The Command (1954)

88 or 94 mins | Western | 13 February 1954

Director:

David Butler

Producer:

David Weisbart

Cinematographer:

Wilfrid M. Cline

Editor:

Irene Morra

Production Designer:

Bertram Tuttle

Production Company:

Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
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HISTORY

The working title of the film was Rear Guard . According to a Nov 1949 Var news item, Warner Bros. bought the novel Rear Guard , which originally appeared in SEP as a serial entitled The White Invader , and planned for it to star Gary Cooper and be produced by Anthony Veiller. However, neither Cooper nor Veiller were involved in the final film. Although a Feb 1951 HR news item announced that Stanley Fleischer would serve as art director for the film, only Bertram Tuttle was listed onscreen and Fleischer's contribution to the final film is undetermined.
       According to production charts, The Command was initially planned to be filmed in 3-D. Onscreen credits and reviews describe The Command as Warner Bros.’ first CinemaScope venture, but the Var review explains that the film was shot with a Vistarama anamorphic lens and later billed as CinemaScope by agreement with Twentieth Century-Fox. The LAT review stated that Warner Bros. subsequently adopted the use of CinemaScope, a type of lens that had so far been used in the shooting of only a handful of films. The film was also the first Western to be billed as CinemaScope. The NYT reviewer, although lukewarm to what he considered a “standard, bantam-weight” film, was effusive in his description of The Command ’s use of CinemaScope to depict the “towering magnificence of the natural setting.”
       The Command marked the final film appearance of cowboy and stunt man Charles Haefeli, who died in Feb 1955, according to a HR news item. ... More Less

