|A Distant Trumpet|
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Written by||John Twist|
|Based on||adaptation by Richard Fielder|
novel by Paul Horgan
|Produced by||William H. Wright|
|Cinematography||William H. Clothier|
|Edited by||David Wages|
|Music by||Max Steiner|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|May 27, 1964|
|Box office||est. $1,200,000 (US/ Canada)|
1,037,484 admissions (France)
A Distant Trumpet is a 1964 American Western film, the last directed by Raoul Walsh. It stars Troy Donahue, Suzanne Pleshette and Diane McBain.
The screenplay by John Twist, Albert Beich and Richard Fielder is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Paul Horgan.
In 1883, U.S. Army Cavalry lieutenant Matthew Hazard, newly graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York (on the Hudson River), is assigned to isolated Fort Delivery on the Mexican border of the Arizona Territory in the early 1880s, where he meets commanding officer Teddy Mainwarring's wife Kitty, whom he later rescues from an Indian attack.
Soon after a new commander, Major General Alexander Quait, (James Gregory), arriving at the fort with a large regiment of "spit and polished" cavalry / "horse soldiers" takes charge. When his efforts to capture Chiricahua Apache chief "War Eagle" fail, he orders Hazard into northern Mexico to cajole the Indian chief into surrendering.
After a long arduous trip south across the border in desolate deserts and buttes, canyons with dry ravines, and gulches, Hazard sits and meets with the suspicious chief, convincing War Eagle to return with him on the promise that the Indians will be provided a safe haven at a reservation near their ancient tribal homeland in Arizona. En route back to the fort, they encounter a Major Miller, sent out to meet the party and take the Indians into custody as prisoners to be sent instead to exile in Florida.
Hazard and General Quaint journey to the "Great White Father" in Washington, D.C. to protest, insisting their promises of good faith to the Indians be kept. They speak with the U.S. War Department and the Secretary of War himself and government officials, hoping to reverse their decision and allow Hazard to keep his word to War Eagle. Finally, General Quaint calls 21st President of the United States himself at the White House, on a new-fangled thing called a "telephone," referring to the Chief Executive as "Chet", (Chester A. Arthur, 1829–1886, served 1881–1885) warning him that there would be trouble with the Indians. Lt. Hazard refuses his offered Medal of Honor and resigns his officer's commission. At the ceremony in the Secretary of War's office in front of an assembly of press and family, Hazard makes a bold declaration about how the Indians have been betrayed by the United States Army.
The film was based on a 629-page novel, published in 1960, which was based on extensive historical research. The New York Times called it "the finest novel yet on the Southwest in its settling." Another reviewer for the same paper called it a "first rate historical novel."
Warners bought the film rights and announced they would make the film in 1960 with James Woolf and Jack Clayton as producer and director, Laurence Harvey as star, and Alan Le May to do the script. It would be made for Challet Productions, Harvey's production company.
Burt Kennedy wrote a draft of the script; he was under contract to Warners at the time and called the novel "wonderful". Then Clayton was replaced by Leslie H. Martinson. Eventually, the film was set up with an entirely new producer, director and writer.
Significant changes were made from Horgan's novel in reversing the character traits of the female leads, making Kitty Mainwarring the object of Hazard's affections and Laura the negative personality; and altering the narrative's climax (and history), by reversing the fate of the Apaches from their historic removal to Florida and restoring the male protagonists to full duty, thereby negating Hazard's point-of-honor refusal of the congressional Medal of Honor and resignation from the Army, which was the basis for the entire storyline.
Shooting took place in September 1963. Location filming occurred in Flagstaff, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico.
In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the film:
A deadly bore...so dull you even lose interest in watching the horses and the stunt men doing their stuff...Seldom has there been a Western picture on which so much money was spent...from which so little excitement, energy or colorfulness exudes. It's as though Mr. Walsh and everybody were bitten by tsetse flies and went through the business of shooting the picture in a state of drowsiness."
The stunning location terrain of the Red Rocks area of New Mexico and Arizona's Painted Desert gives the production a tremendous pictorial lift. Max Steiner's score is a driving dramatic force but the use of the main theme seems a trifle excessive. The picture would benefit from a lot more pruning by editor David Wages.
Time Out New York feels that despite "an average script and a colourless lead performance from Donahue" the film "[emerges] as a majestically simple, sweeping cavalry Western, a little reminiscent of Ford in mood and manner. Brilliantly shot by William Clothier, it tends to have its cake and eat it by indulging in a spectacular massacre before introducing the liberal message, but still goes further than most in according respect to the Indian by letting him speak his own language (with subtitles)."
Peter Bogdanovich called the film:
One of Walsh's weakest pictures, caused mainly by an intolerably bad cast and a predictable script. Whenever the director is allowed to linger on shots of horses and riders, Indians and cavalry, and on their battles, he shows his vitality, personality and strength. Otherwise, his efforts are hopeless against the talentless players and the hopeless words they are required to speak.