Red Skies of Montana (1952)
A solid cast of male stars dominate this 20th Century Fox film with Richard Widmark leading the way.
The plot line concerns Forest Rangers and the men who stop the fires that Mother Nature sets when dry season and lightning mix. Widmark opens the film as he and a group under his command parachute in to clear a breaker on an out of control fire deep in the Montana bush. Along for the ride is aging Joe Sawyer who happens to have a son back at the base played by Jeffrey Hunter. When the winds cause the fire to flank the men the group are M.I.A.
Head Ranger Richard Boone flies in to the charred remains of the gutted area and to his sadness begins to find remains of the platoon. Shockingly there is one survivor. You got it! Richard Widmark. Problem is he can’t seem to piece together how he’s still alive and the others are not. This doesn’t sit well back at the base where Hunter is positive that Widmark is hiding the truth and somehow ran out on his men leaving Sawyer to die an agonizing death.
After some R & R, Boone puts Widmark back on active duty which will of course result in a fiery ending. Literally. Widmark and a platoon including Gregory Walcott and Warren Stevens find themselves battling a raging fire. Soon enough Boone sends in some reinforcements including Hunter which will set off more fireworks than the trees themselves.
Widmark finds himself under attack when the going gets rough and the men get jumpy. This could be his chance to redeem his good character in the eyes of his platoon and allow him to unlock the mystery of the films opening tragedy. It seems the flames are about to flank his group once again.
In case your thinking it, that is indeed an unbilled Charles Bronson putting a wounded Hunter on his back during the fiery climax.
There is a thankless role here for Constance Smith as Widmark’s wife who knits and worries every time he’s called to duty. After all a leading man of Widmark’s stature needs a leading lady.
Richard Widmark was on a good run here of heroic roles as he continued to shake his debut performance in Kiss of Death. Something film history has never really allowed him to do. Hunter had already appeared with Widmark in The Frogmen and would clock in some solid films throughout the decade including the classic Ford film The Searchers.
Joesph M. Newman directed the film and like Widmark was on a roll in the early fifties. He worked with various leading men of the day including Ty Power on Pony Soldier. He also was behind the camera for the memorable sci-fi film This Island Earth.
Long time character actor Joe Sawyer who plays Hunter’s dad was originally born about forty kms from where I am sitting. In Guelph Ontario. Sawyer is one of those “faces”. He appeared in countless films from The Petrified Forest to The Killing and dozens of titles in between.
This was a film I recall seeing as a kid with my parents growing up. Nice to see it’s out as a MOD title from 20th Century Cinema Archives.