lawman. However they soon come across a part of settlers led by Colonel Nimrod. The sheriff and Todd end up traveling with the party but soon the lawman's  treatment of his prisoner causes friction and Todd eventually kills the man.

Then, while some of the young people sneak away for a late night swim, the Apaches raid the camp. Todd  survives a fall when the wagon to which he is tied is thrown off a cliff by the Apaches, and now it is up to Todd to lead the six young survivors to safety, despite the distrust of some of them.

Richard Widmark is brilliant and on times appears sinister whilst at others he is totally selfless and heroic. His is a well flushed out character and the script and direction allow for a compelling performance from Widmark. He looks excellent, like a true movie star should. It takes a long while for the viewer to see his good side, and for the first section of the film he comes across as a sadistic killer. The scene where he kills the sheriff is especially effective given that he does so in front of the children who he will later save. The largely young cast are also superb and play off well against Widmark's seasoned turn as a man who on times seems more like an animal. The film does contain some liberal preaching to the viewer, but this is never at the expense of the rousing adventure. This is something it holds in common with the same director's 1950 classic, Broken Arrow of which it is sometimes reminiscent.

The only problem I had with the film was that the ending was corny and didn't fit well with the fatalistic tone of the rest of the movie, but that's a small complaint as it's only at this point that the excitement lets up. The Last Wagon deserves a place in any western DVD collection.

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