The Last Wagon (1956)


When a handful of settlers survive an Apache attack on their wagon train they must put their lives into the hands of Comanche Todd, a white man who has lived with the Comanches most of his life and is wanted for the murder of three men.

He'll be safe. The first time he don't look safe, he'll get dead.
We open with a pursuit of a man across Canyon Of Death {Oak Creek Canyon}, the man being pursued is Comanche Todd. Todd is a white man with Comanche blood coursing thru his veins, he's also a wanted man, wanted for the murder of three men. After his capture by Sheriff Bull Harper, Todd and his captor run into a wagon train of Christian settlers who suffer an attack by the Apache. Severely depleted and ill equipped to deal with the terrain and threat of further attacks, the remaining settlers must put their trust in Todd to hopefully steer them all to safety.
The Last Wagon is one in a long line of Westerns that feature a similar plot, but this Delmer Daves {Dark Passage & 3:10 to Yuma} picture is a touch above many of the others due to having a few things in its favour. Primarily the picture's major draw card is the performance of Richard Widmark as Todd. In what could have been a by the numbers character, Widmark fills the role out with a sort of resentful angst. Resentful and angry angst that is coated with delicate flecks of romanticism! With the romantic plot strand here being no hindrance at all. In fact the romance here with Felicia Farr's {delightful performance} Jenny is sexy and mixes well with the dramatic core of The Last Wagon's being. As a character study of a group of people under duress, Daves and his co writer, James Edward Grant, have excelled and broken away from maudlin tendencies so rife in films of this ilk. Virtues and vices come under the microscope, as does the art of being humanitarian, regardless of circumstance and being armed with basic facts or foolishly acting on hearsay.
Also containing some beautiful location work at the afore mentioned Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona {filmed in Cinemascope and Technicolor}, it's most certainly looking like a film that has apparently been forgotten outside of the Widmark and Western purists. And that's a damn shame, because although the ending doesn't quite sit right with all that has gone before it, it's a fine Western picture just begging to be discovered by any prospective newcomers to an often derided genre. 8/10

20th Century Fox by Delmer Daves, James Edward Grant, Gwen Bagni.
Stars: Richard Widmark, Felicia Farr, Susan Kohner, Tommy Rettig.

Genres: Adventure, Drama, Western

Keywords: apache wagon train


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