Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Last Wagon (1956)

Another highly enjoyable Richard Widmark Western, although this one has a few problems, mostly stemming from the fact that it can't quite make up its mind whether it wants its central character to be a hero or an anti-hero, and that leads to a few plot problems, particularly the ending, which goes a bit out-of-the-blue Hollywood. However, I didn't really mind, because Widmark was absolutely fabulous, the action was fast and entertaining, the Arizona scenery spectacular, and did I mention that Widmark was wonderful? This was pretty much a win-win film!

(gorgeous scenery!)

Widmark plays Comanche Todd, a white man raised by Comanches. The film opens with him on the run/getting caught by one of the nastiest, most brutish sheriff's I've ever seen. Egads! This guy was pure meanness, and the actor (George Matthews) was perfectly cast. (How nasty is he? He shoots at a young boy and beats up a teenager half his size! Dude! At least Widmark is a grown man and can take care of himself -- mostly.) Timothy Carey shows up briefly as the sheriff's ill-fated brother in the beginning. Fortunately for Widmark, they meet up with a wagon train heading to Tucson, and the settlers don't take kindly to the nasty sheriff's behavior, even if Widmark's character is a murderer and the sheriff tells them repeatedly he deserves it.

The story changes direction abruptly when the wagon train's young adults take off in the night to go swimming and when they return... Apaches have massacred everyone else in the wagon train. The wagon Widmark is shackled to is shoved off a cliff, but he survives the fall. The rest of the movie's action is about Widmark helping the young people get out of Apache country alive. Trust and overcoming prejudice become the main themes through the rest of the film. Nick Adams plays one of the survivors who gives Widmark the most attitude (naturally). Felicia Farr plays the oldest of the group, and the most sensible. I've liked her since I saw her in 3:10 to Yuma. She and Widmark fall for each other, and I liked their quiet romantic moments, snatched in moments here and there between attacks and running for their lives.

I watched this one twice while I had it from Netflix, and wouldn't mind owning it on DVD either.

(James Drury shows up briefly as a cavalry officer)


  1. Sounds, and looks, good! I've yet to see a Richard Widmark movie that wasn't worth watching, if only for him.

    -- Catching up on your latest three entries...

    I've never even heard of this movie.

    The girl from 3:10 TO YUMA...did she play Van Heflin's wife?

    I think when I'm done with the Marx Brothers, I may pursue Widmark's filmography in a more diligent fashion.

    Are you in Widmark phase right now? -- I noticed the review below also stars him.

    I remember when you were in a George Raft phase...the video tape I made, is still sitting on my desk. Proving I'm the worst online friend ever. ;)

    I do hope you're well. :)

  2. Hiya Ginger! You know, that's true. I haven't seen him turn in a bad performance. And yes... I'm definitely in a Richard Widmark phase. Well, kind of alternating between Widmark and Oliver Reed, which is a very interesting combo to switch back and forth between. Imagine my delight when I found out they even made a movie together!! Two for the price of one! I haven't reviewed that one here yet. It had a very muddled plot, but man, Widmark and Reed were much fun and I enjoyed seeing them together immensely.

    Felicia Farr played the girl Glenn Ford goes for in the saloon. I don't actually remember who played Van Heflin's wife now, bad me.

    That's okay about the video... you may think I have it backwards, but I always think that you have much more of a life than I do, with your daughter, etc. :-D

  3. This is a top flight western directed by a man who had a real feel for the genre. I think Delmer Daves' biggest problem was ending a movie; it's apparent in 3:10 to Yuma and even more noticeable in The Last Wagon. Up to that point though, the story, cinematography and performances are all faultless.

    Nice that you mentioned Felicia Farr's part in 3:10 to Yuma; those scenes with Glenn Ford are painfuly lovely. She also pops up in another fine Daves' western with Ford - Jubal.
    If you're enjoying Widmark westerns then you ought to give Warlock, Garden of Evil and, if you can get your hands on it, Backlash a go.

  4. Thanks Colin! I do remember Felicia Farr in "Jubal," and liked her there too. Warlock actually arrived from Netflix yesterday, so I'll be watching it this weekend. I'll keep my eye out for the others, but I don't think Netflix has them right now.