Dakota Incident (1956)
Incident is almost Incidental
I know it's not very sociable, but I've got a gun aimed right at your belly - John Banner
"Dakota Incident" is a movie about a small group of people who find themselves and their stagecoach under attack from Indians. But rather strangely this drama surrounding their stagecoach being attacked and their desperate attempt to survive only takes up the second half of the movie. What happens before this ends up being almost a little confusing because whilst we are introduced to each of the characters it seems to focus on John Banner, a man who walks in to a town after being left for dead and in a minor way causes trouble. It initially makes "Dakota Incident" seem a little unfocused even padded out as it takes so long to get to the main part of the story. But then it makes sense because this is a story of redemption not only for John Banner but for all those who are trying to survive the Indian attack and it turns into a reasonably interesting movie.
Having been left for dead on the open range John Banner (Dale Robertson) makes the long trek to Christian Flats looking for revenge on the two men who tried to kill him. But whilst there he finds himself drawn to the attractive Amy (Linda Darnell - My Darling Clementine) who like many of the locals is desperate to leave because of the threat of Indian attacks. When the Mile High Stagecoach comes in to town riddled with arrows and with the drivers and passenger dead a small group including Banner try to make it to Laramie. But along the way they too come under Indian attack and find themselves pinned down in a gulley fighting the Indians who are picking them off one by one.
So to be honest when "Dakota Incident" starts it feels like a B-movie, a very generic western as we meet John Banner being left for dead on the open range by his two partners. We can guess he's not dead or even injured before we are even told and you begin to suspect that this is going to be a movie about him getting revenge on his partners who thought they had killed him. And to be honest that is what part of the first half of the movie is about as we watch him make his way into the small town of Christian Flats and deal with the two men who left him to die. But in fact this is only part of the first half because what we also get is an introduction to all the pivotal characters from showgirl Amy who gets plenty of male attention through to Senator Blakely who believes that rather than fight Indians peace should be sought.
Now whilst doing a reasonable job of establishing the pivotal characters which includes John Hamilton who is very interested in Banner, whilst also making Banner this mysterious man who doesn't do what you initially think, it also seems to be biding it's time. You are almost half way through the movie before we get the Mile High Stage Coach showing up, riddled with arrows and with dead passengers. And even then it takes a little while longer to get to the point where these pivotal characters have headed for Laramie in the stagecoach and found themselves pinned down in a gulley by Indians.
Now as westerns go it has to be said that the action which follows isn't that spectacular with the occasional gun fight as are passengers try to pick of the Indians who in turn try to pick off them one by one. And whilst there is the aspect of the passengers becoming more and more desperate as the hours and days pass you wouldn't say it's the most dramatic or tense series of scenes you will ever see.
But "Dakota Incident" has another level because it is all about redemption from the Senator realising that making peace is not that straight forwards through to Banner trying to do good by John Hamilton as the truth is revealed as to why Hamilton is so interested in him. And on top of that there is a romantic angle as Banner flirts with Amy and finds his attempts often rebuffed. Sadly all of this is spoilt by an ending which seems so desperate to be a happy ever after ending that it feels very cheesy.
What does certainly cause "Dakota Incident" to feel like a B-movie is the characters because whilst we learn a bit about each of them they are barely more than 2 dimensional and quite cliche. And as such whilst there is nothing wrong with the performances from Dale Robertson, Linda Darnell or Ward Bond they are not that brilliant either. It's a case that the actors delivered their lines, tried to deliver the drama and danger but never really brought their characters to life.
What this all boils down to is that "Dakota Incident" is pretty much your run of the mill 50s western which whilst entertaining is not that memorable. When it does get through all the build up and focuses on the stagecoach passengers trying to survive an Indian attack it does become interesting and throws up the depth of the characters finding redemption but it ends up a small part of what ends up a stock western with stock characters.
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