From the pen of western writer and eventual director, Burt Kennedy, comes this Universal-International release that not surprisingly plays like another of the Kennedy/Boetticher/Scott westerns. Instead of Randolph Scott taking the reins in the lead we have Audie Murphy while Dan Duryea steps in to play second and subbing for director Budd Boetticher is Harry Kelly.
The end result is a slightly above average “B” western from the studio that was cranking these out on what seemed like a weekly basis.
At 80 minutes in length our adventure begins with Audie, saddle in hand, on foot and looking haggard in the wilds of Utah’s filming locations. He’ll see what he believes to be a herd of wild horses and ropes one. After a short bit of bronco busting he’s ready to continue on his way but things are to take a serious turn when he’s taken as a horse thief by a gang of cowboys, one of which we’ll recognize as Bob Steele.
With a rope around his neck and his time short he’s saved from the hangman’s noose by Duryea who isn’t fond of seeing a man strung up and believes Audie’s story of innocence. From here on out the pair are uneasy partners for the balance of the film. Audie the straight and narrow cowboy while Duryea the one with less morals and easily swayed by money and women. “I got myself a policy: never do an honest days work unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Just the way we like our slice of Duryea.
“A man needs a purpose to ride this country.”
When finding themselves in the next town along the trail the pair are bushwhacked by a couple of hired guns and quickly shoot down their attackers. But who were the gunmen aiming to kill, Audie or Duryea? It’s at this point that our leading lady turns up. Joan O’Brien is looking to hire men to get her safely across Apache territory to reunite with her husband and Audie and Duryea fill the necessary requirements. They’re both lightning fast on the draw.
Dan not only likes the payment of $1000 apiece to get her safely through the territory but he likes what he sees when eyeing up his new boss. He’s also not above letting her know she’s worth every penny a man has to spend.
As I was saying, it’s the Duryea we’ve come to know and love.
Something is amiss on our journey through the Apache lands. Joan isn’t overly worried about letting the Apache warriors know their whereabouts when she intentionally starts a fire. Then there’s a conversation she has in private with Audie leading one to suspect she’s hoping Duryea doesn’t make it to their destination. Might she be playing Audie against Duryea? Possibly but if I go much father in the plot details then I’ll be playing spoiler and I’d rather not.
Having just recently watched the Kennedy/Boetticher/Scott westerns I would like to point out there is a scene in Six Black Horses that is very reminiscent of one from 1959’s Ride Lonesome. In each film we’ll see an Apache warrior bargain with the leading man over a white woman. Both Scott and Murphy turn it down which in the case of Six Black Horses, will see our trio at odds with a band of warriors. There is even a line of dialogue lifted from the Scott film that Murphy employs, “There are some things a man can’t ride around.”
For those of you who have visited Mike’s Take in the past you’ll know I have a great love for westerns and both the leading actors riding the trail this time out. This proved to be the final pairing of Audie and Duryea. They first rode the trail together in the enjoyable 1954 western, Ride Clear of Diablo, a film that clearly established the screen chemistry between them. They would next play opposite Jimmy Stewart in 1957’s memorable, Night Passage, as uneasy outlaws facing off against Jimmy’s railway agent.
I guess it’s fair to say that both actors were nearing the end of their runs by the time Six Black Horses was released. Audie still had some westerns left but for the most part they were lesser productions with budgets to match. Duryea kept busy with plenty of television opportunities in between his western films. He’s appear on everything from Burke’s Law to Daniel Boone and take a role in the Peyton place TV series in the late 60’s just prior to his death in 1968. Sadly, Audie would be gone not long afterwards dying in a 1971 plane crash.
Our leading lady, Miss O’Brien, was quite familiar with the western genre as well. While most of her work appears to be on television she did appear in many of the popular western shows of the era. Among them you’ll recognize Wagon Train, Cheyenne, Bat Masterson and even an episode of Whispering Smith, a lesser known show that starred Audie Murphy in the lead role. She’d also appear opposite John Wayne in The Alamo and The Comancheros. Some fans may remember her best for playing a nurse that has caught the eye of Tony Curtis in Operation Petticoat or maybe starring opposite Elvis and little Kurt Russell in It Happened at the World’s Fair. She retired from acting in 1965.
I’ve no idea how easy it is to locate a copy of Six Black Horses. The one I have is a VHS copy off of late night TV I’ve had for years. The original insert? Not sure where I located it but it too has been around here for years.