Many years ago as a small boy, I was caught by my teacher writing the name of one of my cowboy hero's into my desk top. Not even the pliers and toe nails approach will induce me to tell you which one! This was an unpardonable crime in those days. Most healthy young boys were writing the names of pretty girls on their desks, but oh no, not me. The teacher concerned believed that ritual humiliation in front of the rest of the class was the answer. They could do that then, you know! Thus my misdemeanour was made very public and the other kids gave me a new handle. I was known as "John Wayne Lover". Oh, the terrible humiliation. Did it cure me? Well no, because I have this awful stubborn streak that also made me refuse to eat prunes and custard for school dinners. They punished me by placing a dunce's cap on my head and standing me in the corner. Today I still refuse to eat that disgusting concoction on principle. I also watch as many westerns as I can get my hands on, as you might gather from my reviews. So here I go again, another western to review. "Huston, I think I have a problem". Does anyone out there have a cure for this rare disease?
"Only the Valiant" is an unusual film, and does have some merits. It also has a few de-merits. The film throws in elements of "Beau Geste," John Ford's "The Lost Patrol," set in the Mesopotamian desert, and coming more up to date "The Dirty Dozen." Gregory Peck plays a troop commander at Fort Winston in the New Mexico Territory. When the fort is threatened by hostile Apache, he selects a small band of malcontents, a la Lee Marvin, and heads off into the desert and Fort Invincible. The fort sits strategically at the only pass in a range of mountains, through which the rampaging Apache must pass to launch any attack. Fort Invincible is a thinly disguised Fort Zindernuff from "Beau Geste." This is further enforced by the casting of Lon Chaney Jnr as Trooper Kebussyan, an Arabic looking Armenian, known as A'rab. I am not sure viewers from the Arabic speaking world would approve, but this was before the brave new world of PC gone bonkers. The role was a very stereo type Arab who reminded me strongly of Bernard Bresslaw in "Carry on Camel," although Bernard was much more believable! So, poor old Peck ends up with a battle on two fronts. The Apaches are a bunch of sissies compared to his own men. Thankfully his own men are nearly as stupid as the Apache, who practiced some sort of death wish in throwing themselves at the impregnably sited fortress. They must have had a General Haig type character organising the attacks. All of this increases our commanders chances of survival. Not all will make it to the final exciting reel, amongst the action aplenty.
The advertising hype went, "They were Six and they Fought like 600". Now that would have appealed to some schoolboy so besotted with westerns that he would scratch his hero's names into a desk top, but perhaps not to the more discerning cinema goer. This makes it clear that the film sells itself on its action, a bit like the more recent "Black Hawk Down." Unfortunately although the film boasts an A cast, it also has very obvious B production values. The cast includes old John Ford stalwart Ward Bond, as an alcoholic Sergeant, and Gig Young as a fellow officer. Neville Brand and Warner Anderson also offer good support. Peck appears to be freshly graduated from the mannequin school of acting, such is his lack of dynamism. He was unable to convey any trace of the emotions bubbling just beneath the surface of the leading character, which the role demanded. On a definite plus side the film does boast a literate script, which is based on a book by Charles Marquis Warren, who briefly turned director in the fifties, before finding a comfortable little number as executive producer on TV series like "Rawhide" and "Gunsmoke". The director Gordon Douglas made other westerns including the interesting "The Fiend Who Walked the West," and the very good "Rio Conchos." On a lesser note he also directed the dire "Stagecoach" remake in 1966. This film is certainly not a classic but is interesting in the way it plagiarises from other better known films. Three stars for that reason, and of course the fact that it is a western