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Escape from Fort Bravo was the first in a string of sturdy Westerns from director John Sturges (notably including The Magnificent Seven and The Gunfight at OK Corral). It's a Civil War-era tale, with flint-hard U.S. Cavalry officer William Holden riding herd on Confederate POWs at an Arizona stockade. Once Holden has fallen for his colonel's daughter's best friend (Eleanor Parker), who's also secretly the fiancée of Rebel officer John Forsythe, the film itself is allowed to escape Fort Bravo and echo off the walls of some picturesque canyons well-supplied with hostile Indians. Sturges had a good eye for staging action, and the big climax involves a kind of Apache Agincourt, a patiently lethal military tactic on the part of the Mescaleros. However, as in so many Westerns of the '40s and '50s, some scenes along the way are played on jarringly phony soundstage sets--including a bout of fisticuffs in a waterfall-fed pool (common in that part of Arizona, apparently). Technically speaking, Hollywood was in a transitional moment: for this first MGM production in modest widescreen (1.77:1), cameraman Robert L. Surtees was forced to abandon Technicolor for Ansco color, which has a pleasing palette for standard scenes but tends to go greenish and speckly in desert longshots. On a fond trivia note, one writer credited with original story here is Michael Pate, the gaunt Australian actor who spent much of his career playing Indians; he's not in Escape from Fort Bravo, but this same year he played the Apache chief Vittorio in Hondo, and a decade later, as Sierra Charriba, would occasion the Mexican adventure in Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee.

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WA5123 Escape From Fort Bravo DVD (1953/William Holden) $14.98