Dark Command
1940 film poster
Directed byRaoul Walsh
Written by
Based onThe Dark Command
1938 novel
by W.R. Burnett[1]
Produced bySol C. Siegel
CinematographyJack A. Marta
Edited byWilliam Morgan
Music byVictor Young
Republic Pictures
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • April 15, 1940 (1940-04-15) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States

Dark Command is a 1940 Crime western film starring Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Walter Pidgeon loosely based on Quantrill's Raiders during the American Civil War. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the novel by W. R. Burnett, Dark Command is the only film in which western icons John Wayne and Roy Rogers appear together, and was the only film Wayne and Raoul Walsh made together since Walsh discovered Wayne working as a prop mover, renamed him, and gave him his first leading role in the epic widescreen Western The Big Trail a decade before.

The film also features George "Gabby" Hayes as Wayne's character's sidekick.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction by John Victor Mackay.[4]


Mary McCloud marries the seemingly peaceful Kansas schoolteacher William Cantrell, before finding out that he harbours a dark secret. He is actually an outlaw leader who attacks both sides in the Civil War for his own profit. After capturing a wagon loaded with Confederate uniforms, he decides to pass himself off as a Confederate officer. Her naive, idealistic brother Fletcher joins what he believes is a Rebel guerrilla force. Meanwhile, Cantrell's stern but loving mother refuses to accept any of her son's ill-gotten loot.

A former suitor of Mary's, Union supporter Bob Seton, is captured by Cantrell and scheduled for execution. After being rescued by a disillusioned Fletcher McCloud, Seton and Mary Cantrell race to the town of Lawrence (site of an actual infamous Quantrill-led massacre) to warn the residents of an impending attack by Cantrell's gang.



W.R. Burnett's novel was published in 1938 and became a best seller.[5] It was a rare historical novel from Burnett, who was better known for modern day crime stories.[6] Film rights were purchased by Republic Pictures who announced the film in May 1939 as part of their slate for 1939–40.[7]

Director Raoul Walsh had discovered John Wayne in 1929 when Wayne was a 23-year-old prop man named Marion "Duke" Morrison. Walsh was reading a biography of General "Mad Anthony" Wayne at the time and gave the prop boy the last name "Wayne" after casting him as the lead in The Big Trail (1930), a 70 mm Grandeur widescreen epic shot on location all across the West. Dark Command remains the only other film upon which both Walsh and Wayne collaborated during their lengthy careers.

The film was financed on a larger budget than Republic normally provided. It was a similar scale to a successful historical drama they had made the year before, Man of Conquest. Walter Pidgeon was borrowed from MGM.[8] Filming started November 1939.[3]

Dark Command was the second film John Wayne made with Claire Trevor after Stagecoach, the other being Allegheny Uprising (1939).

Roy Rogers was given a key support role in Dark Command, the only time John Wayne and Roy Rogers made a movie together.[9]

Historical Inaccuracies


Dark Command premiered in Lawrence, Kansas.[10]

It received favourable reviews and box office, and encouraged Republic to continue to allocate more money for John Wayne films.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Landesman, Fred (July 11, 2007). The John Wayne Filmography. McFarland. ISBN 9780786432523.
  2. ^ "Notes for Dark Command (1940)". tcm.com. Retrieved November 10, 2007.
  3. ^ a b "Of Local Origin". New York Times. October 26, 1939. p. 31.
  4. ^ "NY Times: Dark Command". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times. 2012. Archived from the original on October 17, 2012. Retrieved December 13, 2008.
  5. ^ "THE BEST-SELLING BOOKS". New York Times. May 1, 1938. p. 109.
  6. ^ Smith, Cecil. (September 19, 1954). "Burnett Publishes 20th Novel, The Tale of an Irish Bravo: Tireless Author, Bel-Air Resident, Shuns Publicity". Los Angeles Times. p. D4.
  7. ^ "REPUBLIC TO MAKE 50 FEATURE FILMS: 'Seven Million Dollars,' 'The Dark Command' and 'Wagons Westward' Top List FOUR SERIALS SCHEDULED Other 1939–40 Pictures Will Be Based on Jack London and Mark Twain Tales". New York Times. April 6, 1939. p. 34.
  8. ^ Schallert, Edwin (November 18, 1939). "DRAMA: 'Boom Town' Looms for Gable and Tracy". Los Angeles Times. p. A7.
  9. ^ DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL (November 27, 1939). "SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD". New York Times. p. 13.
  10. ^ Schallert, Edwin (April 3, 1940). "Astaire-Zorina Duo Bright New Dance Idea: Film Ingenue Grows Up O'Brien Budgets Raised Mexican Actress Tested Veterans to Team Again Premiere Due in Kansas". Los Angeles Times. p. 13.
  11. ^ Schallert, Edwin (June 4, 1940). "John Wayne Wins Star Role in 'Big Bonanza': New Series for O'Brien Switch in Spy Yarns R.K.O. Signs Blackmer Sanders to Play Sleuth Pangborn Air Spieler". Los Angeles Times. p. 13.