The Last Wagon is a 1956 American CinemaScope Western film starring Richard Widmark. It was co-written and directed by Delmer Daves and tells a story set during the American Indian Wars: the survivors of an Indian massacre must rely on a man wanted for several murders to lead them out of danger.
|The Last Wagon|
|Directed by||Delmer Daves|
|Written by||James Edward Grant|
Gwen Bagni Gielgud
|Produced by||William B. Hawks|
|Edited by||Hugh S. Fowler|
|Music by||Lionel Newman|
|Color process||Color by Deluxe|
20th Century Fox
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$1,500,000 (US rentals)|
Sheriff Bull Harper (George Mathews) has captured and is taking "Comanche" Todd (Richard Widmark), a white man who has lived most of his life among the Indians, to be tried for the murder of Harper's three brothers.
The pair join a wagon train led by Colonel Normand (Douglas Kennedy). Jenny's young brother Billy is intrigued by Todd, who appreciates the boy's good-hearted attention.
Harper's brutal treatment of Todd causes friction with some members of the wagon train. When the sheriff beats a lad for giving Todd a pipe to smoke, Todd takes advantage of the distraction to kill his tormentor with a dropped axe.
That night, while six of the young people sneak away for a late night swim, Apaches kill everyone else, except Todd, who miraculously survives when the wagon to which he is handcuffed is pushed off a cliff. The Apaches are gathering to avenge the massacre of their own women and children by whites. It is up to Todd to lead the survivors to safety, despite the distrust of some of them. Along the way, he and Jenny (Felicia Farr) fall in love. The group manages to travel safely for five days, avoiding a large nearby Apache war party.
Todd then notices that a small U.S. cavalry detachment has appeared and the Indians have broken camp, concealing themselves. Todd saves all from an ambush, but he is recognized by the army and brought to trial. He reveals that the Harpers murdered his family. After hearing from Jenny and others about how Todd saved them all, General Howard takes pity on him and places him in the permanent "custody" of Jenny and Billy.
The film was shot in DeLuxe Color and CinemaScope on location in Sedona, AZ, at the mouth of Oak Creek Canyon, and mostly along Schnebly Hill Road. Director Delmer Daves described the difficulty of finding a pristine location for the film, as his previous western, Broken Arrow (1950), had popularized the region.
The film has some jarring continuity errors. During the last third of the film, Tommy Rettig's hair goes from being long and fair with a fringe, to being short back and sides and dark and brushed back, and then back again on two occasions, once in the same scene. Rettig had formerly played Richard Widmark's son in both the 1950 film noir Panic in the Streets and the 1955 film The Cobweb.
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times dismissed it as "A familiar and unexciting journey across a plateau of western clichés", but commended George Mathews' portrayal of the sheriff, "The only character in the picture worth attention".