The working title of the film was Rear Guard . According to a Nov 1949 Var news item, Warner Bros. bought the novel Rear Guard , which originally appeared in SEP as a serial entitled The White Invader , and planned for it to star Gary Cooper and be produced by Anthony Veiller. However, neither Cooper nor Veiller were involved in the final film. Although a Feb 1951 HR news item announced that Stanley Fleischer would serve as art director for the film, only Bertram Tuttle was listed onscreen and Fleischer's contribution to the final film is undetermined.
       According to production charts, The Command was initially planned to be filmed in 3-D. Onscreen credits and reviews describe The Command as Warner Bros.’ first CinemaScope venture, but the Var review explains that the film was shot with a Vistarama anamorphic lens and later billed as CinemaScope by agreement with Twentieth Century-Fox. The LAT review stated that Warner Bros. subsequently adopted the use of CinemaScope, a type of lens that had so far been used in the shooting of only a handful of films. The film was also the first Western to be billed as CinemaScope. The NYT reviewer, although lukewarm to what he considered a “standard, bantam-weight” film, was effusive in his description of The Command ’s use of CinemaScope to depict the “towering magnificence of the natural setting.”
       The Command marked the final film appearance of cowboy and stunt man Charles Haefeli, who died in Feb 1955, according to a HR news item. A modern source adds Kermit Maynard, Chubby Johnson and Iron Eyes Cody to the cast. According to Feb 1954 news items, the stars of The Command were brought to the Los Angeles premiere at the Paramount Theatre by stagecoach. Later, for a Heart Association fundraiser, lead actor Guy Madison rode the horse Penny, which also appeared in the film, up the steps of City Hall in the style of old Spanish dons at the end of a three-day celebration of the retracing of the El Camino Real. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
23 Jan 1954.
---
Daily Variety
13 Nov 1953.
---
Daily Variety
18 Jan 54
p. 3.
Film Daily
18 Jan 54
p. 6.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Feb 1951
p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter
31 Jul 1953
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
5 Aug 1953
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Sep 1953
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Dec 1953
p. 13.
Hollywood Reporter
11 Jan 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
13 Jan 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Jan 1954
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
12 Feb 1954
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Feb 1955
p. 6.
Los Angeles Times
12 Feb 1954.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
23 Jan 54
p. 2157.
New York Times
16 Jan 54
p. 10.
Variety
3 Nov 1949.
---
Variety
20 Jun 54
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
PRODUCTION COMPANY
PRODUCTION TEXT
A Warner Bros.--First National Picture
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITERS
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTOR
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATOR
Set dec
COSTUMES
Ward
MUSIC
Mus comp
Mus dir
SOUND
Sd ed
Sd ed
MAKEUP
Makeup artist
PRODUCTION MISC
Tech adv
Scr supv
STAND INS
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the serial novel The White Invader by James Warner Bellah in The Saturday Evening Post (21 Jan--4 Feb 1950).
DETAILS
Alternate Title:
Rear Guard
Release Date:
13 February 1954
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles premiere and New York opening: 15 January 1954
Production Date:
late July--mid September 1953
Copyright Claimant:
Warner Bros. Pictures, Inc.
Copyright Date:
6 April 1955
Copyright Number:
LP4542
Physical Properties:
Sound
RCA Sound System
Color
WarnerColor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Widescreen/ratio
2.66:1
Lenses/Prints
Vistarama
Duration(in mins):
88 or 94
Length(in reels):
12
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
16709
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In Wyoming Territory in 1878, cavalry troop commander Capt. Forsythe is shot by an Indian arrow. Before dying, he transfers his command to non-commissioned officer Dr. Robert MacClaw, ordering him to lead the troop back to their fort. Acknowledging his inexperience with Army protocol, MacClaw encourages the advice of seasoned and reliable Sgt. Elliot, whom Forsythe passed over as his successor. At first, the dutiful Elliot grudgingly supports the doctor and orders the other soldiers to follow suit, especially the constantly complaining trooper, Gottschalk. However, when Elliot realizes that MacClaw listens to him, the two officers form an amiable and respectful alliance. In the next small town they come upon two companies of infantrymen under orders to accompany a civilian wagon train to Paradise River. Elliot, recognizing the rivalry between cavalry and infantry that makes the death and replacement of their commander by a doctor an embarrassment to the troop, asks MacClaw to impersonate a captain by wearing Forsythe’s stripes. MacClaw agrees to the deception because they are just passing through town. However, the officer in charge of the infantry, the bellowing and officious Col. Janeway, is in need of experienced soldiers, and pulls rank and attaches the cavalry unit to his own. On the wagon train is Martha Cutting, whose father, a doctor, died at the beginning of the journey west. Martha has been nursing the sick young son of an immigrant Italian family who took her in and questions infantry surgeon Trent’s diagnosis of grippe. After talking to Martha, MacClaw, though concealing his medical training, looks for evidence of smallpox. When the convoy leaves town the next day, Indians from a variety of tribes launch a series ... +


