In 1850s Texas, the Zachary family, led by matriarch Gish and eldest son Lancaster, raises cattle and sporadically battles the Kiowa Indians. One day a ragged stranger, Wiseman, rides through and starts spreading stories about Hepburn, the adopted daughter of Gish, telling neighbors that
Hepburn actually was a Kiowa baby. Wiseman rides off, and before long a party of Kiowa braves shows up, offering to buy back Hepburn. Rebuffed, they content themselves with killing one of her suitors as he rides home one night. Lancaster and brothers Murphy and McClure ride out to bring Wiseman
back, planning to force him to admit he lied. But even with a noose around his neck, Wiseman persists in his accusations until Gish shuts him up by hitting his horse with a branding iron and leaving him swinging. Gish finally admits that Hepburn really was a Kiowa baby, and when racist Murphy
wants to give her back, Lancaster forbids it, and Murphy storms out. The Kiowas return to take Hepburn by force, and the besieged family makes a fight of it, repulsing several assaults. Gish is killed, and it looks grim for the rest when the ammunition runs out, but in the nick of time Murphy
returns and the Indians are routed. Lancaster and Hepburn, upon learning they're not blood kin, make plans to wed.
Director Huston reportedly identified this interesting western as one of his films that he actively disliked. He fought continuously with the producers over the direction the film was to take. Huston wanted to make a story about racism on the frontier, close in spirit to the original novel by Alan
LeMay, who also wrote the novel that became the definitive film about captive children and Indian haters, THE SEARCHERS (1956). The producers, Hecht, Hill, and Lancaster, were more interested in an action western that would make big profits for their failing concern. On location the production was
hampered by several disasters. Hepburn, who hadn't told any of the producers that she was pregnant, fell off a horse, broke her back, and suffered a miscarriage. Murphy was out duck hunting one day when his boat overturned. Because of a war injury to his hip he couldn't swim, and the man he was
with wouldn't leave him, so they clung to the side of the boat. Still photographer Inge Morath, a former swimming champ, spotted the men through her telephoto lens and dove in for the rescue. Newspapers regarded it as a publicity stunt. Later, three technicians died when in a plane crash. Despite
all of these problems and others--notably the utter miscasting of Hepburn as an Indian--the film does have some memorable moments, like Gish cutting Wiseman off in midsentence by driving his horse off and leaving him to hang, as well as the surreal scene during the siege in which Lancaster,
responding to the Kiowas' war flutes, pushes the family piano outside and has Gish play some classics for the Indians. Later the frenzied Indians are seen chopping at the instrument with tomahawks. Although by no means as bad a film as the Huston claimed, the movie garnered mixed reviews and
failed at the box office, putting an end to Hecht-Hill-Lancaster productions.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: In 1850s Texas, the Zachary family, led by matriarch Gish and eldest son Lancaster, raises cattle and sporadically battles the Kiowa Indians. One day a ragged stranger, Wiseman, rides through and starts spreading stories about Hepburn, the adopted daughter… (more)