When one talks about the best westerns either critically or personally, one never (at least not in my earshot) mentions the 1953 William Holden flick Escape from Fort Bravo.Directed by John Sturges it is actually a pretty well done piece.
Holden portrays a hard-edged Union cavalry officer stationed as a Confederate prison camp. Oh, and he has a reputation as a tough as nails officer with no love lost for his priosoners – actually early on he literally drags an escapee back into the compound tethered to his (Holden’s) horse. To make matters worse, the post is in the middle of hostile “Indian country.” Surely you see where this is going but yet it doesn’t feel formulaic.
The experienced moviegoer will see the stage already set. Holden is going to need the help of these Confederate prisoners at some point- the only question is how.
Well as the plot unfolds a woman- Carla Forester to be exact (played by Eleanor Parker) arrives on the stage. The official story is that she comes to attend a wedding, but in fact she arrives to help her beaux, Captain John Marsh, CSA (played by a young John Forsythe) escape the camp.
And of course Holden becomes smitten with Ms. Forester, who shortly thereafter leaves in the night with the escapees. Holden takes off after them with a small troop, and catches up with the escapees at the same time as the ferocious Mescalero indians.
Pinned down in a gully, the Mescaleros slowly pick off several members of the group. All seems lost until Holden concocts a plan….the surviving members of the group will feign death while he sacrifices himself to draw attention from them.
Unfortunately this is when the calvary arrives – literally – and saves the day. A better ending, although unacceptable at the time, would have been for the Mescaleros to massacre the remains of the group. But alas, it is not to be.
Bravo is a taut western and for the most part well done. Eleanor Parker is a bit to frumpy and well put together to be on a remote outpost for any length of time. Narry a hair is ever out of place. And of course why there would be a prison camp in this location baffles the imagination.
Although it takes awhile to get going, the final climax is well worth the wait. Holden gives a strong performance in the midst of some strong character actors. The score by Jeff Alexander is surprisingly good- considering he’s an unknown quantity.
Plus, you can get it on DVD. Never a bad thing.