The Indian Fighter (1955)
“Only one man has the power to stop a war.”
Director: Andre de Toth
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Elsa Martinelli, Walter Matthau
Synopsis: A scout leading a wagon train through hostile Indian country unwittingly gets involved with a Sioux chief’s daughter.
Kirk Douglas fairly bursts with testosterone in The Indian Fighter, the first movie from his newly-created Bryna production company. He plays Johnny Hawks, a trail guide famed for the number of Indians he has killed, who has nevertheless forged a mutually respectful relationship with Sioux chief Red Cloud (Eduard Franz) and his tribe. Johnny is one of those implausible heroes who is good at everything he turns his hand to, and whom women find immediately attractive. There’s two women in The Indian Fighter, Susan Rogers (Diana Douglas), a single-mother member of the pioneering wagon train Hawks agrees to lead through Indian country. Susan doesn’t waste any time setting out her stall and makes it pretty clear to Hawks that she sees him as a surrogate father for her boy, but she’s a plain old bird, more compatible with the likes of rotund Will Crabtree (Alan Hale Jr.) than an Alpha male like Johnny H. The other woman comes in an altogether more acceptable shape to Johnny. She’s Onahti (Elsa Martinelli), Red Cloud’s daughter, and she doesn’t take kindly to Johnny’s s at first. Hardly surprising, seeing as how he keeps forcing himself on her with no regard as to whether she welcomes his attentions (she doesn’t, but secretly she does – a fact that only Johnny knows; this is what sets him apart from rapists – who only think they know).
The Indians live in gold country, something Red Cloud’s trying to keep under his headdress, but Crazy Bear (Hank Worden, who curiously also plays a fort guardhouse jailer) has been selling off nuggets to Wes Todd (Walter Matthau) and his partner Chivington (Lon Chaney Jr.) in return for whiskey. Todd and Chivington kill Crazy Bear and another of Red Cloud’s braves when their scam comes to light, thus sparking the beginning of hostilities and placing the entire wagon train in danger.
The Indian Fighter is a pretty average movie, enlivened by a typically energetic performance from Douglas. Martinelli is sexy in the role of Onahti, and makes a memorable entrance on her Hollywood debut. The Indian Fighter also marked an early big screen appearance from Matthau in a bad guy role. In fact the cast is the only really memorable aspect of the movie which, while painless to watch, will quickly fade from the viewer’s memory.
(Reviewed 18th July 2012)