THE BLACK DAKOTAS. Columbia Pictures, 1954. Gary Merrill, Wanda Hendrix, John Bromfield, Noah Beery Jr., Howard Wendel, Robert Simon, Richard Webb, Peter Whitney, Jay Silverheels. Story & co-screenwriter: Ray Buffum. Director: Ray Nazarro.


   One of the uncredited players of this rather short but compact technicolor western was Clayton Moore, marking The Black Dakotas one of the few movie team-ups between Moore and Jay Silverheels – other than as the Lone Ranger and Tonto, of course. (I didn’t include Moore in the credits above for one big reason: I never spotted him.)

   History being one of my poorer subjects in high school, I don’t know how valid the premise of this movie is, but it’s one I don’t remember reading about or seeing in a western movie before. During the War Between the States, the opening narrative reads, the South sent men to the west to provoke uprisings by the Indians, forcing the North to send troops there – and away from the war – to protect the settlers.

   Brock Marsh, who impersonates Zachary Paige in this movie as an emissary sent directly to the Dakota Territory, as played by Gary Merrill, is really the bad guy (through and through), and he definitely deserves the top billing.

   Wanda Hendryx plays the fiery daughter of a Southern sympathizer who is hanged early on, while John Bromfield, the owner of the local stage line and the man who loves her, sides with the North, as do most of the local townspeople, excluding Noah Beery, Jr., who’s Merrill’s local contact.


   All of the above is made clear within the first five minutes of the movie. (I always do my best not to reveal more than you’d want to know.) The rest of the 65 minutes running time is filled with lots and lots of accusations, high-riding action, double crosses, a kidnapping, multiple deaths from gunfire, and at stake, a fortune in gold ready for the taking.

   The movie’s relatively hard to find on DVD, but it exists – I copied my copy on VHS from TNT back in 1991 — and you can even download a video of it from Amazon. If you were to ask me, though, you shouldn’t spend a lot of money to do so. It’s a perfectly adequate western movie — and maybe even more than that, given Merrill’s better than average performance as a bad guy — but an hour later even that’s as forgettable as the rest of the film.