“A man’s bound to lose, sooner or later.”
As the American Civil War comes to an end, an unscrupulous business man (Charles Bickford) facilitates the sale of repeating rifles to Native Americans, leading to an uprising. Soon Wild Bill Hickok (Gary Cooper) and his pal Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison) find themselves on the frontlines once again, with Cody leaving behind his pregnant new wife (Helen Burgess), and Hickok’s secret love for Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur) causing unexpected challenges.
- Anthony Quinn Films
- Cecil B. DeMille Films
- Charles Bickford Films
- Gary Cooper Films
- Historical Drama
- Jean Arthur Films
- Native Americans
Cecil B. DeMille directed this “highly fictionalized” (!!!) account of various Wild West figures coming together in improbable ways, all culminating in the infamous death of a lead character. Refreshingly, it’s greedy white military industrialists rather than the Native Americans themselves who are positioned from the beginning as the true “bad guys”, making it a little easier to watch the elaborately staged warfare and killing of Indians. Unfortunately, the creative mixing of storylines and characters focuses too much on the love lives of the leads, with Hickok and Calamity Jane’s would-be romance coming across as particularly strained; we’re meant to root for them as they tentatively make their feelings known to one another, but Jane is put in an egregiously unfair position at one point, forcing her to choose between love and loyalty.
Cody’s beautiful young wife is nicely played by 19-year-old Helen Burgess, whose sudden death from pneumonia the following year ended her chances for a promising career.
Watch for Anthony Quinn in a thankless role as a Cheyenne Indian.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Victor Milner’s cinematography
- Impressive historic sets and art direction
No, though it’s worth a one-time look.