Cast & Crew
Johnny Hawks, a frontier scout who fought for the Confederacy in the recently ended Civil War, returns to the land of the Sioux, where his old friend, Chief Red Cloud, has been threatening a newly constructed fort along the trail to Oregon. Red Cloud's brother, Grey Wolf, greets Johnny with distrust, saying "There can be no friendship between red man and white." Red Cloud, although inviting Johnny to stay the night, is also suspicious, and Johnny soon discovers the reason for the chief's anger: With the discovery of gold on Sioux lands, white men have been giving his people whiskey in exchange for the precious metal. Fearing that gold will bring a flood of white men into Sioux territory, thereby devastating the land, Red Cloud proclaims that any Sioux who reveals the location of the gold or engages in secret deals with whites will be executed. As Johnny washes himself in the stream by the village, he observes that Red Cloud's daughter Onahti, whom he had known as a child, has grown into a beautiful woman. He grabs and kisses her, letting her go only after she threatens him with a knife. During the night, two men who are traveling with the wagon train Johnny has been hired to guide through Sioux territory, Wes Todd and his partner Chivington, attempt to bribe two Indians out of their gold with whiskey. When one of the Indians loudly refuses, Todd shoots him, but the village is awakened and the killer is caught. Todd blames the shooting on Chivington, who has escaped, but Grey Wolf prepares to burn the murderer alive. Johnny asks Red Cloud if he may take the prisoner to the fort, where government officials will bring him to justice, but Grey Wolf forces Johnny to fight for him. Johnny proves the stronger fighter, and as he rides to the fort with the prisoner, Todd admits that he and Chivington were after gold. When Johnny suggests that he knows where the gold is hidden, Todd invites him to become his partner. At the fort, Chivington has stirred the soldiers and settlers into a frenzy by claiming that Todd was scalped in an unprovoked attack. Todd soon appears in the saloon unharmed, and Capt. Trask has both men locked up. Johnny, who is respected as a knowledgeable Indian fighter, persuades Trask to meet with Red Cloud, and on the following day, the chief and his warriors are given a formal welcome. After Red Cloud signs a treaty, the fort's inhabitants celebrate with a spirited dance. Johnny dances with Susan Rogers, a widow whose little son Tommy is as fascinated with the Indians as the widow is with Johnny. The next morning, Johnny leads a train of about twenty wagons toward the Oregon territory, where settlers have been promised free land. Todd and Chivington, having been released by the captain, ride along, as does a photographer who had apprenticed with Matthew Brady during the war. Sitting apart from the singers around the campfire that night, Susan and Johnny talk, and she suggests that he accompany them to Oregon as her husband. Johnny protests that he is not fit for marriage, and when he walks away, farmer Will Crabtree tries his hand at wooing Susan. The following days take the wagon train deep into Sioux territory, and the travelers are unaware that Johnny has brought them there so that he may visit Onahti. Chivington tries to follow Johnny, thinking that the scout will head for the hidden gold, but Johnny sees him and slips away undetected. While Johnny makes love to Onahti, a group of Indians visit the camp intending to trade goods with the settlers. Nervous at first, the white travelers finally barter with the Sioux, but Todd and Chivington ply the feeble-minded Crazy Bear with so much whiskey that he reveals the location of the gold. Grey Wolf hears this, and as he angrily approaches, Todd stabs him. Chivington then shoots a white bystander, after which Todd shouts that the Indians have attacked the camp. Todd and Chivington send the settlers in a panic back toward the fort, while they ride off in search of the gold. When Johnny returns to camp, he finds Grey Wolf's body and then pursues the departed wagon train. Will and the other settlers assume Johnny had led them into a trap, and as he rides into the fort, they and Trask accuse him of betrayal. The men intend to lynch Johnny, but Trask orders them to prepare for the coming battle. Nevertheless, Johnny's admission that he abandoned his post to see a woman infuriates the captain, and he refuses to let Johnny search for Todd and Chivington. Red Cloud sends his warriors to attack the fort, and before nightfall, the Indians set fire to the wooden defenses and kill many soldiers. Certain that the fort will be obliterated in the morning, Johnny steals away and finds Onahti. Arguing that if the massacre is not prevented, the two of them will have no life together, he finally convinces her to lead him to the hidden gold. There he finds Todd and Chivington preparing to set off some dynamite. Johnny wants to deliver them to Red Cloud, but Todd jumps him, thereby setting off an explosion that kills Chivington. Todd tries to escape, but Onahti wounds him, and the three ride back to the village. Intent on avenging his brother's death, Red Cloud has Todd shot with a flaming arrow and then threatens to kill his daughter for revealing the tribe's secret. Johnny then declares that he loves Onahti. Back at the fort, the defenders prepare for battle, and they are surprised and greatly relieved when the approaching Indians suddenly turn away. With peace restored, the wagon train passes uneventfully through Sioux territory, but Johnny remains behind with Onahti.
