The Medicine Man
You could say that the 1950 western "Broken Arrow" opened the floodgates because after James Stewart starred as Indian sympathizer Tom Jeffords we got more westerns which trod a similar path, which to be honest isn't a bad thing. But unfortunately whilst "Broken Arrow" became a milestone in the western genre those which were to follow with similar stories rarely managed to do such a good job. That brings me to "The Rode West" a western which sees a Cavalry doctor branded a "woodhawk" for treating the Indians who are dying from Malaria and who helps in bringing peace between the Cavalry and the Indians following war breaking out. It's a reasonable storyline but other than a couple of nice action sequences "They Rode West" is a routine 50s western.
Capt. Peter Blake (Philip Carey - Wyoming Renegades) not only hates Indians but he also has a hatred of Doctors after having to deal with a string of incompetent medics at the Fort. So when the youthful Dr. Allen Seward (Robert Francis) arrives he would rather he returned to where he came from than hang around despite showing his dedication to proper medicine. But tensions between Blake and Seward rises when he helps treat the sick Indians on the reserve and before long he is branded a "woodhawk" for turning against his own especially when a string of events lead the Kiowa Indians joining forces with the Comanches to attack the Fort.
The storyline to "They Rode West" is 3 things; simple, obvious but adequate. From the minute we meet Seward who is inexperienced when it comes to Indian affairs you know that not only will he lock horns with Blake because of Blake's hatred of Doctors but also Blake's lust for killing Indians. And this tension plays out between them especially when Seward befriends Kiowa Squaw Manyi-ten, played by May Wynn, who is white but has married into the tribe after her family died. So when everything eventually comes to an expected head with all out war and Seward is the only one who can bring peace it is not much of a surprise. As I said simple, obvious and adequate and just to add to the obviousness there is the obligatory romantic element as well as an Irish soldier with a love of Whisky.
Now in the midst of this simple storyline there are of course moments of action, Indians attack a small group of soldiers, a full on battle as they attack the Fort and so on and to be honest little of it stands out. In fact most of the action is the routine stuff you can watch in any western from the 50s. But in the midst of all these routine scenes are a couple of decent scenes, decent because of the camera work. One quite stunning action scene sees the Comanches attack Blake and Seward and the camera takes us slap bang into the middle with horses riding either side. And another powerful scene sees Blake return to Fort bringing with him the dead, walking through the Fort gates straight to the camera which makes it look imposing because of the low angle. It is really these two scenes which you end up remembering "They Rode West" for other than anything else.
Talking of anything else well the characters are a bunch of stereotypes from Philip Carey as the Indian hating Capt. Peter Blake and Donna Reed as pretty love interest Laurie MacKaye. But in a way "They Rode West" is interesting because this was the debut movie of Robert Francis who plays the lead role of Dr. Seward and whilst not a remarkable performance it is good. Unfortunately only 4 movies later Francis's career would be over when he died in a plane crash and going on this debut you have to say he could have become a big movie star, he had the looks and also the confidence.
What this all boils down to is that "They Rode West" is just another 50s western which a storyline about an Indian sympathizer and portraying the Kiowa Indians as more than just savages. Other than being middle of the road and ordinary there is nothing wrong with it and is on par with many other 50's westerns.