Pillars of the Sky (1956)

94-95 mins | Western | October 1956

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HISTORY

Although, according to onscreen credits, the film Pillars of the Sky was based on the novel Frontier Fury by Will Henry, the actual source novel was To Follow a Flag , which was reprinted in 1956 under the title Pillars of the Sky . A HR news item refers to "Frontier Fury" as a magazine story, but as far as can be determined, Henry did not publish a novel or short story with this title. The picture was filmed in Eastern Oregon, including in LeGrande and the Wallowa Lake region. News items in DV noted that Patrick Ford, the son of director John Ford, and Borden Chase were assigned at various times to write the script, but the extent of their contributions to the final film is undetermined.
       A Sep 1954 "Rambling Reporter" item in HR reported that Clark Gable was to star in the film and receive 15% of the gross profits, one of the top financial arrangements awarded to an actor at that time. Press reports note that many local Indians were cast in the picture, including members of the Nez Pearce, Umatilla and Palouse tribes. Reviewers generally praised the film's cast, and the NYT reviewer added: " Pillars in the Sky , with a nice, surprising mixture of compassion and cynicism, keeps insisting that...all [the characters] matter, red and white." Although news items add Maurice Manson to the cast, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. An Oct 1955 HR adds Bill Williams to the cast, but he did not appear in the final film.
       ... More Less

Although, according to onscreen credits, the film Pillars of the Sky was based on the novel Frontier Fury by Will Henry, the actual source novel was To Follow a Flag , which was reprinted in 1956 under the title Pillars of the Sky . A HR news item refers to "Frontier Fury" as a magazine story, but as far as can be determined, Henry did not publish a novel or short story with this title. The picture was filmed in Eastern Oregon, including in LeGrande and the Wallowa Lake region. News items in DV noted that Patrick Ford, the son of director John Ford, and Borden Chase were assigned at various times to write the script, but the extent of their contributions to the final film is undetermined.
       A Sep 1954 "Rambling Reporter" item in HR reported that Clark Gable was to star in the film and receive 15% of the gross profits, one of the top financial arrangements awarded to an actor at that time. Press reports note that many local Indians were cast in the picture, including members of the Nez Pearce, Umatilla and Palouse tribes. Reviewers generally praised the film's cast, and the NYT reviewer added: " Pillars in the Sky , with a nice, surprising mixture of compassion and cynicism, keeps insisting that...all [the characters] matter, red and white." Although news items add Maurice Manson to the cast, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. An Oct 1955 HR adds Bill Williams to the cast, but he did not appear in the final film.
       The Paloos Indians are also known as the Palouse Indians, and the Skitswish Indians are also known as the Coeur d'Alene Indians. During the 1850s, Chief Kamiakin of the Yakimas urged these tribes, along with the Spokane Indians, to unite against the U.S. Army. In 1868, the Indians defeated a column of 164 troops that had crossed the Snake River under the command of Maj. Edward Steptoe. Later that year, however, the Indians suffered two crushing defeats at Spokane Plain and the Battle of Four Lakes, and several of Kamiakin's relatives were executed. Although wounded at Spokane Plain, Kamiakin escaped into Canada, returning three years later to lead a quiet life on the Spokane reservation. He died in 1877. More Less

BIBLIOGRAPHIC SOURCES
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
11 Aug 1956.
---
Daily Variety
18 Oct 1953.
---
Daily Variety
5 Feb 1954.
---
Daily Variety
7 Aug 56
p. 3.
Film Daily
8 Aug 56
p. 6.
Harrison's Reports
4 Aug 56
p. 126.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Sep 1954
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
16 Aug 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Aug 1955
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Aug 55
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
23 Aug 1955
p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Aug 1955
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
30 Sep 55
p. 15.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 1955
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Aug 56
p. 3.
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
11 Aug 56
p. 25.
New York Times
13 Oct 56
p. 15.
The Exhibitor
8 Aug 56
p. 4199.
Variety
8 Aug 56
p. 6.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Asst dir
Asst dir
PRODUCER
WRITER
Scr
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
SET DECORATORS
Set dec
COSTUMES
MUSIC
MAKEUP
Hairstylist
Makeup
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit prod mgr
Scr supv
COLOR PERSONNEL
Technicolor col consultant
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel To Follow a Flag by Will Henry (New York, 1953).
AUTHOR
SONGS
"Down in the Valley," traditional.
DETAILS
Release Date:
October 1956
Premiere Information:
New York opening: 12 October 1956
Production Date:
18 August--late September 1955
Copyright Claimant:
Universal Pictures Co.
Copyright Date:
20 August 1956
Copyright Number:
LP7234
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Color
Technicolor
Widescreen/ratio
CinemaScope
Duration(in mins):
94-95
Length(in feet):
8,525
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
17682
SYNOPSIS

