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Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)

 
 

Pinned Down & Picked Off

Dennis O'Keefe and Barry Sullivan in Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)

A prison wagon, a stage coach and an Indian trader all arrive at the same place at the same time; that place is Indian Territory where the Indians are on the war path. With Capt. Matt Riordan (Dennis O'Keefe - The Lady Wants Mink), a survivor of an Indian attack, taking the lead these strangers group together to try and make it to safety but their journey is full of danger as the Indians track their every movie, picking them off one by one.

If you've seen "Dragoon Wells Massacre" come up on the TV schedule and decided to give it a miss because it sounds familiar it is understandable. To be honest having seen it regularly show up I kept on giving it a miss because the story of a cavalry man and a group of civilians trying to make it through Indian Territory sounded a bit unoriginal. But whilst the set up to "Dragoon Wells Massacre" is familiar what unfolds isn't and this western ends up an entertaining elaboration on the good guys stuck in Indian Territory storyline.

Mona Freeman and Katy Jurado in Dragoon Wells Massacre (1957)

Now if there is one bad thing about "Dragoon Wells Massacre" it is the opening because it is corny. What I mean is that you've heard that saying about you wait for a bus to come along and then three turn up at once, well that is what we sort of get with wagons. First we see Indian trader Jonah stumble across a group of murdered cavalry men with just Capt. Matt having survived, then a prison wagon shows up moments later and not long after that a stage coach. Three wagons converging on the same place at the same time is too unbelievable but it does mean we have a diverse group of people; innocent passengers, a cavalry man, some marshals with a couple of prisoners plus an Indian trader who we quickly discover has been trading guns and whisky with the Indians.

Following this set up it would be easy to think well these guys will end up being pinned down by the Indians and over a period of time be picked off one by one and yes they even do get attacked and pinned down. But what makes this different is that at each Indian attack they fight back, killing Indians and yes being picked off one by one but they move on in between. So we get the journey, the daily trek whilst the Indians trail them, each night the good guys set up camp and await for a possible attack. Along the way they come across a burned out relay post where they discover a young girl and when they reach a Fort they discover it is to no use as that has already been attacked all of which keeps the movie eventful and not static like so many similar westerns end up.

Now typically as their numbers drop as one by one another one dies we get down to a small group, completely out numbered and with little chance of surviving, leading to a moment of heroics befitting this sort of western. But the real interest to this variation of the good guys in Indian Territory is the dynamics of the group because we have various relationships. Capt' Matt's former girlfriend happens to be travelling on the stage, yes another big coincidence but also on the stage is the sexy Mara Fay who takes a fancy to Capt. Matt which leads to jealousy building between the two women. Then there are the two prisoners Link and Tiogo who Ann doesn't trust but they continually prove themselves decent, often misjudged as they protect the group from Indian attacks. There are more relationships and interactions which go on, allowing the characters to grow and change as the journey progresses.

Part of the reason why the change in characters and their interactions end up interesting is in the good casting. Who better than the less than handsome Jack Elam to play a misjudged criminal, whose looks make the women on edge. And Barry Sullivan oozes confidence as fellow criminal Link, playing a character who appears to have escaped death on a few occasions and is happy to ride his luck, both when it comes to Indians but also women. And talking of the women Mona Freeman as the jealous Ann and Katy Jurado as the fiery Mara are more than token beauties, they even have quite an impressive catfight. Even those in minor roles, those who will end up being picked off are just as good even in their limited screen time.

What this all boils down to is that "Dragoon Wells Massacre" may look like a run of the mill 50s western but it is more interesting than the norm. Nice embellishments to the story and characters that are more than one dimension make it entertaining from start to finish even when the start is a little too corny.

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