I once knew a fisherman in Rockland who showed up with the most amazing woman you have ever seen, year after year. Naturally, I asked him the secret to his success. He replied, proudly, “You knock on 100 doors; someone is going to open one.”
That theory came to mind this week when I stumbled upon the quirky Western “Fort Dobbs,” starring (if you can imagine) Clint Walker and the perfect Virginia Mayo. Since I first obtained a television I have always paused at every Western movie, trying to relive the thrill I got from my first Saturday serials on afternoons at the Rialto in Roslindale. But most of them are tired and formula-based, hardly worth the effort.
Not “Fort Dobbs,” filmed way back in 1958.
If you remember our boy Clint, he was so huge that his boots almost dragged on the ground when he rode a horse. He was the hero of the TV series “Cheyenne.” Anyway, he is being chased by a posse after he beat a man to death in town. Riding hard, he stumbles across a dead man, killed by a Comanche arrow. Naturally, the Comanche are on the warpath. In a great plot twist, he pulls out the arrow, changes coats with the dead man, slams the arrow back in the wound, then throws the body in a deep ravine. The posse rides up, recognizes the jacket and assumes their possying days are done. Never saw that in a Western before, now did you?
This is all in the first 10 minutes. Naturally, Gar (Clint) has to leave his horse to complete the ruse. So order No. 1 is to get a new horse. He hikes to a nearby ranch and prepares to steal a ride. But a pesky little kid hears the attempted theft and puts a rifle bullet in Gar. Naturally, the hero is just “winged.” Celia (Virginia), the punk’s mother, comes out to see what’s happening. Gar gets a load of Celia and all of a sudden he is glad for the bullet wound and the introduction. Her man is among the missing, thank God.
In the nick of time, the Comanches ride over the hill. Gar kills at least 100 with his handgun at a prodigious distance. He is so good that more than one Comanche falls every time he pulls the trigger.
When the Comanches set fire to the house, the trio heads for … Fort Dobbs. You have to ford rivers in every Western and “Fort Dobbs” is no exception. Gar tells Celia to wait until he gets across the river with the boy, then he will come back for her. Naturally, she ignores the warning and heads across alone.
Predictably, she is swept away through the rapids and he gets to shed his shirt and swim after her, saving her life.
This gives everyone a chance to shed their wet clothes. She wakes up covered in a jacket which is strangely familiar. It is her dead husband’s jacket…with a bloody hole in the back. Naturally she assumes Gar killed her husband, unaware of the posse ruse.
Pretty clever, I thought.
Despite their “issues,” the trio rides to the assumed safety of Fort Dobbs. But in another twist, the fort has been attacked and decimated by those ornery Comanches. The trio is quickly joined by the residents of a nearby town, also seeking the assumed safety of the fort. Surprise!
The sheriff recognizes Gar, of course, but the Comanches seem to take a much higher priority than a mere beating death. Gar kills a few hundred more Indians with his pistol, never missing a shot. But he realizes that they are all doomed unless he can get those Sharps magical repeating rifles that a gun trader (Brian Keith) was bragging about a few miles back. It was gloriously unclear whether the trader intended to do business with the Comanches or the settlers.
Somehow, Gar escapes the fort and finds the trader. The trader is not about to give up his valuable weapons, so Gar is forced to kill just one more time. Somehow he gets the rifles through the Comanche lines and everyone in the fort gets a new gun. The Comanches are killed 50 at a time and decide to leave Fort Dobbs alone.
The sheriff (the familiar Russ Conway) decided to let Gar hit the road. By now, Celia has not only seen Gar with his shirt off, but learns from the sheriff that the beating death was sort of justified and that Gar did not kill her husband.
They ride off into the sunset with the annoying lad who has apologized for “winging” Gar. There was nary a kiss or a hug between them, if you don’t count all the groping in the river.
For the literate, “Fort Dobbs” was directed by Gordon Douglas (Look for his “Yellowstone Kelly” and “Gold of the Seven Saints”) and was based on a screenplay by George W. George (you can look it up) and Burt Kennedy.
I shall continue to watch at least 100 more Westerns, looking for a gem like “Fort Dobbs.”
Send complaints and compliments to Emmet Meara at firstname.lastname@example.org.