Allegheny Uprising (1939)    2 Stars

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Allegheny Uprising (1939)
Allegheny Uprising (1939)


Director: William A. Seiter

Cast: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, George Sanders

Synopsis: In Colonial America, Jim Smith leads a group that tries to figure out who is supplying the area Native American tribes with weapons.







Although set in the old American west, Allegheny Uprising (or The First Rebel, as it was known in the UK) is really more of a pre-Western as it is set in the 1760s, when America was still under British Colonial rule. It stars John Wayne (The Sons of Katie Elder, The Shootist) in the same year as his breakthrough role in Stagecoach. The 32-year-old Duke looks strong and virile in this one, having finally outgrown the soft, boyish looks of his 20s that had perhaps prevented him from becoming a major star after his first starring role in Raoul Walsh’s The Big Trail back in 1930. He plays James Smith, a real historical figure who led a rebellion against the British after they sided with a British official whom Smith and his men caught smuggling rum and firearms to Native Americans. For some reason, the movie refrains from portraying the official as British, instead turning him into an American trader, played with agreeable smarminess by Brian Donlevy (The Quatermass Xperiment, Waco), one of Hollywood’s most reliable bad guys. In fact, we get two classic bad guys in Allegheny Uprising, with George Sanders (All About Eve, The Jungle Book) playing the upright-and-uptight Captain Swanson, a martinet whose pompous determination to adhere to the letter of the law immediately alienates him from the Americans he’s been sent to protect from marauding Indians.

Claire Trevor, with whom Wayne starred in Stagecoach, also plays his love interest in Allegheny Uprising. She makes a feisty heroine, who is energetically indignant of Smith’s repeated ploys to prevent her from participating in the exploits of the ‘black boys,’ so named for their habit of blacking-up before their hijacking trips. It’s obvious he only does so because he loves her, but of course she’s the last one to see that. The romantic sub-plot feels something like a perfunctory nod to a commercial imperative and is overshadowed by a series of lively action set-pieces. That doesn’t mean Allegheny uprising doesn’t take the time to establish a number of big and bold characters to add colour to a stirring action-adventure which sticks surprisingly close to the facts, even though it might play around with time-span and chronological order.

(Reviewed 15th August 2015)

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