A Distant Trumpet (1964)
Fort Delivery fails to Deliver
They were buried alive. Those ants are eating their brains out! - Matthew Hazard
For a movie which lasts a few minutes short of 2 hours not a great deal happens in "A Distant Trumpet" or at least not for the first hour which once the movie is over you will wonder why it was needed. Because of this "A Distant Trumpet" is a strange movie one which feels like it has been through the rewriting process so that its star, Troy Donahue, looks good in every single scene no matter if it doesn't have anything to do with the original storyline. As such I can't but help be disappointed with "A Distant Trumpet" as whilst it finally picks up the pace and delivers some action during the second half there is very little else which is any good about it.
Fresh from West Point Lt. Matt Hazard (Troy Donahue - Rocket to the Moon) arrives at Fort Delivery in Arizona and is less than impressed with what he sees from the undisciplined soldiers. Immediately setting about whipping them into shape he makes few friends although he finds himself falling for Kitty (Suzanne Pleshette - Support Your Local Gunfighter) the wife of his Commanding Officer. If that wasn't bad enough his fiancee Laura (Diane McBain) from back home shows up and immediately grows suspicious of Kitty. When trouble with native Indians lead by War Eagle raises its ugly head, Hazard mush forget all about romance and dedicate himself to the cause.
You get a strange feeling that in turning "A Distant Trumpet" into a vehicle for Troy Donahue someone decided to alter the storyline so that his part was more impressive. What I mean is that for the first hour of the movie we get all this build up where Lt. Matt Hazard shows up at Fort Delivery whips the soldiers into shape and falls in love with his commanding officer's wife, Kitty Mainwarring which becomes even more complicated when his girlfriend Laura shows up at the fort with the new CEO. All of this plays to Donahue's strengths being handsome and also confident when it comes to ordering troops around, giving him an opportunity to be an authoritarian. But then come the second half of the movie and none of this build up matters as we have Maj. Gen. Alexander Upton Quaint turning up and leading all the men into battle with War Eagle. It certainly makes you feel that all the romantic subplot was originally meant to be just an embellishment but was embellished so that Troy Donahue had a more commanding role.
The knock on effect of this is that for an hour "A Distant Trumpet" doesn't feel like it is going anywhere even when Laura shows up and is suspicious of Kitty. And what's more is that it obviously feels disjointed with the second half which is more of a traditional cavalry movie. As such the second half is much better as Quaint leads the men into war on War Eagle although it is also rather comically cheesy as he translates Apache with such ease and authority. Despite this the action for the most is good if a little messy as it turns into wide angle fights rather than close ups of the action.
What is quite a surprise is the darker side of the movie by which I mean those who are killed by the native Indians. From people being buried alive, left to become ant fodder to being burnt to a crisp or being branded with a hot iron it is not so much shocking but surprising. It almost feels that director Raoul Walsh was less than impressed having to work with a script which favoured the star and so made the most of these little moments, delivering an aspect which if had been used more often would have made "A Distant Trumpet" a far more impressive movie.
As for the acting well Troy Donahue may be handsome but he's not very believable as a leader of men, which may explain why the romantic storyline ends up being padded out because it is where his strengths appear to lie. Watching Donahue sharing a passionate embrace with the beautiful Suzanne Pleshette who plays Kitty Mainwarring is where both of the actors are at their best and they make a stunning pair on a visual level. But beyond the romantic scenes neither really excel, then to be honest no one does with James Gregory as Maj. Gen. Alexander Upton Quaint seeming to go for old school over acting to make up for deficiencies with the script. It all ends up that many of the performances end up bordering on the comical because the characters are so poorly defined.
What this all boils down to is that "A Distant Trumpet" is a disappointing movie which just doesn't work. At nearly 2 hours it feels like the storyline has been massively tampered with so that its star Troy Donahue had more romantic scenes but it just doesn't blend with the more traditional action which fills the second half. In a way if you want a movie with handsome stars then it may appeal but if you want a clever western full of breathtaking action then it's probably best to give "A Distant Trumpet" a miss.
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