Mon 17 Aug 2015
TWO FLAGS WEST. 20th Century Fox, 1950. Joseph Cotten, Linda Darnell, Jeff Chandler, Cornel Wilde, Dale Robertson, Jay C. Flippen, Noah Beery Jr., Harry von Zell, John Sands, Arthur Hunnicutt. Director: Robert Wise.
I watch a lot of movies. A lot. So it takes quite a bit for a film, or a sequence in a film, to really and truly stand out in my mind. You know what I’m talking about — those indelible moments when you realize that an actor has been perfectly cast and his character does something in a manner that takes you by surprise.
There’s a moment like that at the tail end of Two Flags West, a thematically and visually captivating Western directed by Robert Wise. The movie, which takes place in New Mexico during the Civil War, tells the story of a formerly imprisoned Confederate Calvary unit which joins up with the U.S. Army. Leading the men, the so-called ‘Galvanized Yankees’ from Dixie is Col. Clay Tucker (Joseph Cotton) who, after rueful consideration, decided to take up an offer from Union Captain Mark Bradford (Cornel Wilde): in exchange for their liberation from a Yankee prison camp, Tucker and his men will serve out West with the U.S. Army and fight the Indians.
As you might imagine, things don’t go so smoothly. Not only does Tucker butt heads with the acerbic and borderline sadistic Major Henry Kenniston (Jeff Chandler), he ends up developing romantic feelings toward Kenniston’s now widowed sister-in-law, Elena (Linda Darnell), a Spanish girl from California. Problem is: both Kenniston and Captain Bradford (Wilde) also have romantic inclinations toward her.
Fortunately, this soap opera aspect to the film doesn’t overpower its other major theme, namely the reconciliation between North and South. Indeed, much of the film is best understood as a character study of two men — the farsighted Tucker (Cotton), a landowner from Georgia and the bitter, vengeful Kenniston (Chandler), a shortsighted man prone to rage.
It’s not until the film’s very end, when Kenniston finally redeems himself, that one realizes that Two Flags West is no ordinary Western. Filmed in crisp black and white under the skillful direction of Wise, it’s definitely a minor gem that fans of the genre should seek out.