Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Duel at Diablo (UA, 1966)


The other face of Maverick

James Garner (left) was of course best known to 1960s Western lovers as the entertaining Bret Maverick, the hero who thought cowardice was the better part of valor (but not really) in the show which ran on ABC from September 1957 to July 1962 and then all over the world for very many reruns after that. But in fact he also had a parallel career as a tough Western hombre on the big screen, starting as Randolph Scott’s pal in Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend in 1957, being a gritty Wyatt Earp when John Sturges returned to Tombstone in Hour of the Gun, and being A Man Called Sledge in 1970, which was a pretty dire spaghetti western but he was a real tough guy in it. Duel at Diablo falls into this mold.



We know that Hollywood loved Duels. Duel in the Sun, The Duel at Silver Creek, Gun Duel in Durango, duels all over the place. This duel was directed by Ralph Nelson (right), who was really a TV guy but who, Westernwise, would later do the difficult-to-watch Soldier Blue and the dire The Wrath of God. He was far from the best director of big-screen Westerns, I fear. Having said that, though, I reckon Diablo was his best. I suppose it wouldn’t be hard.


It opens (after a 60s-trendy knife-slash through the United Artists logo) in a violent way with Jim Garner, sweaty and unshaven and therefore tough, gazing down at a man crucified upside down. Jim proceeds to save a woman from some Apaches. There are snazzy titles and equally snazzy music (Neal Hefti) to get us going. It’s all groovy, man.


He brings the woman, Ellen (Bibi Andersson, a Swedish former member of the Royal Opera, a Bergman regular, in her only Western) back to Fort Creel but there she is shunned by her husband Dennis Weaver because she didn’t have the decency to kill herself when she was taken by the Indians but had the temerity to survive. You can tell Weaver’s character (Willard Grange, merchant) is a bad egg because he wears a fancy silk vest and a suit (he looks quite Maverickish in fact) and is unkind to his wife, whereas Jim’s character, Jess Remsberg, has just been kind to his horse so is obviously a goody. Western semiotics at work, dudes. Weaver, who would also star with Garner in Sledge, was almost as well-known as Garner to fans of the TV Western, having been Matt Dillon’s factotum/deputy Chester for so long in Dodge from the late 50s through into the 60s. Anyway, Ellen knows when she’s not wanted and runs off back to the Apaches.



Merchant Weaver asks for Army protection from ‘Scottish’ Travers


At the fort a decent Army officer, Lt. Scotty McAllister, who wants to be a general one day and is a friend of Jess’s, gives him a scalp. It was taken from Jess’s presumably now former wife, and Jess is determined to get revenge on the villain who took it. Scotty is played by Englishman Bill Travers, in his only Western (fortunately). Mr Travers’s ‘Scots’ accent is probably even worse than mine would be. Jess is told that the scalp was got from the marshal in Fort Concho, Clay Dean (John Crawford, frequently a heavy in TV Westerns). This Dean is a mean hombre, a hired gun with a star, but we sense that he will meet his match in Jess Remsberg.


We are now introduced to slick gambler Toller, who has also borrowed one of Maverick’s vests, played by Sidney Poitier, surprisingly good on a horse. Sidney only did two Westerns, this one and Buck and the Preacher. Pity: I thought he was rather good in them. Toller is inveigled into going along with the party setting off through Indian country to Fort Concho, along with Scotty, Jess and the evil Grange and his wagonload of goods. And naturally Ellen will join the party, because it wouldn’t be a Hollywood Western otherwise, would it?



Slick Sidney


It’s a Chato story, or Chatto if you prefer, though he is called Chata in the credits and is played by John Hoyt. He has broken out of the San Carlos agency and gone marauding. It was his son who had Ellen as a wife and Chato wants to protect his baby grandson. The real Chato (1854 – 1934) was a Chiricahua sub-chief and protégé of Cochise who carried out several raids on settlers in Arizona in the 1870s. This screen Chato/a is very cruel and the movie has a slight Ulzana’s Raid tinge to it (though is not half as good as Ulzana’s Raid) in its dealing with the sufferings inflicted by the Apaches on the whites.






Hoyt in the role (looking a bit old for an Apache in his 20s)


Chata has 45 braves, we are told. A lot more than that are shot down in various battles but he still seems to have 45 more. Similarly, the soldiers are mown down in droves but droves remain.


While resourceful Toller takes command and holds off the Apaches in the canyon, brave Jess manages to get to Fort Concho – though on the way there is soft-focus heat to convey his ordeal. He meets the colonel there (producer/director Nelson in a cameo) and a relief force is prepared. Jess just has time to deal (rather roughly) with the wicked marshal in town and find out who gave him his wife’s scalp. The guilty party is… Yet nay, I shall not reveal this, for Jeff Arnold’s West does not deal in spoilers, friend. Lead yes, but not spoilers. Still, you may guess.



Love blooms, natch
Only four years later Nelson would make a purportedly pro-Indian picture in which the US Cavalry are the brutal aggressors but in this one he was still going for the old trope of the cavalry arriving at the last minute to save the few survivors (inc. Sidney & Ellen, obviously), so they duly do, Chato surrenders, and Jess ‘n’ Ellen can live h.e.a., presumably with Chato’s grandson adopted by Jim. Oh, that may have been a spoiler.


