Pillars of the Sky
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In Oregon country, in 1868, First Sgt. Emmett Bell, chief of the Cavalry's Indian police force, rides into the mission of his friend, Dr. Joseph Holden, accompanied by several of the Nez Perce scouts who serve under him. Several of the region's chiefs, whom Dr. Holden has baptized as Christians, inform him that Kamiakin, the warlike chief of the Palouse Indians, has summoned them to council to discuss the movement of Army troops and cannons into their lands. Deeply concerned, Emmett heads for the encampment of the U.S. Cavalry, bursts into the office of the new commanding officer, Col. Edson Stedlow, and barks, "What's the idea?" Also present is Capt. Tom Gaxton, whose wife Calla fell in love with Emmett when both men fought together during the Civil War. Stedlow explains that because a clause in the treaty allows the Army to build a road through the reservation, his command of young soldiers has been ordered to do so. Stedlow informs an outraged Emmett that he will serve only as a scout on the building expedition, then has the sergeant arrested for drinking on duty. The colonel remarks to Stedlow that although Emmett is rowdy and insubordinate, he is valuable to the Army because there is a deep mutual respect between him and the Indians. Later, Emmett's scout Timothy, a Nez Perce, reports that Kamiakin, enraged that the Army has constructed a bridge over the Snake River into Indian lands, has called for total annihilation of the troops. Emmett leads Stedlow to the mission, where they meet with chiefs Elijah of the Spokane, Isaiah of the Coeur d'Alene, Simon of the Umatilla, Isaac of the Wallawalla, and Kamiakin of the Palouse. After the colonel refuses to remove his troops, Kamiakin urges the chiefs to fight. Timothy argues that the Indians, having become too bound up with the white man, must learn to live with him in peace, but Kamiakin replies scornfully that his tribe will not be "swallowed up in the belly of a different people." While both sides prepare for war, Emmett and his scouts steal into Kamiakin's camp and rescue two women who were earlier captured by Kamiakin: Calla Gaxton and Mrs. Anne Avery, whose husband and son were killed during an ambush. Calla declares her love for Emmett, and although he resists her at first, he soon succumbs to her charms. Emmett's party encounters Stedlow and his troops, who have crossed into the reservation and are now surrounded. The colonel boasts that his column will defeat any attack, but as Indian snipers begin to pick off the men, and soldiers are found hacked to pieces, he finally realizes the hopelessness of their situation. Emmett and Holden try to secure safe passage for the women, but chief Zachariah responds violently to this request, and soon the column is attacked by a huge force of Indians. Many warriors are killed, but Stedlow's troops are decimated, and only a small group of white survivors reaches the top of the hill. The colonel is stunned and sorry, but Emmett declares that, considering his orders, he did the best he could. As they await a nighttime attack, Emmett drinks whiskey with his friend, Sgt. Lloyd Carracart, whose serious injury has not dampened his devil-may-care Irish temperament. Tom and Calla each accept the blame for their unhappy marriage, but when Calla goes to Emmett, she realizes that it is her husband, not Emmett, who truly loves her. Holden determines that Kamiakin's forces are massing at the foot of the hill, thereby leaving a section of the surrounding land unguarded. While the party quietly makes its way down the hill in an attempt to escape to Holden's mission, Carracart, who expects to die soon, remains behind to tend the fires. The party does reach the mission, but Tom is injured, and Calla rushes to his side. Kamiakin's warriors arrive at daybreak, and the mission is set on fire. Realizing that the situation is desperate, Holden rides out to the Indians' position and raises his arm in peace. Kamiakin kills him just before Emmett and Timothy arrive. Enraged, Emmett accuses the chiefs and their followers of being little better than animals. Kamiakin aims his gun at Emmett, but Isaiah, deeply ashamed at Kamiakin's cowardly actions, shoots the Palouse chief down. Everyone walks slowly back to the mission, where the Christian chiefs ask Emmett to take Holden's place. Emmett opens the Bible and prays that they might all be comforted.
Ralph J. Votrian
Frank De Kova
Bryson G. Liberty
Russell A. Gausman
Maj. Philip J. Kieffer
Joan St. Oegger
Frank H. Wilkinson
Pillars of the Sky
During the summer of 1954, producer Robert Arthur was in talks with John Ford to direct Pillars of the Sky for Universal with John Wayne as the star. Ford and Wayne were unable to commit to the project, however, but went on instead to make the classic The Searchers (1956) together. Universal then went to George Marshall to helm the film with Jeff Chandler as the lead; Marshall had been directing westerns for the studio since 1916 and was an ideal choice.
The cast and crew of roughly 150 went on location to the rugged landscape of eastern Oregon for nearly six weeks to shoot Pillars during the summer of 1955. It was a majestic landscape, according to Jeff Chandler biographer Jeff Wells, "of towering evergreens and snowcapped peaks" whose breathtaking beauty had once enticed the original pioneers to settle during the 1880s. The lushness of the location scenery is vividly captured by cinematographer Harold Lipstein in glorious Technicolor CinemaScope.
