Movie Review: Siege at Red River (1954)
“THE STORY OF “THE IMMORTALS” WHO TURNED THE TIDE AT RED RIVER!”
Siege at Red River (1954)
Director: Rudolph Maté
Cast: Van Johnson, Joanne Dru, Richard Boone
Synopsis: An undercover agent attempts to prevent the delivery of Gatling guns to hostile Indians.
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Van Johnson (The Human Comedy) plays James Faraday, an unlikely Southern spy, traveling under the cover of a medicine show and keeping a keen eye out for anyone who responds to his catchy tapioca song as he attempts to smuggle one of them new-fangled Gatling guns out of enemy territory and into the South in Rudolph Maté’s 1954 oater, Siege at Red River. In the small town in which Faraday is due to meet with a mercenary (Richard Boone – The Kremlin Letter, The Shootist) who will guide him safely across the border, he comes across a comely wench (Joanne Dru) who is clearly a little, ahem, emotionally frustrated, but whose ardour cools when Faraday’s sidekick tells her he’s actually a conscientious objector.
Siege at Red River – which contains neither a siege nor a red river, as far as I recall – is a passable enough programmer which is hindered by a miscast Johnson. While he was never exactly a major star, one thing he definitely wasn’t was a rugged cowboy type, so why he was cast in this role is something of a mystery, especially when he’s paired up against craggy Richard Boone, who effortlessly blows Johnson away whenever they share screen time. And that’s even when Boone’s wearing outlandish, gaily-coloured kerchiefs that wouldn’t look out of place on a middle-aged dowager walking her poodles on a beach promenade – Lord only knows what the wardrobe department was thinking of there. Johnson’s character is also portrayed as a little too sleazy at times. He’s undercover, but it still makes it a little difficult to like him. Dru is attractive as the young nurse whom Faraday dupes into smuggling the gun out of town, although like so many actors she can’t play drunk for toffee.
Siege at Red River has the typical production values of a mid-1950s B-Western. There’s plenty of location shooting, but strangely, the distant rocky hillsides look like painted backdrops, even though they’re clearly the real thing. Perhaps it was the quality of the print I watched. At one point, during a pitched battle between Indians and the cavalry filmed from a low angle, the charging horses splash water onto the screen, something you rarely – if ever –see in older movies because it drew attention to the process of filming rather than the action taking place on the screen. Nearly 50 years later, when a splash of blood spotted the lens of the camera in Children of Men, some people hailed the director for allowing it to remain in the finished film. It just goes to show there’s little that is new.
After ninety minutes of conflicting emotions, Dru and Johnson finally get it on, but Maté takes the unusual decision of placing Johnson’s horse between the kissers and the audience. I suppose they’re supposed to be hiding what they’re doing from the cavalry officers nearby, but it’s odd that Mate didn’t choose to film them from the other side of the horse with the officers in the background.
(Reviewed 17th January 2012)