Lon Chaney [jr.]
Alan Hale [jr.]
Wilfrid M. Cline
Samuel P. Norton
The Indian Fighter
Beautifully photographed by cinematographer Wilfrid M. Cline, the story follows Johnny Hawks (Douglas), an Army scout, as he guides a wagon train into Oregon. Along the way the train is detained by a group of Sioux Indians who are distrustful of whites after being cheated by them in the past. Hawks signs a treaty with the tribe's chief, Red Cloud (Eduard Franz), and falls in love with Onahti, a beautiful Indian woman (played by Italian model turned actress, Elsa Martinelli). Trouble erupts when two white renegades (played by Lon Chaney, Jr. and Walter Matthau) kill a tribal member, forcing Hawks to take extreme measures to restore peace in the area.
Douglas's wife, Anne, had seen Martinelli in a layout she had created for Vogue magazine, and even though the model had never acted before and was not at all familiar with Indian culture, the Douglases thought she would make a very appealing Indian maiden. But when Douglas phoned the model to offer her the part, she didn't believe that he was who he claimed to be. According to his autobiography, The Ragman's Son, Douglas recalled that Martinelli said, "No, no beeleeva you, no beeleeva you." She had just come back from seeing 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and thought somebody was playing a joke on her. I said, 'Really, I am Kirk Douglas, and I want you to come out and test for a part in a movie I'm making.' "No, no. You no Keerka Doogalas." I didn't know what the hell to do. Then she had an idea. "You Keerka Doogalas, you singa da song inna da movie." Over the telephone, I had to audition for Elsa Martinelli, three thousand miles away. I started to sing, 'Gotta whale of a tale to tell you, lads.' Elsa started to shriek. "Dio mio! Keerka Doogalas! Keerka Doogalas!" I arranged for her to come out to California to test. She was gorgeous and had a wonderful gamine quality that was perfect for the part." Martinelli gave what is probably her best American film performance in The Indian Fighter, including the then controversial scene of her bathing nude in a stream. Although she went on to star in other high profile films like Howard Hawks' Hatari (1962) and The V.I.P.s (1963), Martinelli eventually became disenchanted with the Hollywood system, and returned to Europe in the mid-sixties to continue her film career.
In his autobiography, Douglas wrote "I did most of my own riding in Indian Fighter, but occasionally, for long rides, or snatching something up from the ground, I used a stuntman. Bill Williams was an excellent rider [he was later killed doing a stunt for The Hallelujah Trail, 1965], and in silhouette looked a lot like me." Nevertheless, Douglas managed to break his nose in a horse fall during one stunt for the film but his physical injuries were minor in the scheme of things. His real interest in making The Indian Fighter was to raise awareness about the plight of Native Americans. It was a view shared by his director, Andre De Toth, who said in De Toth on De Toth (edited by Anthony Slide), "I wanted to make the audience feel the country, understand the Indians, see their pride, feel their code of ethics, without using speeches to do so. They were not Hollywood Indians, but real ones, with dignity and honor."
