Cheyenne was a landmark TV Western. It was the first hour-long dramatic series. It was one of the first TV shows produced by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.). And it made Clint Walker a star.
With a hit show, the exacting schedule that came with it, no features on the horizon, and an exclusive contract that paid him just $150 a week, after two seasons, Walker was unhappy.
Clint Walker: “… I found out they [Warner Bros.] turned down some pretty nice features that I could’ve done… I heard that when people inquired, they were told, ‘When Clint Walker does features, he’ll do ‘em for Warner Bros.’ So that’s where we had the difference of opinion.” *
So, he walked off Cheyenne, which certainly got the studio’s attention. Soon, he had a new contract — and Fifteen Bullets From Fort Dobbs was in production.
Written by Burt Kennedy and George W. George, Fort Dobbs (1958) comes pretty close to the tone Kennedy set for the Scott/Boetticher “Ranown Cycle.” Like those films, dialogue is kept to a minimum. In fact, you’re almost 15 minutes into the picture before the first dialogue scene of any real length.
Walker plays Gar Davis, one step ahead of a posse, who escorts Virginia Mayo and her son (Richard Eyer) through Comanche territory to Fort Dobbs. Along the way, they encounter the Comanches and Brian Keith, an old acquaintance of Davis’ looking to sell a load of Henry repeating rifles. These rifles provide a major plot point — the working title (Fifteen Bullets From Fort Dobbs) might refer to the fact that 15 cartridges could be loaded into the Henry at a time.
Fort Dobbs is a tough, gritty Western that wears its smallish budget well. The country around Kanab, Utah, offers up plenty of production values. There are very few interiors. And William Clothier’s black and white cinematography gives it a stark, noir-ish look that suits the tone of the picture.
Clint Walker is fine in a part that makes the most of his incredible physical presence. Virginia Mayo is quite good as the widow, Mrs. Gray, though her Southern accent comes and goes. But Brian Keith almost steals the picture as the likable, despicable Clett.
Along with the tight script, effective performances and striking camerawork (by William H. Clothier), credit is due to director Gordon Douglas. An exceptional action director who’s unjustly overlooked, Gordon gave us Dick Tracy Vs. Cueball (1946); The Doolins Of Oklahoma (1949), a really terrific Randolph Scott picture; Them! (1954), the first and best of the giant bug movies, to name just a few. He also directed two more Clint Walker pictures for Warner Bros., Yellowstone Kelly (1959) and Gold Of The Seven Saints (1961). All three Walker/Douglas films are now available from Warner Archive.
Max Steiner’s music is effective and gives the picture a big feel. I noticed a cue or two lifted from The Searchers (1956) and suspect further cues were borrowed from other Warner Bros. Westerns.
Fort Dobbs is a high-water mark for Warner Archive. The transfer is stunning at times, really doing Clothier’s photography justice. The occasional stock shot, with its grain and shift in contrast, is the only complaint — and it would’ve been a complaint back in 1958. The audio is very clean with plenty of range, so those all-too-familiar Warner Bros. sound effects (some I recognize from Bugs Bunny cartoons) are crisp and clear.
The packaging, making good use of the original poster art, is a big improvement over Warner Archive’s early releases. (They seem to be going back and reworking the artwork throughout their catalog, and I wish packaging upgrades were available.) A trailer is included, and while that’s not exactly a treasure trove of supplemental material, it goes beyond the program’s usual bare bones presentation. To me, the best bonus feature is a gorgeous transfer, which this DVD-R certainly delivers. And speaking of DVD-R’s, my copy played flawlessly.
Fort Dobbs was a picture I was eager to see again. It didn’t disappoint. Neither did the DVD. You can get it from Warner Archive here. Recommended.
* From a recent phone conversation.
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