Duel at Diablo

I did do a bit of work on the day before the holiday, preparing a last quiz for a class and writing a letter of recommendation for a student. I didn’t have the Thanksgiving Day plans that other people had. I was glad to get out of the cold and back home. I watched the DVD of “Duel at Diablo.” The stars were James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Bill Travers, Bibi Andersson, and Dennis Weaver. The opening had a knife cutting the screen like paper before the action is revealed to us. Garner is Jess Remsberg, a scout in the West, and he rescues Bibi from the Apaches, using the trick of putting himself between two horses to avoid the bullets. There was a good aerial shot as the two leave the scene. I don’t remember Garner from the Maverick television series. To me, he was Jim Rockford, and he was also in “The Great Escape.” He gets into some more action a bit later with a fistfight. Sidney Poitier showed his star quality with a strong presence on the screen. I would have liked to have seen him in more Westerns. He does get hit with an arrow at one point. I didn’t want to think about how much that would hurt in real life. I remember Bill Travers from family films with animals, like “Born Free” and “Ring of Bright Water.” He seemed uncomfortable as a military man, and I found it hard to believe that he could make it to being a lieutenant, much less have aspirations of becoming a general. I kept wondering if Bibi Andersson’s dialogue was dubbed. It seemed that she was having some difficulty with English. She was well known for appearing in Ingmar Bergman’s films, particularly “Persona.” Her part of this story reminded me of John Ford’s “The Searchers.” This movie seemed like a lower grade version of that one. She was part of an exciting scene on horseback which involved her and Jess and her baby. This movie had a lot of dangerous stunts with horses. I kept wondering if the horses were injured during the filming. The portrayal of the Apaches is not what you would call progressive. In one scene, Poitier goes ahead of the troops to see if there is safe passage. That wouldn’t have proved anything, though, because if the Apaches were clever, they wouldn’t have shot him but instead waited to lure everyone in before ambushing them. The water wasn’t protected too well, either. The Apaches also tortured people, injuring their hands and letting one of them scream to unnerve everyone else. Dennis Weaver played a weak character. I thought about how once he played a cocaine addict. Everything is leading up to the showdown at Diablo, a racial conflict between the Apaches and the white man. The Apaches are after a wagon filled with ammunition. The action at the end is a bit above average if you aren’t bothered with the disturbing social implications. There is a survival of the fittest ethic to this story, as the weak characters who can’t deal with the Wild West are the ones who die. The director was Ralph Nelson, known for “Lilies of the Field.” He didn’t reach the level of John Ford or Howard Hawks with this film, but it had some good qualities. The music was composed by Neal Hefti, famous for the Batman theme. I was interested in what this movie was like after seeing Bibi Andersson in “Persona” recently. There are many Westerns that are better than this one, but it is something that is good to watch in the middle of the night. Watching this movie actually made me what to see “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” again. Some of the people who died on November 26 include Sojourner Truth (1883), Tommy Dorsey (1956), Myra Hess (1965), Rachel Roberts (1980), and Harry Smith (1991). Today is a birthday for Tina Turner (76) and Rich Little (77).

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