Considered a director's director by many of Hollywood's top filmmakers, De Toth is one of those artists who toiled for years in and out of the studio system, but never did enough internal politicking to establish himself as a major player in the movie industry. His best known film is probably House of Wax (1953), which is a remarkable achievement when you consider that it was shot in the 3-D process by a one-eyed director. Born in Hungary, De Toth directed several films there and elsewhere in Europe before emigrating to the United States in 1940. Before leaving, he witnessed, and filmed, the invasion of Poland by the Nazis. But capturing reality has always been the aim of De Toth and even though he clashed often with Douglas during the making of The Indian Fighter, both men realized they shared a common bond - a need to bring a sense of truth and reality to the screen.
In recalling his working relationship with Douglas in De Toth on De Toth, the director said, "He was, he is, a great pro." He also said that, "Douglas gave me one of the biggest compliments I ever had, trusting me with his money and his mother's name, in spite of which he wasn't very fond of me, and he still isn't╔but it puzzles me why he treats The Indian Fighter as if it was never made. Never mentions it. Wise Ben Hecht [the screenwriter of The Indian Fighter] solved that puzzle too, years later, and after the fourth martini in his home in Oceanside, [said] "Hell, the picture wasn't done his way." Yet, De Toth is mistaken about Douglas's view of the film for the actor devotes several pages to it in his autobiography, noting its successes; Walter Matthau's supporting performance, the discovery of Elsa Martinelli, and the successful launch of the Bryna Company, Douglas's production outfit.
Producer: Kirk Douglas, William Schorr
Director: Andre De Toth
Screenplay: Frank Davis, Ben Hecht
Art Direction: Wiard Ihnen
Cinematography: Wilfrid M. Cline
Editing: Richard Cahoon
Music: Franz Waxman
Cast: Kirk Douglas (Johnny Hawks), Elsa Martinelli (Onahti), Walter Abel (Capt. Trask), Walter Matthau (Wes Todd), Diana Douglas (Susan Rogers), Lon Chaney, Jr. (Chivington), Eduard Franz (Red Cloud), Elisha Cook, Jr. (Briggs), Alan Hale, Jr. (Will Crabtree).
By Joseph D'Onofrio
The Indian Fighter
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
Born in Mako, Hungary to the son of a civil engineer, De Toth showed an early artistic bent, having his first exhibit of paintings and sculpture at age 14 and seeing his first play produced at age 18. After obtaining his law degree from the University of Budapest, he began acting, writing and working as a cameraman for cinematographer Istvan Eiben. In 1939, he went to England, where he worked as a second unit director for Alexander Korda on The Thief of Bagdad and other films. De Toth immigrated to Hollywood in the early '40s, and worked with Korda on The Jungle Book (1942) and several other films.
He made his Hollywood directing debut with the 1943 feature, Passport to Suez, a propaganda thriller about the Nazis wanting to bomb the Suez Canal.
Impressed with his ability, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, put the director under contract for one film and the result, None Shall Escape (1944), launched his Hollywood career. This tense, sensitive drama about a Nazi officer made to examine his actions was fascinating in its structure: Set after the war's end, the film centers around the trial of a Nazi butcher, Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), in Poland and makes excellent use of flashbacks illustrating the prosecution's testimony to form the bulk of the film. In a way, the film predicted the Nuremberg Trials after the war.
de Toth earned considerable critical acclaim with the taut, intense noir thriller Pitfall (1948) which he co-wrote. Starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr, this story of a bored insurance salesman who embarks on an affair because he feels stifled in his picture-perfect home (a devoted wife, son, nice house, successful career, etc.) was striking as one of the first films to examine the American dream gone sour. De Toth followed that with a shared Oscar nomination with William Bowers for Best Original Motion Picture Story for The Gunfighter (1950), a haunting character study of a killer (Gregory Peck) trying to live down his past.
