Fort Defiance – 1951, Ben Johnson as Ben, Dane Clark as Johnny, and Peter Graves as Ned.
This is a movie with a simple plot. Lots of things happen because of that plot, but when you break it all down, it’s all because of this:
There’s this guy (Ben Johnson as Ben Shelby) whose brother was killed. He goes to the ranch home of the guy responsible for the death(s) (Johnny) but finds only that guy’s blind brother. Johnny is presumed dead and in the absence of a worthwhile target for it, Ben buries the hatchet. At this point, Injuns. Meanwhile, there’s a guy in town whose brothers were also killed by Johnny, and who wants to kill Johnny’s brother in revenge. And then Johnny shows up…
Meanwhile, I am left with my family issues making me wonder why everyone’s so almighty fired up about their brothers. So it’s possible a good chunk of this went straight over my head. This is a straight-up B-movie, but it tries hard, and it mostly even succeeds.
Rated: The best brother is a dead brother who leaves you a lot of money.
– This has a very good-looking Young Ben Johnson in it. (Not obsessed).
– The other, other good news is that Dane Clark and Peter Graves, when they show up, are good enough in their roles to make me go look up their names and include them in this list.
– So Ben, as Ben Shelby, is a gunslinging ex-Army man who shows up at a family ranch, saves the lives of blind Ned (from a rampaging horse) and Uncle Charlie (from rustlers), and claims that he’s a friend of missing big brother Johnny.
– Ben is actually, obviously, after Johnny for revenge of some sort. Johnny is revered by Ned, but Uncle Charlie himself knows or at least suspects the truth. Uncle Charlie is also strangely OK with the thought of a stranger coming to kill his nephew.
– Huh, Ben’s actually married and his wife has sent him a letter begging him to foreswear the vengeance and come home. If my studies of the genre are correct, what this means is that by the time he does go home, his wife will have either married someone else or moved to California.
– Ned doesn’t have the slightest clue that big brother Johnny is an outlaw loose and running. Until just now, that is, when Uncle Charlie told him Johnny got killed robbing a bank.
– Johnny was supposed to bring news to the Company that they were being outflanked; he (allegedly) surrendered instead. The Company was wiped out almost to a man and Ben lost his younger brother.
– So, with no quarrel with Ned or Uncle Charlie, Ben departs in peace for Fort Defiance.
– Ben comes back: he has decided to settle in Arizona, but there might be some complications turning up down the line…
– AHAHA THE IRONY. This new guy also lost two of his brothers in the battle, and now also blames Johnny. Ben has buried the hatchet and adopted Ned, but this guy wants to kill all Tallon brothers. I think Uncle Charlie is going to die covering the retreat…
– Oh screw you, mister. You killed Uncle Charlie, burying him “Christian” ain’t going to do nothing.
– …so who’s this….OH IT’S JOHNNY I BET! He met up with the burial detail! OH BOY. Yep, it’s Johnny. Well, good-bye for the burial detail…since there’s only one man needed for taking a message, he’s just offered them the chance to draw lots…and then he turned his back….
– Mind you, having his buddy keep them covered was just a smart move.
– And now they meet.
– FISTFIGHT! Johnny is cheating, because his buddy still has a gun. Get ‘im, Ben!
– Johnny admits he did surrender, but won’t explain why. Ned, meanwhile, is panicking on Ben’s behalf. And running out into the open screaming during a gun battle. You know, normally this behavior would be reserved for the Damsel.
– Johnny did it because he knew the war was over and didn’t feel like risking his neck for anybody else.
– Ned: “Don’t do it, Ben, he’s fast, he’s too fast.”
Ben: “Yeah, I know, like a snake.”
Johnny: “And twice as nasty!”
– Johnny is heading for San Francisco and intends to take Ned with him.
– Good grief. Competitive coat-giving. And another fistfight. And they managed to wake Ned up, so what did that gain you?
– Ya know, if it’s cold, you could always just cuddle up together….(this is probably why Ben has an offscreen but very definitely real and human wife coming in on the stage).
– OH NO ITS THE STAGE AND THE INJUNS ARE CHASING IT AHAHAHA
– YYYYyyyyep ITS A GIRL (Ben hasn’t noticed yet)
– Oh, wait, it’s NOT his wife, she’s some girl who got run outa town. (Oh, she’s gonna be Ned’s girlfriend probably).
– She’s hoping to start a business in San Francisco….seamstressing, probably.
– “I found out she ain’t married.” “I reckon not.”
– Dude, you are probably about to DIE (well, as far as you know, you are. I know there’s still about twenty-five minutes to go). Asking a girl if you’re someone able to be loved should not be really high on your priority list.
– OH SERIOUSLY THEY’RE RIDING IN CIRCLES AROUND THE WAGON. Well, that’s a time-honored Injun tactic, at least, and we’ve got to stick with tradition.
– THE CAVALRY HAS ARRIVED!
– Johnny is taking the stage, Ned, and Miss Julie, leaving a knocked-out Ben and the stage driver one horse between them. Julie has managed to smuggle a gun on board, which Ned promptly appropriates. But Ben is soon on his way after them.
– Ned, like the idiot he is, attempts to pull said gun on Johnny. Ned, as we mentioned, is also blind. But it’s the only thing that can get through to Johnny, apparently.
– Aww, Johnny is going to raise some money….honestly.
– (Well, not all that honestly at all, but he will have provided both bills of sale and receipts.)
– Johnny really took over the last part of this movie, didn’t he? I would say he stole it from Ben, but Ben is more handsome so there’s really nothing to worry about.
– “Well, I guess Parker won’t bother us anymore.” Well, that was stone-cold murder, Ben.
– Awwww, and now Ben’s wife got there. The End. That was a little abrupt. And also didn’t Johnny just sell the ranch out from under you? And also you’re only able to be on that ranch because the government forcibly rounded up the Indians with whom you used to live peaceably, and your cattle still got rustled, but hey who’s overthinking it?
– Rated: Damn, Ben Johnson was fine when he was young. (Still not obsessed).