The rather unmagnificent seven
Journey to Shiloh was a theatrical release but by 1968 the Western film had become pretty debased, frankly, and ’68 Westerns were hardly high points of the genre. This one has all the look of a TV movie. It must have had a minimal budget. Though it climaxes in the Battle of Shiloh (or Pittsburgh Landing if you prefer), most of the staging is pretty clunky, with a bit of intercut battle footage from the Universal vaults. It was directed by William Hale, whose only other big-screen Western (he also helmed some episodes of The Virginian and Lancer) was another Universal picture the year before, the frankly fairly dire Gunfight in Abilene, starring Bobby Darin (click for our review). Journey to Shiloh is better than the Darin picture, but not by that much.
The cast was led by James Caan, not a Western ‘natural’. He had been in the so-so The Glory Guys in 1965 and the following year had made it quite big as Mississippi in El Dorado, Howard Hawks’s remake of Rio Bravo. This was his third feature oater – he’d also done two Death Valley Days and a Wagon Train. He never convinced me, I’m afraid.
The story, based on the 1960 Will Henry novel of the same title adapted for the screen by Gene Coon, a TV writer who worked quite a bit on the likes of Maverick and Bonanza, tells of a group of Texas boys riding to join the Confederate army in 1862. Caan is Buck, their leader.
An intro song, sung to the tune of The Yellow Rose of Texas, presents the young men, so there is an attempt to establish character early on. They are Miller, the loyal No 2, played by second-billed Michael Sarrazin, who’d also been in Gunfight in Abilene; Todo, the quiet one, played by Don Stroud, Mike Hammer on TV; Eubie Bell, the jester, played by Michael Burns, a former child actor who went on to a distinguished career as a historian, writer and college professor; the fast gun JC Sutton, who would meet someone who was faster (and with a derringer), and that was another former child star Paul Petersen, who did the occasional Western; Little Bit Lucket – Jan-Michael Vincent, ditto, notably Bite the Bullet the following year; and lastly Willie Bill, only eighteen, played by Harrison Ford, his second Western, not very convincing (well, he didn’t have much to say or do except get killed) but at least a million times better than he was in the embarrassingly bad The Frisco Kid. Later posters and DVD covers promoted his name to second billing to cash in on his fame but actually he has little more than a bit part.
So there were seven, as is only right and proper for as we said the other day, 7 is the Mystical Western Number.
One by one they get deceased, on the way to war or on the battlefield (or just after) till the lone survivor returns to Texas (you may well divine who that one is).
They all have very 1960s haircuts.
There’s the occasional gal, including an Alabama belle (Tisha Sterling) and a belly dancer (Brenda Scott) to provide a bit of love interest.
A young James Gammon has a small part as a corporal.
The best thing about the movie is that some old-stagers get to play good parts. I spotted Myron Healey as a sheriff, John Doucette is General Braxton Bragg and Noah Beery (click the link for our look at his Western career) is the sergeant, probably the best actor on the set in the best part.
Luckily – for without them, the movie would quite frankly be eminently missable.