In Wyoming Territory in 1878, cavalry troop commander Capt. Forsythe is shot by an Indian arrow. Before dying, he transfers his command to non-commissioned officer Dr. Robert MacClaw, ordering him to lead the troop back to their fort. Acknowledging his inexperience with Army protocol, MacClaw encourages the advice of seasoned and reliable Sgt. Elliot, whom Forsythe passed over as his successor. At first, the dutiful Elliot grudgingly supports the doctor and orders the other soldiers to follow suit, especially the constantly complaining trooper, Gottschalk. However, when Elliot realizes that MacClaw listens to him, the two officers form an amiable and respectful alliance. In the next small town they come upon two companies of infantrymen under orders to accompany a civilian wagon train to Paradise River. Elliot, recognizing the rivalry between cavalry and infantry that makes the death and replacement of their commander by a doctor an embarrassment to the troop, asks MacClaw to impersonate a captain by wearing Forsythe’s stripes. MacClaw agrees to the deception because they are just passing through town. However, the officer in charge of the infantry, the bellowing and officious Col. Janeway, is in need of experienced soldiers, and pulls rank and attaches the cavalry unit to his own. On the wagon train is Martha Cutting, whose father, a doctor, died at the beginning of the journey west. Martha has been nursing the sick young son of an immigrant Italian family who took her in and questions infantry surgeon Trent’s diagnosis of grippe. After talking to Martha, MacClaw, though concealing his medical training, looks for evidence of smallpox. When the convoy leaves town the next day, Indians from a variety of tribes launch a series of raids against them. The ailing Janeway, who has been risking his health until he can retire with a pension, is concerned that the Indians’ persistence is fueled by news of Indian victory at Little Big Horn. Offering a strategy not found in the Army manual, MacClaw suggests that his men ride behind the convoy, so that they can surprise and overtake attacking Indians. Later, after several families report sickness, Trent carelessly diagnoses smallpox and Janeway quarantines their wagons. Although MacClaw is unconvinced that smallpox is the problem, he reveals to Martha that he is a doctor and vaccinates her. As they talk, MacClaw relates his plans to return east, where, he suggests, she would be safer, but the doctor’s daughter asserts that their skills are needed in the West. Martha’s Italian family is killed during an attack after Janeway orders the quarantined wagons to travel far behind the convoy. When Elliot realizes that the Indians are bolder because they have observed the wagon train’s weakened condition, MacClaw devises ways to make the travelers appear stronger. For days, the convoy suffers heat and dust while Indians try to force them into a vulnerable defense circle. Thirty miles from Paradise River, the inexperienced infantrymen show signs of stress and Janeway suffers a stroke. While Janeway convalesces, the command falls to a panicky Maj. Gibbs, who was recently transferred from a desk in Washington. When Gibbs urges MacClaw to take over, the doctor calls together Gibbs, Elliot, West Point graduate O’Hirons and Sgt. Maj. Jason to strategize. Ten miles ahead is the narrow Medford Pass, which they must reach before the Indians. The wagons cannot outrun their enemy and the officers realize that the Indians expect them to wage a futile battle on lower ground. Seeing no other option, MacClaw proposes an unconventional plan. During the night, while Elliot and twenty soldiers deter Indian scouts away from their camp, the civilians board several of the wagons and head out, protected by a contingent of soldiers. MacClaw then positions the remaining wagons into a circle enclosing a howitzer and sharp-shooting riflemen inside. When the Indians attack, they are met by a hail of gunfire. MacClaw’s plan succeeds and the civilians proceed safely through the pass while the soldiers battle the Indians. MacClaw narrowly escapes death when an Indian bullet strikes him and is deflected by Forsythe’s pocket watch, which MacClaw had planned to give to Elliot. Afterward, examining the dead, MacClaw discovers that the Indians have contracted chicken pox. As the Indians have no immunity to the disease, MacClaw knows that they will suffer an epidemic and no longer endanger the wagon train. Upon reuniting with the rest of the convoy, MacClaw confirms that chicken pox, not the dreaded smallpox, has been plaguing the wagon train, but is troubled to learn that Martha intentionally spread the disease to the vulnerable Indians by scattering colorful clothing worn by the sick along the trail. MacClaw then confides his true profession to the recovering Janeway, but the impressed colonel jokes that his battle strategy will soon be in the Army manual. His enlistment concluded, MacClaw joins Martha on her journey west. +

