Cast & Crew
Joseph M. Newman
George N. Neise
After an Indian attack decimates much of 'C' Troop and kills their captain, command of the troop falls to the only non-commissioned officer left alive, Sergeant Vinson. The few survivors include Travis, a college-educated drifter, and McGurney, an anti-authoritarian Irishman. Vinson, who has a great hatred for the Apaches, decides to head for Fort Crane, some hundred miles away, and hopes to meet up with the cavalry's main column en route. Travis and the troop's Indian scout, Pawnee, report that the Apache have occupied a waterhole up ahead and that there is no sign of the main column. As there is no other route, Vinson decides to attack the Apache even though they are outnumbered four to one. After a long, brutal battle, the soldiers succeed in driving the Apache away. When Vinson kills an Apache as he appears to be about to surrender, the soldiers begin to think of him as a butcher. Later, they encounter Tucker and Moss, the only survivors of the massacred main column. Vinson elects to push on to the fort despite the main column's demise, but decide to take a longer route. Travis learns from Vinson that, five years before, Vinson's wife and two children were ambushed by Apaches and that before dying, his wife shot their children rather than have them taken alive. In an area normally out-of-bounds to the troops, they come upon an old couple, Charlie and Adele, who are trading with a young Apache brave, Moving Cloud. Vinson takes the brave hostage, hoping to guarantee their safe passage to the fort. He places Pawnee in charge of Moving Cloud, but they become involved in a knife fight in which the young Apache kills Pawnee, then escapes. Farther on, the troop approaches a cliff dwelling, which is inhabited by an old Paiute Indian and his seventeen-year-old granddaughter. Vinson tells Travis that he expects that the men will file charges against him when they reach the fort, but Travis says that he is proud to serve with him. After the grandfather warns Vinson that he can hear many horsemen headed their way, Vinson, fearing it may be an Apache scouting party, elects to stay where they are rather than be caught out in the open. Although the Paiutes also fear the Apaches, Vinson will not permit them to leave, in case they alert the Apaches to the troop's whereabouts. When a small band of Apaches come to the cliff dwelling, they are welcomed by the old Paiute while the soldiers hide. Although the Apaches take the granddaughter prisoner, the grandfather does not reveal the soldiers' presence. Overcome by his hatred of Indians, Vinson opens fire on the Apaches, who then massacre all except Vinson, Travis and another trooper, Collins. When Vinson orders the old Paiute to ride to Fort Crane for help, he accuses Vinson of shooting the Apaches when they were about to leave and says he will tell the truth about what happened. As Vinson moves to shoot the old man, Travis shoots and kills Vinson, then tells Collins that Vinson was as fine a man as he ever knew, and that although he fought to control the hate which festered within him, it finally overcame him.
Joseph M. Newman
George N. Neise
Francis J. Mcdonald
Charles W. Bohart
Martin M. Goldsmith
Richard V. Heermance
Walter M. Mirisch
B. F. Remington
Allen K. Wood
This was the first picture produced by the Mirisch Company after its founding in 1957 by Walter Mirisch and his brothers. Very little in Walter Mirisch's background and current reputation would indicate a producer of Westerns. His company is best known for such prestige pictures of the 1960s as The Apartment (1960), West Side Story (1961), The Great Escape (1963), and In the Heat of the Night (1967), for which he won his only Academy Award® as executive producer. Born in New York, Mirisch entered the motion picture business as an usher in a New Jersey movie theater, went to Harvard Business School, and became one of the youngest men ever to become an executive producer at an important Hollywood studio (Allied Artists). But his first assignments were on action flicks (starting with the B-movie Bomba, the Jungle Boy series) and he had already produced a handful of Westerns before he took on this project. And he later produced a great classic of the genre, The Magnificent Seven (1960).
