high june: duel at diablo

DUEL AT DIABLO

Death comes soon enough. Anyone who hurries it is a damn fool.

DUEL AT DIABLO (1966) is an American western produced by Fred Engel and Ralph Nelson. It Is based on the novel APACHE RISING (1957) by Marvin H. Albert. The screenplay was by Marvin H. Albert and Michael M. Grilikhes. The director was Ralph Nelson – who directed LILIES OF THE FIELD (1963). The film stars James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Bibi Andersson, and Dennis Weaver. 

Cast

James Garner as JESS REMSBERG

Sidney Poitier as TOLLER

Bibi Andersson as ELLEN GRANGE

Bill Travers as LIEUTENANT SCOTTY McALLISTER

Dennis Weaver as WILLARD GRANGE

John Hoyt as CHATA

William Redfield as SERGEANT FERGUSON

While crossing the desert, army scout Jess Remsberg rescues Ellen Grange from Apaches. He returns her to her husband Willard Grange. Years earlier Ellen had been kidnaped by Apaches and had been recently reunited with her husband but had now voluntarily returned to the Indians. 

Jess receives from his friend Lt. McAllister the scalp of his dead Comanche wife and tells him Marshall Clay Dean at Fort Concho has information about who killed her. McAllister has to lead 25 rookie soldiers taking horses, ammunition, and supplies to Fort Concho. Jess agrees to scout for him. Willard and Ellen go with them taking supplies. Ex-Sergeant Toller goes as well – having been contracted to provide horses to the army. 

In the morning they learn Ellen has again returned to the Indians. Her husband does nothing but Jess goes after her. He discovers she has a baby from the now dead son of the Apache chief Chata. He rescues mother and son and they catch up with the expedition. 

The expedition is ambushed by Chata and his warriors. Jess and Ellen manage to get thru the attackers. Supplies are lost as well as men. McAllister is seriously wounded but continues to lead. 

McAllister comes up with a plan to take refuge in Diablo Canyon where there is water and better cover. Key to the plan is that Jess goes to Fort Concho for help. By the exciting climatic ending some will live, some will die, boys become men, some men act like boys, and we learn who killed Jess’ wife. 

  • This was James Garner’s first western since MAVERICK (1957-1962).
  • This was Sidney Poitier’s first western movie. 
  • Bill Travers actually broke his leg while filming. 
  • This was Bibi Andersson’s first American movie. 

Dislikes

  • The music is uneven. Don’t get me wrong the music is nice but sometimes it sounds like western music, sometimes it sounds like war movie music, and sometimes it sounds like 60s pop music. It is disconcerting and distracting. Laurie Johnson, the composer of the music for THE AVENGERS (1961-1969) British TV series once said, and I’m paraphrasing, the music should help set the mood. It should never grab your attention. If your focus shifts to the music instead of the TV show (or movie) then the composer did not do their job properly. 
  • Once again, the oh-so-evil Indians are the bad guys. But I do have to admit that the lead character in this movie is pro-Indian and is vocal about it. That makes the Indians as bad guys a little easier to take.  

Likes

  • James Garner is one of my favorite actors. I liked him in MAVERICK. I liked him in SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF (1969). I liked him in THE ROCKFORD FILES (1974-1980). And I liked him in this. 
  • Sidney Poitier is one of my favorite actors as well. I liked him in GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967). I liked him in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (1967). I liked him in TO SIR WITHLOVE (1967). I also liked him in this movie. Yeah, I know, I repeat myself. One of the hazards of getting old. 
  • I like babies and the Indian baby in this film steals the movie. 
  • I got a kick out of John Hoyt playing Chata. Fellow geeks will recognize Hoyt as Doctor Boyce on the first STAR TREK pilot titled THE CAGE. I’ve watched this movie a dozen times and it is only now that I realized0 that was John Hoyt.

I really like this movie and it is easily one of my favorite westerns. Which is one of the reasons I have seen it about a dozen times. I remember watching it as a kid and thinking that Sidney Poitier, with his fancy clothes, was the coolest looking Black cowboy I had ever seen. I also got a huge kick out of the beginning when a knife cuts thru the screen to change the scene. I was so easily impressed back then. 

As I got older I watched it again – first on TV then on video tape and eventually DVD. I often do that with movies I watched when younger to see if they stand the test of time. DUEL AT DIABLO has stood the test of time.

It has a script more intelligent than most. The action is often brutal and pulls no punches. It can leave you reeling and be bothered by it later on – you find yourself thinking about the torture scenes. There is one sure way to know if a movie is really good or really bad. Do you find yourself thinking about the movie long after you watched it? If you’re thinking about it in a bad way than it was a bad film. If you’re thinking about it in a good way then it was a good movie.  

In a very small amount of time the moviemakers manage to make you care about Jess Remsberg and his dead wife, Scotty McAllister and his upcoming marriage, Ellen Grange and her baby, and Toller and his fancy clothes. That is no mean feat. It’s not easy to make a large cast three-dimensional and make you care about them. 

When this film first came out it got mixed reviews. One critic said that Bill Travers and Bibi Andersson were miscast because of their European accents and that detracted from the authenticity of the movie. Apparently, no one ever taught this man how many Europeans came out west and how they contributed to the taming of a frontier. 

This movie is good! I’m talking about MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), WARLOCK (1959), EL DORADO (1966) good! Yeah, I think it is that good. 

I highly recommend it and if you are a fan of western movies, you do not want to miss this one. If you do you will regret it I promise you. 

It is my sincere pleasure to bestow upon DUEL AT DIABLO a rating of four gray geeks. Yay!

Well, that is all for this time buckaroos. It is time I kissed the girl goodbye, got on my trusty horse, and rode into the sunset. I gotta make sure I get it right this time. Last time I got it backwards and it was embarrassing. Hasta la vista!

One thought on “high june: duel at diablo

  1. A couple of months ago I tried to watch this movie – but unfortunately the copy was really bad. I couldn’t stand the butchering some TV editor had committed, so I gave up and moved on. However, what I did see suggested that it is worthwhile – and now you confirm that, I will have to watch for it again in hopes of getting a better version soon!

    Liked by 1 person

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