The Plainsman Reviews
Wild Bill Hickox, Buffalo Bill, Calamity Jane...
the age-old battle of the sexes...
cigareets, the latest fad from the East...
and Anthony Quinn's little debut, the famous Indian scene, in which during the filming he argued with DeMille, his future father-in-law.
DeMille peoples this film with some of the better known names from western folklore. You have Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper), the legendary scout and gunfighter. Cooper reciting dialogue in a DeMille film comes off as wooden as ever but I still think he's fun to watch as Hickok with his quick draw...especially if you like him in HIGH NOON.
Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur), the rough and tumble frontierswomen who has a love/hate relationship with Hickok. Arthur wears way too much make-up in certain scenes but I think she has some of the better lines in this.
Also here is Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison), the indian fighter/scout and future showman. He and Hickok are friends who share scouting duties for General George Custer (John Miljan). I wish DeMille had cast a bigger name here for the pivotal role of Buffalo Bill - just to balance out Cooper & Arthur. Ellison was just okay. This likely was his biggest role as he starred in mostly B westerns afterwards...but he just seemed too young and fresh looking to be the indian fighter and scout. I'm thinking someone like Clark Gable would have been perfect as Buffalo Bill here. Too bad.
The story takes place in the days after the Civil War. An unscrupulous arms merchant (Charles Bickford) has surplus rifles and hopes to secretly sell them (more like gouge) to Indians in exchange for animal furs. Since more and more settlers moving westward, arming the Indians living in the west not a good idea - just ask General Custer. The film at least is sympathetic to Indians as chief Yellow Hand (Paul Harvey) explains his mistrust of white men to Hickok in one memorable scene.
There is also a nicely staged battle scene between cavalry soldiers who are ambushed by Indians and have to endure a 9 day siege. Great for 1930's standards.
My main issue with this film is it's clunky pacing. When it seems the action is about to pick up...for some reason it feels that it actually slows down instead. There are also extended portions that go without a musical soundtrack which doesn't help the matter much. I do feel that the basic story is a good one, though. As I mentioned, this could have been a terrific western.
6.5 / 10