The film's star, Joel McCrea, didn't start out as a Western hero either, although it had always been his ambition if not to be a cowboy, then to play one. Like many native Southern Californians of his generation (born in 1905), McCrea more or less drifted into movies, starting in silents with stunts and bits. His easy-going charm and clean-cut good looks soon earned him a reputation as an All-American type, and he became a popular leading man of the 1930s. But he had grown up around real cowboys, the last of their breed, and these were the men he admired most. He had a hard time convincing producers to cast him as an action hero on horseback, but he finally got his break with Wells Fargo (1937). He landed the occasional Western role over the next decade. But beginning in 1946, with enough clout by that time to call the shots in his career, he went exclusively into Westerns, making 11 in seven years and only breaking his run with one urban crime thriller (albeit with a very Western name), Rough Shoot (1953). After that, he went West again and never looked back, working exclusively in the genre for the remainder of his career - 17 more films in all.
Perhaps today McCrea's name isn't completely synonymous with Westerns, not only because of his acclaimed work in such comedies as Sullivan's Travels (1941) and The More the Merrier (1943), but because he never played in a classic of the John Ford caliber. His films of the 1950s are generally considered of the "B" movie variety, yet they made money and many of them still hold up well today. He played such true-life legends of the Old West as Sam Houston, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp, and Bat Masterson. He was in the fourth of five versions of The Virginian (1946), a classic that starred Gary Cooper (to whom McCrea is often compared) in 1929 and was made into a popular TV series in the 1960s. And in his last major role he shared the screen with Randolph Scott (another handsome leading man of the 30s who went West later in his career) in what many consider a minor masterpiece of the genre, Ride the High Country (1962), the movie that launched Sam Peckinpah's directing career (he had previously helmed The Deadly Companions in 1961 but it was a relatively undistinguished effort).
McCrea's love of horse and saddle wasn't confined to the screen alone. He invested wisely in real estate and livestock, and listed his occupation as "rancher" on his tax returns, claiming movie acting was more of a hobby. He was inducted into the Hall of Great Western Performers of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in 1969.
McCrea's performance is the chief reason to see Fort Massacre. Playing against type, he is fascinating to watch as a man driven by personal demons to risk the lives of everyone around him. Also in the cast are other familiar players in the Western genre, Forrest Tucker, John Russell and Denver Pyle. Tucker was the star of a Western sitcom in the 1960s, F Troop, and Russell created the title role of the Western series The Lawman in the late 50s. Pyle appeared in the John Wayne films The Alamo (1960) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), played Sitting Bull's captor in Robert Altman's revisionist Western Buffalo Bill and the Indians (1976) and was a fixture of such homespun TV series as The Dukes of Hazzard, Grizzly Adams and The Andy Griffith Show.
Director: Joseph M. Newman
Producer: Walter M. Mirisch
Screenplay: Martin Goldsmith
Cinematography: Carl Guthrie
Editing: Richard V. Heermance
Original Music: Marlin Skiles
Cast: Joel McCrea (Sgt. Vinson), Forrest Tucker (McGurney), John Russell (Travis), Denver Pyle (Collins), Susan Cabot (Paiute Girl).
by Rob Nixon
Collins, that deep enough. Roll him in and cover him up. Let's move!- Sgt. Vinson
You mean without reading the Good Book?- Pvt. Collins
If he needs our help to make it upstairs, he's in worse shape than he looks.- Sgt. Vinson
I need a six-foot hole dug. Any volunteers?- Sgt. Vinson
Don't look at me, Sergeant. I'm too overcome with grief.- Pvt. McGurney
Well, I certainly can't do that!- Pvt. Pendelton
All right, I'll be the goat. Half the tobacco?- Pvt. Collins
Collins, three feet will be plenty. He was only half a man.- Pvt. McGurney
Fort Massacre was the first release of The Mirisch Company, Inc., a production company founded by brothers Walter, Marvin and Harold Mirisch in September 1957. According to the film's pressbook, Fort Massacre was shot thirty miles north of Gallup, NM, with twenty local Navajo Indians cast as Apaches. Actor George N. Neise is incorrectly listed as George W. Neise in the end credits. Tom M'so, a Navajo from Ramah, New Mexico, who plays a "bad" Indian in the film, is quoted in the pressbook as enjoying the experience: "As long as Hollywood doesn't show the Indian as a coward, we do not mind....And we don't feel bad about movies in which the White Men are shown stealing our land and putting us on reservations."