Victor Mature, the ’50s star once dubbed “a beautiful hunk of man” but now often unfairly labelled the Sylvester Stallone of his day, gets to flex both his muscles and his acting abilities in western Savage Wilderness directed by Anthony Mann. Although Mann directed 40 movies in an illustrious career spanning 25 years, he remains best known as a master of the Western genre, making such classics as The Naked Spur , Man of the West and The Man from Laramie , which was released in the same year as this gripping movie.
Notable for some excellent action sequences and its stunning Mexican locations, Savage Wilderness (re-titled The Last Frontier in the UK) is based on the novel The Gilded Rooster and is an archetypal cavalry-versus-Indians saga. Having been relieved of a year’s worth of pelts by hostile Indians, three primitive frontiersmen – Jed (Mature), Gus (James Whitmore) and the native American Mungo (Pat Hogan) – are glad to accept an offer to become Indian scouts for a cavalry fort. The fort is run by an ambitious but unstable officer, Colonel Frank Marston (Robert Preston), who recently suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Indians and is eager to make amends.
Tension arises between the brutish colonel and Jed when the frontiersman displays his clear liking for the officer’s wife, Corinna (Anne Bancroft). This personal conflict leads Marston to ignore Jed’s advice when he hears that the Indians are planning to mount an attack on the fort. A cavalry charge on the Indian stronghold is organised, with Jed and his friends’ reluctant soldiers in a battle which will create both heroes and villains.
Mature and Bancroft had previously starred together in the 1953 drama Demetrius and the Gladiators and repeat their on-screen chemistry here, while Robert Preston delivers a memorable performance as the psychotic Indian-hating officer. Although Preston was a dynamic leading actor for almost 50 years, his recognition came in 1982, when he received an Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of a transvestite performer in Victor/ Victoria.
USA / 1955
Director: Anthony Mann
Writer: Philip Yordan, Russell S Hughes (based on the novel by Richard Emery Roberts)
Cast: Victor Mature, James Whitmore, Robert Preston, Guy Madison, Anne Bancroft