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July 01, 2008

Only the Valiant

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Gordon Douglas - 1951
Lionsgate Region 1 DVD

The most encouraging aspect about Lionsgate releasing a DVD from their Republic Pictures library is that it may mean other films, hopefully Moonrise and China Gate will get overdue DVDs. Even among the films of Gordon Douglas or star Gregory Peck, Only the Valiant is a decidedly minor film with minor virtues. I was hoping to see more of Barbara Payton in her second to last film for a big studio before alcohol and general bad behavior exiled her from Hollywood. Not that Only the Valiant was a major film. The project smacks of Warner Brothers looking for a way to fulfill contracts with employees, and provide product for their theaters.

Gregory Peck plays an Army captain with the very unsubtle name of Dick Lance. Barbary Payton is the officer's daughter who is hoping to get his attention. In the meantime, Gig Young lets his feelings for Payton be known, and is seen kissing Payton accidentally by Peck. Orders to escort an Apache warrior are changed by the commanding officer in spite of Peck's protest so that Young goes on a mission that means possible death. Of course Peck gets blames for the change of orders when Young gets killed. Peck then takes the soldiers he considers the most expendable for what is more clearly a suicide mission to stop several hundred indians before the reenforcement troops show up.

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Only the Valiant is not quite the "Dirty Half Dozen", but the twist is wondering whether these soldiers who have no love for each other will destroy each other before getting the Indians. The psychological aspects are as broad as the characters actors filling the parts - Ward Bond as the very Irish, perpetually inebriated Corporal, Neville Brand as the bullying Sergeant, and Lon Chaney, Jr. as the large and angry Trooper Kebussyan. If you're looking for a film with more serious thoughts about relationships with the Native American, you would have to look at Delmer Daves' < b>Broken Arrow released the year before. Still, having much of Only the Valiant take place at night serves as a visual compliment to the darkness of the characters, and the long shots of the virtually abandoned fort that Peck and company defend give the film a noirish quality.

To what extent the look of Only the Valiant should be credited to cinematographer Lionel Lindon I couldn't say, but there are some visually stunning moments, especially a shot of Peck and his troops seen riding in silhouette. There may possibly be a message about the dehumanizing effects of war when the day is saved by that new invention, the Gatling gun, which mows down the Apaches by the dozens. On the debit side, having Ward Bond as a drunk soldier with a heavy brogue is too much of a reminder of his membership with John Ford's stock company, and the kind of role Ford would give to Victor McLaglen in films that would be relatively fresh in the memory of the audience watching Only the Valiant. The effect is that the makers of Only the Valiant had thought about making a different kind of western only to retreat back to familiar cliches.

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Posted by peter at July 1, 2008 08:49 PM


"the makers of Only the Valiant had thought about making a different kind of western only to retreat back to familiar cliches."

yep, think that about sums it up if memory serves. I do remember the Gatling gun giving me a jolt though.

Posted by: Campaspe at July 2, 2008 03:26 PM