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They'll catch up to you and cut you to pieces, you nameless, fatherless scum.
on 29 April 2011
Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne) is asked to take his Union calvary troop deep into Confederate territory to destroy the railroad and depot at Newton Station. Much to Marlowe's chagrin, regimental surgeon Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) is also along for the mission. With both men completely at odds with each other as regards adherence to duty and the execution of war. Things are further complicated when the brigade rests at Greenbriar Plantation, because Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers), the plantation's mistress, and her slave Lukey (Althea Gibson) eavesdrop on a staff meeting thus hearing the plans about the raid. To protect the mission, Marlowe is forced to take the two women with him.
John Ford's venture into the American Civil War is adapted from Harold Sinclair's novel of the same name. The story is based around the true story of Grierson's Raid and the climatic Battle of Newton's Station, which was led by Colonel Benjamin Grierson who, along with his men, rode hundreds of miles behind enemy lines in April 1863 to blow up the railroad between Newton's Station and Vicksburg, Mississippi. Thus giving Confederate General John C. Pemberton a whole heap of problems.
What is at first the most striking thing about The Horse Soldiers is the chemistry between Holden and Wayne, friends in real life they were and my how does it show here. It gives the film a real sense of believability, the characters may be at odds as the ideological conflict between the military and the medical professions shows its hand, but a respectful, almost friendly rivalry shines thru from the two icons of machismo. Tho often described as one of the lesser lights in the John Wayne/John Ford partnership, The Horse Soldiers contains all the stock features that make up the best of Ford's Oaters.
The Duke, Holden and bright eyed Constance Towers are obviously well framed in gorgeous settings, William Clothier working his photography magic in Louisiana and in and around Natchez, Mississippi. The lead song is a rousing one as Stan Jones warbles 'I Left My Love,' and the piece is chocked full of interesting characters fleshed with Ford thematics. Respect, strength, a love of your country, all given an observational, and customary, sheen from the master director. Ford even takes time to vent his spleen at cowards, courtesy of an engrossing sequence involving Strother Martin, while a running theme of surgery, particularly the legs, gives the piece a dramatic and honest historical core. The battle scenes are as to be expected, handled with skill, with a poignant moment as Confederate Cadettes are sent out to fight by the besieged superiors being as sad and indicative of the War as it is important in the context of Ford's story telling.
Off camera the shoot was not without problems, Ford was battling the bottle and was making everyones life a misery, particularly The Duke. Things were further darkened when Ford's friend, Fred Kennedy, a retired stuntman, asked for a job in the film on account of being broke financially. Reluctantly agreeing he allowed Kennedy to perform a basic stunt of falling off a horse. But tragically, Kennedy broke his neck during the stunt and was dead before reaching the hospital. Ford was shattered, closing down the location site and returning home. The final battle scenes were eventually finished at San Fernando Valley, from where Ford headed to Hawaii and hit the bottle big time. 7.5/10