Arrow in the Dust (1954)
“Ablaze with the gun-thundering terrors of the West’s most violent days!”
Director: Lesley Selander
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Coleen Gray, Keith Larsen
Synopsis: A cavalry deserter risks his life to warn and protect a wagon train from an impending Indian attack.
I never realised before watching this poor Cowboys and Indians B-picture just how bad an actor Sterling Hayden could be. His performance really is excruciating in this one, a truth not helped by the fact that he’s saddled with a pedestrian script. He sticks out his bottom lip like a belligerent school bully to illustrate his character’s single-mindedness of purpose. Then he sticks out his bottom lip to illustrate his determination to kill as many Indians as he can. Then he sticks out his bottom lip to illustrate his disapproval of a group of drunken cowboys on the wagon train he’s escorting under the guise of a recently deceased Major. It’s as if he decided to give all the acting duties to his bottom lip so that the rest of him could take it easy. He obviously didn’t care at this point in his career…
The film would be poor anyway, even if Hayden’s contemptuous performance didn’t drag it down another notch or two. Produced by Allied Artists — who used to be Monogram, the Poverty Row studio — the film looks like a pale imitation of every other 1950s Western you’ve ever seen, and is chiefly notable for an early performance from Lee Van Cleef. There are a couple of reasonable action pieces. Every now and then, the marauding Indians launch an attack on the beleaguered wagon train. They ride their horses in circles around the wagons and let the settlers pick a few of them off before riding away again — not exactly a great strategy. There’s also a fight between the train’s scout and the portly bad guy that is so comical it wouldn’t look out of place in Blazing Saddles.
Unless you’re a 68-year-old man with nostalgic memories of seeing this at the Saturday matinee when you were nine-years-old I’d give this one a very wide berth if I were you.
(Reviewed 12th November 2011)