His biggest commercial hit came with House of Wax (1953), the movie that launched Vincent Price's horror film career and is still regarded as the best of all three-dimensional films to be released during that period. Unlike other directors who seemed to be dabbling with a new technique, De Toth emphasized character and plot over the special effects: Price was a sculptor rebuilding his wax figure collection (destroyed by fire) by making statues out of his murder victims. The one-eyed de Toth was an odd choice to helm a 3-D film as he could not experience the stereoscopic process, having lost an eye in his youth, but he persevered and it was the most successful 3-D film of its day.
De Toth followed that hit with some fine films: Crime Wave (1954), a hostage thriller that boasts some fine performances by Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson and excellent location shooting on the streets of Los Angeles; The Indian Fighter (1955) an exciting Kirk Douglas vehicle about a wagon master leading his train through rough territory that won accolades for depicting the Native Americans with more depth than contemporary directors; and Day of the Outlaw (1959), the stark, stylish, low budget western about an outlaw (Burl Ives) and his gang taking over taking a small town and matching wits with one of its citizens (Robert Ryan). For many, this film best articulated many of the recurring themes in De Toth's work that would be evaluated only decades later by film scholars: survival, betrayal, the capacity for evil and complexities of human relationships.
In the early sixties film work became increasingly scarce for De Toth and he found himself relegated to directing for television: Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and The Westerner. Tired of the limitations he was finding in Hollywood, De Toth headed to Europe in the '60s, where he found work as an uncredited consultant and location scout on David Lean's extravagant Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He directed a few films abroad, the best of which was the World War II action film Play Dirty (1968), starring Michael Caine, and then he more or less retired from active filmmaking. It was not until recently that De Toth began to receive critical recognition for his entertaining body of work. The last few years have seen several retrospectives and he enjoyed a renewed popularity at film festivals from Scotland to San Francisco. His contributions to film were recognized with the 1995 life achievement prize by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the publication of his autobiography, Fragments: Portraits From the Inside, as well as an interview book, De Toth on De Toth, by Anthony Slide. De Toth was married for a time to Veronica Lake (1944-1952) with whom he had two children. He is survived by his wife, Ann Green.
by Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
Hank Worden, who has a substantial role as the Indian Crazy Bear, also does a cameo appearance as the jailer at the cavalry fort guardhouse.
The picture, the first one produced by Kirk Douglas' independent company, Bryna Productions, Inc.(named after Douglas' mother), was filmed entirely in Bend, OR. A written onscreen acknowledgment at the end of the film thanks the Bend, OR Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. National Forestry Service for their cooperation. Although an article in American Cinematographer noted that the film was shot by Frank Daugherty, Wilfrid M. Cline is credited onscreen as director of photography; the extent of Daugherty's contribution to the released film, if any, has not been determined. According to a February 1955 Daily Variety news item, the film was to be based on a story by John Loring, but the extent of Loring's contribution to the released film has not been determined.
Kirk Douglas' wife, Anne Buydens, was the picture's casting supervisor. Diana Douglas, who portrays "Susan Rogers," was Douglas' former wife; The Indian Fighter was their first film together. According to a October 20, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, Diana Douglas was "upped to co-star billing...as a result of reaction cards received at [a] sneak preview held recently in Inglewood." Diana and Kirk Douglas, along with their son Michael and grandson Cameron, also appeared together in the 2003, Fred Schepisi-directed film It Runs in the Family. The Indian Fighter marked the screen debut of international fashion model Elsa Martinelli. According to a November 9, 1955 Hollywood Reporter news item, the title song, by Franz Waxman and Irving Gordon, was written in both English and Sioux.
During the years that followed the Civil War, many whites entered the Western mining territories of Colorado, Montana and California by way of the Bozeman Trail, which passed through Teton Sioux land. Red Cloud and his Oglala Tetons, along with other Teton bands, increased their raids on white migrants and military patrols. When the Army was ordered to build more forts to protect the trail, Red Cloud launched a two-year campaign against them. The 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty led to the evacuation of the forts in exchange for the cessation of these attacks, after which the Sioux burned the posts down.
Released in United States Winter December 1955
Released in United States Winter December 1955