It was shot in impressive and arid Utah locations by Charles F Wheeler and visually the picture is strong. Garner and Poitier are good too. But it’s a pretty straight, rather old-fashioned oater for the time, spiced up with modern gore. The racial prejudice theme isn’t properly developed. For example, no mention at all is made of Toller’s skin color and no one calls him anything offensive. I wouldn’t go out of your way to see this at all costs, my dear e-pards, though you could give it a view if you were a Garner fan, as, indeed, who is not?


22 Responses

  1. Hi Jeff

    Thanks for your comment on 'Duel', I was wondering what your opinion was.
    when I saw this movie the first time as a child, I thought it was great, realistic and also a bit violent. Now I can see it's flaws, but I still like it, especially Garner. therefore three colts…

  2. Jeff, you have a really good blog. I enjoy reading your articles on Western movies. You cover the good, middling, and the bad, which makes it that much more interesting. Also, you use your humor throughout the reviews, especially when describing the badun's. I also like that you are a reader. Keep doing what you are doing, because it is quality, and I just like it.

  3. Jeff, what is left to say after your fine review of a middling Western, which could have been so much better. Then again, there are many of those.

    I first remember watching DUEL AT DIABLO on the old NBC MONDAY NIGHT AT THE MOVIES in 1969. I liked it because it had James Garner in it. Everyone liked Bret Maverick and this was Garner's first western role in over five years. He had steered away from Westerns since he last appeared in MAVERICK. I liked the movie and I went around whistling the theme song for days afterwards. I caught it in re-runs during the 1980's. Well, I thought it was a missed opportunity story wise, but I still liked Garner and Poitier. I've never read Marvin H. Albert's novel APACHE RISING(1957), but he also wrote THE LAW AND JAKE WADE(1956). William Bowers wrote THE LAW AND JAKE WADE(1958) script and John Sturges directed, enough said.

    I wish Sydney Poitier had made more Westerns. He starred in CHILDREN OF THE DUST(1995) as Gypsy Smith, a part-Cherokee gunslinger bounty hunter. I missed this TV Mini Series when it aired. Walter S.

    1. Yes, I agree, Diablo was a Western that could have been good but ended up only middling – despite Garner.
      I hadn't made the Albert link with Jake Wade. I might try the novels.
      Nor did I know about Children of the Dust. I must seek that one out!
      Thanks for your comments.

    2. Jeff, there is a DVD out there of CHILDREN OF THE DUST(1995), but it is a shorter version of the original TV Mini Series, which without commercials would probably be three hours, or so. The DVD version is around two hours, but we take what we can get.

      Marvin Albert also wrote RENEGADE POSSE(1958), which was made into the Audie Murphy movie A BULLET FOR A BADMAN(1964), but he didn't write the script. Walter S.

  4. Hi there Jeff
    I have a movie Return of the Gunfighter (1967) and I can't find a subtitle for it to translate it in romanian. I only have 3-4 dialogues left and I can't understand them. Do you know where can I find an english or any other language subtitle for that movie? Searched the whole internet but didn't find anything. Found a portuguese one but I'm not sure it's the right translation. Any help/suggestion would be appreciated (of course besides buying the DVD).

    1. Not sure I can help here. If you don't want a DVD, the Internet will be your only hope!

  5. Jeff, this new fangled flu strain can be deadly, so be careful and get through it, because it is dangerous. Take care and have better health.

  6. I know this is a bit late for this thread, but I just saw the movie today for the first time. In the battle scene at the canyon where Scottie orders a charge after the Indians have retreated, the bugler starts to blow charge but is stopped by Sidney Poitier. In the brief shot of the bugler, I could swear that he was Audie Murphy. I can't find any mention of it and didn't see the closing credits. Any info on this?

    1. No info at all, I'm afraid. His name doesn't appear in the cast list, even as uncredited. His biographers (including himself as autobiographer) don't mention it. See post on Audie coming shortly!

    2. Just rewatched this movie and stopped the film at the right moment and rerewatched the sequence several times (he is visible later during the siege and I think he gets an arrow in the back). The bugler is not Audie, he looks a lot like him but that’s all, sorry about that… Besides, nothing to add to the previous comments. Gorgeous (and not so often seen) locations and photo. Wagner, Poitier are good (it seems that Poitier wears a Brando’s tee-shirt when taming the horse….). Not really bothered by faux scottish Bill Travers accent (it could have been irish or german as well). Travers had an interesting WWII military past with Wingate gurkhas in India/Burma. Weaver’s character could have been better developed. The subject of racism, generally speaking (the spoiled white woman – see Jeff’s excellent and very recent Captivity Narrative text – the Native Americans or Poitier) could have been much better approached too but 1966 was maybe still a little too early. No doubt that it would make a very different (and surely a better) film today. Ralph Nelson was not Stanley Kramer, Norman Jewison or Robert Aldrich (there is some spaghetti influence). Sill, the film has some entertaining moments reminding me here and there the first Blueberry comic books (from 1963)

      1. Just saw it again too. Excellent post that covers the bases. Like seeing Garner, Poitier, and Weaver but just wish the results were a wee bit better.

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