Forgotten Film Classics

1956’s The Last Frontier

1956_last-frontier_anthony-mann_victor-mature_western_rober-preston

Click image above for larger view

I honestly thought that I’d seen all of Anthony Mann’s great Westerns from the 1950s: Winchester ‘73, The Naked Spur, Bend of the River and The Man from Laramie. Nevertheless, a few months ago I stumbled across yet another terrific Western he directed, The Last Frontier.

The reasons I believe that this isn’t a well-remembered Mann film are: 1. It doesn’t star James Stewart, like the others do. 2. It covers so much ground that you have no idea what the film was actually about when it’s over.

I’ll stick my neck out and say the story’s theme, though somewhat unfocused, is that the uniform doesn’t make the man; the man makes the uniform.

Robert Preston gives an impressively restrained performance as Col. Marston, the “Butcher of Shiloh,” who lost 1,500 men in a single encounter out of sheer overzealousness. He likes to attack, no matter what the odds, and he doesn’t like anybody who doesn’t agree with him. Marston takes over a fort deep in Indian Country during the Civil War and decides, even though he has no orders and only a handful of untrained recruits, that he’s going to wipe out the entire Indian Nation.

Stepping into the middle of this situation is backwoodsman Jed Cooper (Victor Mature), who immediately sees that Marston’s plan will be suicide for everybody. He promptly falls for Marston’s wife (a young, blonde Anne Bancroft) and outrageously begins putting the moves on her. Mature, himself not terribly well-remembered (though great as Doc Holliday in My Darling Clementine), gives a big, boisterous, incredibly amusing performance.

The Last Frontier offers a visually-striking West in Cinemascope; a fascinating time period; a top-notch cast, including James Whitmore and Guy Madison; and a lot of sharp, interesting writing covering a gamut of topics from friendship, loyalty, love, religion and the meaning of duty to your country and your military uniform. The combination of all these elements makes for an exceptionally fun, fast-paced and engrossing movie.

Josh Becker is the internationally-known director of Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules, has directed seven feature films and has been a proud member of the Director’s Guild of America for 17 years. His latest book is Going Hollywood by Point Blank.

True West Site Guide

Mission

True West captures the spirit of the American West with authenticity, personality and humor by linking our history to our present. Whether you call it the Wild West, the Old West or the Far West, America's frontier history comes to life in True West, the world's oldest, continuously published Western Americana magazine.

Western movie fans, re-enactors, history buffs and road warriors, we got your history covered: outlaw, cowboy, Indian, lawman, gunfighter, fur trapper, miner, prospector, gambler, soldier, entertainer and pioneer. Check out these True Westerners now!
 

Product of the Month

The Illustrated Life and Times of Wyatt Earp

Wyatt Earp

"Your book is fascinating, coupling your powerful illustrations [and] tracking...from birth to Tombstone to the legend [Wyatt] had become;...even Wyatt would approve." --By Hugh O'Brian, of the TV series The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp

"Hands down the definitive books on Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday." --By Allen Barra, New York Newsday