In Oregon country, in 1868, First Sgt. Emmett Bell, chief of the Cavalry's Indian police force, rides into the mission of his friend, Dr. Joseph Holden, accompanied by several of the Nez Perce scouts who serve under him. Several of the region's chiefs, whom Dr. Holden has baptized as Christians, inform him that Kamiakin, the warlike chief of the Palouse Indians, has summoned them to council to discuss the movement of Army troops and cannons into their lands. Deeply concerned, Emmett heads for the encampment of the U.S. Cavalry, bursts into the office of the new commanding officer, Col. Edson Stedlow, and barks, "What's the idea?" Also present is Capt. Tom Gaxton, whose wife Calla fell in love with Emmett when both men fought together during the Civil War. Stedlow explains that because a clause in the treaty allows the Army to build a road through the reservation, his command of young soldiers has been ordered to do so. Stedlow informs an outraged Emmett that he will serve only as a scout on the building expedition, then has the sergeant arrested for drinking on duty. The colonel remarks to Stedlow that although Emmett is rowdy and insubordinate, he is valuable to the Army because there is a deep mutual respect between him and the Indians. Later, Emmett's scout Timothy, a Nez Perce, reports that Kamiakin, enraged that the Army has constructed a bridge over the Snake River into Indian lands, has called for total annihilation of the troops. Emmett leads Stedlow to the mission, where they meet with chiefs Elijah of the Spokane, Isaiah of the Coeur d'Alene, Simon of the Umatilla, Isaac ... +


In Oregon country, in 1868, First Sgt. Emmett Bell, chief of the Cavalry's Indian police force, rides into the mission of his friend, Dr. Joseph Holden, accompanied by several of the Nez Perce scouts who serve under him. Several of the region's chiefs, whom Dr. Holden has baptized as Christians, inform him that Kamiakin, the warlike chief of the Palouse Indians, has summoned them to council to discuss the movement of Army troops and cannons into their lands. Deeply concerned, Emmett heads for the encampment of the U.S. Cavalry, bursts into the office of the new commanding officer, Col. Edson Stedlow, and barks, "What's the idea?" Also present is Capt. Tom Gaxton, whose wife Calla fell in love with Emmett when both men fought together during the Civil War. Stedlow explains that because a clause in the treaty allows the Army to build a road through the reservation, his command of young soldiers has been ordered to do so. Stedlow informs an outraged Emmett that he will serve only as a scout on the building expedition, then has the sergeant arrested for drinking on duty. The colonel remarks to Stedlow that although Emmett is rowdy and insubordinate, he is valuable to the Army because there is a deep mutual respect between him and the Indians. Later, Emmett's scout Timothy, a Nez Perce, reports that Kamiakin, enraged that the Army has constructed a bridge over the Snake River into Indian lands, has called for total annihilation of the troops. Emmett leads Stedlow to the mission, where they meet with chiefs Elijah of the Spokane, Isaiah of the Coeur d'Alene, Simon of the Umatilla, Isaac of the Wallawalla, and Kamiakin of the Palouse. After the colonel refuses to remove his troops, Kamiakin urges the chiefs to fight. Timothy argues that the Indians, having become too bound up with the white man, must learn to live with him in peace, but Kamiakin replies scornfully that his tribe will not be "swallowed up in the belly of a different people." While both sides prepare for war, Emmett and his scouts steal into Kamiakin's camp and rescue two women who were earlier captured by Kamiakin: Calla Gaxton and Mrs. Anne Avery, whose husband and son were killed during an ambush. Calla declares her love for Emmett, and although he resists her at first, he soon succumbs to her charms. Emmett's party encounters Stedlow and his troops, who have crossed into the reservation and are now surrounded. The colonel boasts that his column will defeat any attack, but as Indian snipers begin to pick off the men, and soldiers are found hacked to pieces, he finally realizes the hopelessness of their situation. Emmett and Holden try to secure safe passage for the women, but chief Zachariah responds violently to this request, and soon the column is attacked by a huge force of Indians. Many warriors are killed, but Stedlow's troops are decimated, and only a small group of white survivors reaches the top of the hill. The colonel is stunned and sorry, but Emmett declares that, considering his orders, he did the best he could. As they await a nighttime attack, Emmett drinks whiskey with his friend, Sgt. Lloyd Carracart, whose serious injury has not dampened his devil-may-care Irish temperament. Tom and Calla each accept the blame for their unhappy marriage, but when Calla goes to Emmett, she realizes that it is her husband, not Emmett, who truly loves her. Holden determines that Kamiakin's forces are massing at the foot of the hill, thereby leaving a section of the surrounding land unguarded. While the party quietly makes its way down the hill in an attempt to escape to Holden's mission, Carracart, who expects to die soon, remains behind to tend the fires. The party does reach the mission, but Tom is injured, and Calla rushes to his side. Kamiakin's warriors arrive at daybreak, and the mission is set on fire. Realizing that the situation is desperate, Holden rides out to the Indians' position and raises his arm in peace. Kamiakin kills him just before Emmett and Timothy arrive. Enraged, Emmett accuses the chiefs and their followers of being little better than animals. Kamiakin aims his gun at Emmett, but Isaiah, deeply ashamed at Kamiakin's cowardly actions, shoots the Palouse chief down. Everyone walks slowly back to the mission, where the Christian chiefs ask Emmett to take Holden's place. Emmett opens the Bible and prays that they might all be comforted. +

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

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