In Wyoming Territory in 1878, cavalry troop commander Capt. Forsythe is shot by an Indian arrow. Before dying, he transfers his command to non-commissioned officer Dr. Robert MacClaw, ordering him to lead the troop back to their fort. Acknowledging his inexperience with Army protocol, MacClaw encourages the advice of seasoned and reliable Sgt. Elliot, whom Forsythe passed over to succeed him. At first, the dutiful Elliot grudgingly supports the doctor and orders the other soldiers to follow suit, especially a griping trooper, Gottschalk. However, when Elliot realizes that MacClaw listens to him, the two officers form an amiable and respectful alliance. At the next small town are two companies of infantrymen under orders to accompany a civilian wagon train to Paradise River. Believing that their encounter will be brief, Elliot convinces MacClaw to impersonate a captain by wearing Forsythe’s stripes, as a rivalry exists between cavalry and infantry, and the death and replacement of their commander by a doctor is an embarrassment to them. As they are just passing through the town, MacClaw agrees to the deception. However, the officer in charge of the infantry, bellowing and officious Col. Janeway, pulls rank and attaches the cavalry unit to his own, as he needs experienced soldiers to support his companies of green recruits through hostile Indian territory. Meanwhile, on the wagon train is Martha Cutting, whose father, a doctor, died at the beginning of the journey west. Martha has been nursing the sick young son of an immigrant Italian family who took her in and is suspicious of the infantry surgeon Trent’s diagnosis of grippe. After talking to her, MacClaw, though concealing his medical training, looks for evidence of smallpox. After the convoy leaves town the next day, Indians from a variety of tribes begin a series of raids against them. The ill Janeway, who has been risking his health until he can retire with a pension, is concerned that the Indians’ persistence is fueled by news of Indian victory at Little Big Horn. Offering a strategy not found in the Army manual, MacClaw suggests that his men ride behind the convoy, as rear guard, so that they can surprise and overtake attacking Indians. Later, after several families report sickness, Trent sloppily diagnoses smallpox and Janeway quarantines their wagons. Although MacClaw is unconvinced that smallpox is the problem, after revealing to Martha that he is a doctor, he vaccinates her. As they talk, MacClaw admits his plans to return east, where, he suggests, she would be safer, but the doctor’s daughter feels useful and believes MacClaw’s skills are needed in the West. After Janeway ordes the quarantined wagons to travel far behind the convoy, Martha’s Italian family is killed during the next attack. Elliot realizes that the Indians are bolder because they observe the wagon train’s weakened condition, so MacClaw devises ways to make the travelers appear stronger. For days, they suffer heat and dust, while Indians try to orce them into a vulnerable defense circle. Thirty miles from Paradise River, the inexperienced infantrymen show signs of stress and Janeway suffers a stroke. While Janeway convalesces, the command falls to a panicking Maj. Gibbs, who recently transferred from a desk in Washington. Gibbs urges MacClaw to take over, so the doctor calls together Gibbs, Elliot, West Point graduate O’Hirons and Sgt. Maj. Jason to strategize. Ten miles ahead is narrow Medford Pass, which they must reach before the Indians. As the wagons cannot outrun their enemy, the officers realize that the Indians expect them to wage a desperate battle on lower ground, which they know they cannot win. Seeing no other workable option, MacClaw proposes an unconventional plan. During the night, while Elliott and twenty soldiers keep Indian scouts away from their camp, MacClaw secretly sends ahead all the civilians in half of the wagons with a contingent of soldiers. He positions the remaining wagons in a circle with a howitzer and sharp shooting riflemen, some dressed as women. The rest of the soldiers hide in the countryside and ambush the attacking Indians. Because of MacClaw’s plan, the civilians get safely through the pass, while the soldiers battle the Indians. MacClaw narrowly escapes demise, when a bullet hits a pocket watch belonging to Forsythe, which he had planned to give Elliot. Afterward, examining the dead, MacClaw discovers that the Indians have contracted chicken pox. As the Indians have no built-in immunity to the disease, MacClaw knows they will suffer an epidemic and no longer endanger the wagon train. Upon reuniting with the rest of the convoy, MacClaw confirms that chickenpox, not the dreaded smallpox, has been plaguing the wagon train, but is troubled to learn that Martha intentionally spread the disease to the vulnerable Indians by scattering on the trail colorful clothing worn by the sick. To the recovering Janeway, MacClaw confides his true profession, but the impressed colonel jokes that his battle strategy will soon be in the Army manual. As his term of service has concluded, MacClaw joins Martha on her journey west.

+

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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