(1940) 94 minutes
Produced and Directed by Raoul Walsh
Screenplay by Grover Jones, Lionel Houser, and F. Hugh Herbert
Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett
Claire Trevor as Mary McCloud
John Wayne as Bob Seton
Walter Pidgeon as William Cantrell
Roy Rogers as Fletch McCloud
George “Gabby” Hayes as Doc Grunch
Porter Hall as Angus McCloud
Marjorie Main as Mrs. Cantrell
Raymond Walburn as Judge Buckner
Joseph Sawyer as Bushropp
Helen MacKeller as Mrs. Hale
J. Farrell MacDonald as Dave
The film takes place in 1860, in the town of Lawrence, Kansas. If the name sounds familiar to history buffs, it should. During the civil war, Confederate guerilla leader William Clarke Quantrill raided the town of Lawrence with his band of outlaws, murdering 185 unarmed men and boys, while looting the town and burning it to the ground. In fact, this film is loosely based on that very incident. Very loosely based.
John Wayne plays Texan Bob Seton, who, with his good friend Doc Grunch (played by Gabby Hayes) arrives in Lawrence looking for customers for Doc’s dental business. The premise of their partnership is Wayne punching argumentative potential customers in the mouth, and Doc providing the necessary dental treatment. While in Lawrence, Wayne sees young Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor) and decides he is going to marry her. The only problem is the local school teacher, Will Cantrell, who also has his eye on Mary.
Will is not all that he seems to be, however, and he is the leader of a local band of guerillas involved in gun running and other crimes. When Cantrell loses a local election for the position of marshal to Wayne’s Seton, he drops any pretense of civility and throws all his time and resources into his guerilla activity. Throw in Marjorie Main as Cantrell’s long suffering mother, Roy Rogers as Fletch McCloud – Mary’s brother, Porter Hall as Angus McCloud, their blustering Scottish father, several other memorable characters, and Yakima Canutt’s exciting stunt direction, and you have a great film full of action, romance and even a few comedic bits as well.
Dark Command is the third on screen pairing of John Wayne and Claire Trevor in only two years. Their first being Wayne’s breakthrough film Stagecoach (1939), closely followed by Allegheny Uprising the same year. Following the success of Stagecoach, Republic made the decision to cash in on its newest star, and Dark Command was one of the few “A” films made by the studio, and became the studios biggest grossing film. Accomplished composer Victor Young produced the wonderful score for Dark Command, and was nominated for an Academy Award for his work, which makes it all the more surprising that we haven’t seen a recorded soundtrack. Perhaps someday one will be forthcoming.
Now, watch the film!