A Valiant Effort
Gregory Peck once said that "Only the Valiant" was his least favourite movie that he made; ironically I actually quite enjoyed it. Watching it now there is a familiarity to the main storyline which sees a small group of men basically going on a suicide mission to stop the hoards of Apache's getting through a small pass and to Fort Winston. Think of "The Magnificent Seven" and "The Dirty Dozen" and you will get a general idea of the sort of movie, or at least the sort of main storyline that "Only the Valiant" possesses. But what makes it far more interesting are all the characters and their subplots from a romantic love triangle through to deserters, thieves, drunks and soldiers with a chip on their shoulder. It's these storylines which makes "Only the Valiant" entertaining and more than just a predictable tale of a few men trying to stop and Apache invasion.
Having captured Apache Chief Tucsos (Michael Ansara) and taken him back to Fort Winston, Capt. Richard Lance (Gregory Peck - The Gunfighter) is forced to order his friend Lt. Holloway (Gig Young - Wake of the Red Witch) to escort Tucsos to Fort Grant, a mission which Lance wanted but was forced by his superior to pass on. When Holloway is sent back dead all the men blame Capt. Lance as does Cathy (Barbara Payton) who was in love with him and Holloway. With Tucsos having escaped Capt. Lance leads a small detail of hand picked men to the abandoned Fort Invincible to try and stop Tucsos leading an assault on Fort Winston until reinforcements show up. But with the men he picked disliking him and willing to see him die there is as much danger from his own men as their is the Apaches.
One of the things about "Only the Valiant" is that whilst the storyline appears to focus of Capt. Richard Lance handpicking a small detail of men to try and protect the pass from the Apaches it is really about the characters and sub stories. And the building of these characters and sub stories starts right from the opening scenes where having captured Apache leader Tucsos Lance being a man of honour stops any of his men from killing him and instead taking him as a prisoner back to Fort Winston. That one scene leads into the issues that many of the men who serve under him have, to the point that many would willingly kill Lance. This opening scene also paves the way for the love triangle as Capt. Lance and Lt. Holloway both have romantic feelings towards Cathy Eversham which is a catalyst for more feelings of resentment when Holloway is killed on a mission that they think Lance chickened out of.
There is a surprising amount of back story delivered in a relatively short space of time before "Only the Valiant" moves on and we have Capt. Lance hand picking a group of men to head with him to Fort Invincible to defend the pass from Tucsos and his men. Once things get to this point you do have a split in stories because there is the cliche side of things as this small group of men defend the pass and some die in doing so. And then you have the more interesting individual storylines such as why Lance picked a group of men who all hate him and also how they interact, with personal issues and mistrust making it a doubly dangerous mission.
The weakness of all this is that you can guess the outcome, the chances of Peck dying even in a pique of heroics is seriously unlikely. There are some nice surprises and the way it all pans out has one nice twist. But it doesn't disguise the obviousness, but then the little storylines, the way the characters interact and some decent scenes of action make it entertaining.
Now I can sort of see why Gregory Peck said that "Only the Valiant" was his least favourite movie because to be honest his character is lifeless. You get a sense that Capt. Lance is both a man of honour but also an intelligent man who plays things by the book, but this is not a role which stretches Peck. In fact you could say that Peck strolls through the movie, looking handsome and stern and that's about it.
But then those who are cast in supporting rolls end up being more entertaining especially Ward Bond who may be playing a cliche character in alcohol swilling Irishman Cpl. Timothy Gilchrist but adds depth to what is a comical character. The same can be said for Gig Young who as Lt. Holloway may not be in the movie for more than a few scenes adds some energy and spark to it. And I could go on because Jeff Corey, Neville Brand, Lon Chaney Jr. and Terry Kilburn to name but a few all play more interesting characters thanks to their hatred of Capt. Lance.
What this all boils down to is that "Only the Valiant" is a surprisingly entertaining movie which has a certain amount of familiarity about it with the suicide mission of a small band of men. But then adds layers of interest to it through the various reasons why the men Lance picked hate him and his reasons for choosing them. It is this side of "Only the Valiant" which makes it entertaining as else where it borders on being a bit cliche.