Directed by Ray Nazarro
Screenplay by Ray Buffum and DeVallon Scott
Director Of Photography: Ellis W. Carter
Film Editor: Aaron Stell
Cast: Gary Merrill (Brock Marsh), Wanda Hendrix (Ruth Lawrence), John Bromfield (Mike Daugherty), Noah Beery, Jr. (Gimpy Joe), Fay Roope (John Lawrence), Howard Wendell (Judge Baker), Robert Simon (Marshal Whit Collins), James H. Griffith (Warren), Richard Webb (Frank Gibbs), Peter Whitney (Grimes), John War Eagle (Chief War Cloud), Jay Silverheels (Black Buffalo), Clayton Moore (Stone)
At only 65 minutes long, The Black Dakotas (1954) was clearly meant to fill out a double bill. But for a film that’s not all that noteworthy, there are a number of things about it worth noting.
First, there’s the cast. Gary Merrill, in his first Western, is the bad guy — a Confederate hoping to stir up things with the Sioux to keep Union soldiers tied up. He gets a lot of screen time for a villain, maybe because he’s far more interesting than the good guy (John Bromfield). Wanda Hendrix, Audie Murphy’s ex-wife, was about to retire from the movies (at least for a few years), and she’s fine here. Noah Beery, Jr. does what he can with a rather odd part. The great James H. Griffith doesn’t have a whole lot to do as one of the bad guys.
More on the cast. The Black Dakotas was shot during the period when Clayton Moore left The Lone Ranger TV series (over a salary dispute, reportedly) and returned to B Movie character parts. Moore’s not listed in the credits, but he’s there. You’ll also see Jay Silverheels (Tonto to Moore’s Lone Ranger) as one of the Sioux chiefs. From Moore and Silverheels to Beery and Griffith, the characters actors run rings around the leads.
Here, Ray Nazarro does what we’ve seen him do so many times — put together a brisk little movie that delivers in the action department. It seems like no matter how small the budget or tight the schedule, Nazarro delivers the goods, the same way Lesley Selander always does. Of course, having Ellis Carter as director of photography doesn’t hurt. Why isn’t Carter brought up more often? He shot The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), for God’s sake! He gives The Black Dakotas a much bigger look than you’d expect. An early sequence was shot on a cloudy day — at Iverson, I think — and Carter really makes a positive out of a negative.
Carter’s fine work is well presented (in widescreen) in Mill Creek’s 7 Western Showdown Collection, a two-DVD set that contains seven Westerns. All the pictures look terrific, and the price is hard to beat. Recommended. I hope Mill Creek keeps up the good work, and I’d love to see movies like this make their way to Blu-Ray.