Another Geezer Western
Red Tomahawk was one of three Westerns that AC Lyles produced which were released in 1967 (the others were Fort Utah and Hostile Guns). In the late 50s Lyles had been busy with Rawhide on TV but starting in 1964, he provided Paramount with a number of 1950s-style big-screen oaters featuring retread 50s Western actors (some of them now rather broader in the beam) when the studio felt there was some life in the old dog/genre yet but that it had no sagebrush sagas on its books and wanted some. Not that Paramount was ready to lay out serious budget for them, though. The pictures were to be second features and drive-in fodder, and as such made economically, to put it mildly. Lyles called in favors and made the movies at ten cents on the dollar, which many of the Western ‘geezers’ were happy to do.
This one headlined a trio of stalwarts from the genre, in the less-than-sylphlike shape of Howard Keel, Scott Brady and Broderick Crawford. It’s a peripheral Custer story, a little sub-genre that was popular in the 50s. Pictures like Little Big Horn, 7th Cavalry, Bugles in the Afternoon, Warpath and quite a few more were set around the Custer debacle but didn’t center on it. In this one, bold Captain Keel brings the word of the disaster to Deadwood and locates two Gatling guns which will help mow down the post-Bighorn Sioux and save the whites. The movie thus taps into another popular thread, the Gatling gun Western, pictures like Siege at Red River, Gatling Gun, Toughest Man in Arizona and so on. There is little evidence of Gatling guns being used in the West against Indians after the Civil War. Custer famously refused to bring any with him in his Little Bighorn campaign and Maxim guns, not Gatlings, were used at Wounded Knee. But the Gatling made a good story and Western movies featured them quite a bit – and were still doing so into the 1970s, with the likes of Something Big.
Howard, Brod and Scott are the heroes, acting very heroically in fact. The gimmick of the picture was to have been the reunion of Keel with Betty Hutton, the two co-stars of MGM’s big Annie Get Your Gun in 1950, though in the end, as the AFI Catalog reports, “However, on 13 May 1966, a Daily Variety news item announced the actress was out of the film due to ‘a misunderstanding on the approach to the picture’”, whatever that might mean. So Joan Caulfield got the part of Dakota Lil. Ms Caulfield won a Paramount contract in 1944, being love interest for Fred Astaire and Bing Crosby among others, though as the IMDb bio puts it, “she was genteel, cultured and alluring, without exuding too much overt sex appeal.” Her only previous big-screen Western had been with Robert Taylor in Cattle King in 1963. In Red Tomahawk she channels her inner Angie Dickinson as Dakota Lil.
I don’t think this Dakota Lil is related to Marie Windsor’s in the Fox film of the same name in 1950. That was a vaguely Butch Cassidy/Tom Horn yarn. This Lil runs the saloon in Deadwood and has hidden two Gatling guns her late husband had and she won’t turn them over to Cap’n Keel for anything (though she will eventually for love).
Scott Brady, who had been doing Westerns since the late 1940s, leading in them since 1954, had been Shotgun Slade on TV 1959 – 61 and was quite well known. He was probably the best preserved of the stars on Red Tomahawk. Though certainly a bit stocky, he still had his hunkish looks.
Poor Broderick, on the other hand, was definitely showing signs of anno domini (he was 55 at the time of filming) and they couldn’t find a stuntman stand-in fat enough to do his fights so it was all a bit unconvincing. Still, he was clearly enjoying himself. He did love Westerns, though in my view was entirely unsuited to the genre.
Keel (again according to IMDb), “With a barrel-chested swagger and cocky, confident air, the 6’4″ brawny baritone Keel had MGM’s loveliest songbirds swooning helplessly for over a decade”, but he also took to the Stetson and six-gun. In 1953 he was Wild Bill to Doris Day’s Calamity Jane in Warners’ riposte to Annie, and did other musical ‘Westerns’ (though not really) such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Rose Marie. Probably his biggest non-musical Westerns were with Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner in Ride, Vaquero! in 1953 and with John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in The War Wagon the same year as Red Tomahawk. He also did Waco and Arizona Bushwhackers for Lyles.
Lower down the cast list we get plenty of other old favorites. Wendell Corey is the bad guy, a vicious Deadwoodsman who wants those Gatlings to defend his town and the hell with the soldiers. Corey had made his movie debut at Paramount and had had a long career, mostly in character parts. He’d done a few Westerns, starting (rather miscast) in Anthony Mann’s The Furies in 1950, being a somewhat unconvincing Jesse James in The Great Missouri Raid the following year, and returning as Jesse in the Bob Hope comedy Alias Jesse James in ’59. He too would do three of these geezer Westerns for Lyles.
Then we get Richard Arlen, still going strong, as the telegrapher who takes over as bolshie townsman when Wendell perishes in a gunfight, Don ‘Red’ Barry, also still going, as a nasty deserter from the 7th Cavalry, Ben Cooper as a cheery lieutenant, Regis Parton as a grizzled old prospector (obviously), Tom Drake, Henry Wills, plenty of familiar faces in fact.
The whole shebang was directed by good old RG Springsteen, who’d been working on Westerns since the year dot (well, 1936 anyway) and knew a thing or two about churning out oaters on a very limited budget. The screenplay was by Steve Fisher, who wrote most of these Lyles pictures, though I fear the script was rather old-school to say the least and contained some lines which can only be described as clunky. Never mind. Familiarity breeds respect. In Westerns anyway.
It was shot, in May/June 1966, in the well known Black Hills of California, up on Iverson Ranch actually, with the Paramount Western town lot doing duty as Deadwood. It’s one of those pictures with a few location exteriors but as soon as there’s any dialogue between the characters it’s done in the studio, and the footage doesn’t quite match.
It has an 82-minute runtime and to be honest it has the look of a TV movie. Oh well.
Phil Hardy in The Encyclopedia of Western Movies says, “As ever, Lyles and director Springsteen go for economy over everything else and the result is … the worse for it.”
It all climaxes in a big battle. Lyles couldn’t afford this, naturally, so those scenes were lifted wholesale from Paramount’s Warpath (1951) and that footage doesn’t quite match either – in fact it’s very obviously different.
One of the heroic trio will die gallantly in the last reel but my lips are sealed as to whether that was Howard, Scott or Brod. You’ll have to watch it to find out. Actually, that won’t be a hardship. It’s quite a lot of fun. It’s very formulaic and all looks cheap but you can’t help liking the cast.
Readers might be interested in our reviews of other AC Lyles Westerns of this period. Click the links: