William A. Wellman directs and Joel McCrea takes the title role in this entertaining Hollywood version of the true story of Buffalo Bill Cody. True? I have absolutely no idea as most of what I know about Bill comes from the movies anyway having seen him portrayed by McCrea, Heston, Carradine, Newman and whoever played him in the 100% sure to be true events as presented by Cecil B. DeMille in The Plainsman.
All kidding aside, McCrea carries himself beautifully here as a noble western figure that also sees Maureen O’Hara as his long suffering wife in vivid technicolor. To see Miss O’Hara in technicolor is a joy in itself. The movie being a good one is extra icing on the cake. The story starts in 1878 where we find Edgar Buchanan in his military blues handling the reigns of a stagecoach that has O’Hara as a passenger under Indian attack. It’s McCrea to the rescue and love at first site between the two stars of our movie.
It’s an amusing courtship as McCrea is a fish out of water and O’Hara the cultured big city woman. McCrea will even have to rely on an Indian Maiden, the breathtaking Linda Darnell, to help him with a comical dinner invitation response. Things will turn a might serious when Darnell’s brother and leader of the Sioux, Anthony Quinn is told to make way for the railroad and move his people father away from the buffalo that sustains them.
McCrea and Quinn have a great respect for one another but after each has saved the other from harm the next time they meet will be on a battlefield where no mercy will be spared. Sadly it does come to that when hunters by the score invade the lands to slaughter the Buffalo. Quinn will lead his people to battle and in a somber though exciting fight he will lose his life to McCrea as the two square off face to face. It’s also a fight that McCrea is ashamed of when it’s over. When asked about the dead that lay all around he quietly states, “They were all my friends.”
When McCrea is called before the President to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, it’s a bittersweet award that in the end has him standing up for the plight of the Indian Nations against the whites who consider them expendable. When nearly all is lost to McCrea, both his reputation and his wife, a chance encounter with a carnival operator will be the one thing that turns his life around making him a world famous frontier showman travelling the globe with his Wild West Show.
Despite the fact that a damned narrator butts into the proceedings at times this is a very well made “A” budget production with the cast to match and an army of extras on horseback for the battle scenes. The only time I feel a bit betrayed is when that annoying back screen process shot turns up for a few close ups on the soundstage as opposed to a location shoot where they should have been done. Also turning up is Oscar winner, Thomas Mitchell, as Ned Buntline. It’s Ned who wrote many of the dime store novels that would make a literary figure and western hero out of Buffalo Bill Cody. Despite the beauty of both O’Hara and Darnell, this film belongs strictly to McCrea with his humble performance that once again proves how similar he is to Gary Cooper in his acting style. Both had a sense of honor about them in westerns and a playfulness when called for but could also play the leading man in screwball comedies to a T.
For the trivia hounds, this was the second film of six that Anthony Quinn would appear in with Maureen O’Hara. In order they are, The Black Swan (1942), Buffalo Bill, Sinbad the Sailor (1947), Against All Odds (1952), The Magnificent Matador (1955) and then one final romantic fling in Only The Lonely (1991) a personal favorite for us John Candy fans.
At just 90 minutes, this is an easy watch for the western fans and or the history buffs. It’s easy to find on DVD if you’d like to see a winning performance from Mr. Joel McCrea.