Jeff Chandler, who in addition to movie stardom had enjoyed some success as a singer and composer, passed the time on location by working on a title song for Pillars of the Sky. He had previously penned the lyrics to and recorded the theme song for his 1955 film Foxfire and also provided lyrics to the theme song for Six Bridges to Cross (1955) recorded by Sammy Davis, Jr. However, citing "circumstances beyond his control", Chandler never did complete work on his song for Pillars.
The onscreen writing credits of Pillars officially lists its source material as Will Henry's 1952 novel Frontier Fury, published originally as part of Zane Grey's Western pulp magazine series. However, it was another Will Henry novel, To Follow a Flag that served as the film's true source. To Follow a Flag was loosely based on an actual confrontation that occurred near the border of Idaho and Washington state in 1858. This book was re-released some years later with its title changed to Pillars of the Sky.
Lee Marvin fans will enjoy watching the veteran actor play an Irishman with a thick brogue in Pillars of the Sky. His role as Sgt. Carracart was relatively early in his career, and doing accents was a rarity for him. His part here is small, but Marvin, as always, makes a memorable impression.
Pillars of the Sky's earnest attempt to paint a balanced portrait of race relations within the western made it stand out from the herd. In its review at the time, the New York Times said, "It's a pleasure to watch a modest, soldier vs. Indian picture shape into something respectable...Pillars of the Sky, with a nice, surprising mixture of compassion and cynicism, keeps insisting that (the characters) all matter, red and white."
Producer: Robert Arthur
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: Sam Rolfe, Heck Allen (novel, as Will Henry)
Cinematography: Harold Lipstein
Film Editing: Milton Carruth
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Bill Newberry
Music: William Lava, Heinz Roemheld, Milton Rosen
Cast: Jeff Chandler (1st Sgt. Emmett Bell), Dorothy Malone (Calla Gaxton), Ward Bond (Dr. Joseph Holden), Keith Andes (Capt. Tom Gaxton), Lee Marvin (Sgt. Lloyd Carracart), Sydney Chaplin (Timothy).
by Andrea Passafiume
Pillars of the Sky
Keith Andes (1920-2005)
Born John Charles Andes on July 12, 1920, in Ocean City, New Jersey, Keith been began performing in his teens for school productions and for local radio stations in his hometown. After he graduated with a B.A. in education from Temple University in 1943, he pursued a stage career in earnest, and in 1947 scored a triumph in the Broadway musical The Chocolate Soldier, where he won a Theatre World Award for his performance. That same year, he made his film debut as one of Loretta Young's brothers in The Farmer's Daughter (1947). Although his film career never quite took off, one could certainly envy him for playing opposite two of the hottest blonde bombshells of their generation: first with Marilyn Monroe Clash by Night (1952); and then Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Most Likely (1957).
If Andes lacked the star power to be a consistent Hollywood lead, he certainly had no problems with television. Here, his stalwart presence and commanding baritone made him more than servicable for television through three decades: (Goodyear Theatre, Playhouse 90, The Ford Television Theatre); '60s: (Perry Mason, The Rifleman, Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Glynis); and '70s (Cannon, The Streets of San Francisco).
Andes made his last notable screen appearance in the Al Pacino vehicle And Justice For All (1979), before falling into semi-retirement and doing occassional voice work. He is survived by two sons, Mark, Matt; and three grandchildren.
by Michael T. Toole
Keith Andes (1920-2005)
Although, according to onscreen credits, the film Pillars of the Sky was based on the novel Frontier Fury by Will Henry, the actual source novel was To Follow a Flag, which was reprinted in 1956 under the title Pillars of the Sky. A Hollywood Reporter news item refers to "Frontier Fury" as a magazine story, but as far as can be determined, Henry did not publish a novel or short story with this title. The picture was filmed in Eastern Oregon, including in LeGrande and the Wallowa Lake region. News items in Daily Variety noted that Patrick Ford, the son of director John Ford, and Borden Chase were assigned at various times to write the script, but the extent of their contributions to the final film is undetermined.
A September 1954 "Rambling Reporter" item in Hollywood Reporter reported that Clark Gable was to star in the film and receive 15% of the gross profits, one of the top financial arrangements awarded to an actor at that time. Press reports note that many local Indians were cast in the picture, including members of the Nez Pearce, Umatilla and Palouse tribes. Reviewers generally praised the film's cast, and the New York Times reviewer added: "Pillars in the Sky, with a nice, surprising mixture of compassion and cynicism, keeps insisting that...all [the characters] matter, red and white." Although news items add Maurice Manson to the cast, his appearance in the final film has not been confirmed. An October 1955 Hollywood Reporter adds Bill Williams to the cast, but he did not appear in the final film.
The Paloos Indians are also known as the Palouse Indians, and the Skitswish Indians are also known as the Coeur d'Alene Indians. During the 1850s, Chief Kamiakin of the Yakimas urged these tribes, along with the Spokane Indians, to unite against the U.S. Army. In 1868, the Indians defeated a column of 164 troops that had crossed the Snake River under the command of Maj. Edward Steptoe. Later that year, however, the Indians suffered two crushing defeats at Spokane Plain and the Battle of Four Lakes, and several of Kamiakin's relatives were executed. Although wounded at Spokane Plain, Kamiakin escaped into Canada, returning three years later to lead a quiet life on the Spokane reservation. He died in 1877.