Behind the Scenes: “The Deadly Companions / Trigger Happy” (1961)

There was enough controversy surrounding the launch of this picture without even invoking the behavior of director Sam Peckinpah. For a start its production heralded a revolution in exhibition. Cinema owners were intent on breaking the industry’s one sacrosanct law.

Since 1948 and the Paramount Decree which forced studios to shed their cinemas, it had been forbidden for a studio to operate as an exibitor and vice-versa. But the financial tsumani that hit the business at the end of the 1950s resulted in a shortfall of new releases and left exhibitors scratching around for product.

Taking the view that the situation was so dire that studios could not resolve it and imagining that the government would not look unkindly on the idea, exhibitors set up a company called Motion Pictures Investment Inc. Initially, the outfit was not so confrontational. The plan was simply to repackage old movies and send them out as reissues. There was no law against that since the exhibitors were not acting as production companies.

It was ambitious scheme, calling in 1958 for $25 million to be raised to fund a whole stream of old movies, sending them into reissue achieving the double aim of filling release gaps and preventing them from falling into the maw of television – Twentieth Century Fox in the process of selling 50 pictures dating from 1950-1955 to television for $10 million. 

The Actors’ Strike of  1960 halved production, making a dire situation intolerable. MPI bought the rights to Gary Cooper western Friendly Persuasion (1957) and put together a hefty marketing campaign to get that picture back on the market. Recognising that studios were likely to prevent their gems from being reissued when they could be sold so easily to television, MPI bit the bullet and moved into production. Pathe-America was the vehicle, “a production-distribution-exhibition project predicated on the theory that exhibitors can sense better than anybody what the pubic want on the screens.”

First film on the agenda – The Deadly Companions.

The driving force behind that picture was a female star intent on a bit of revolution of her own – Maureen O’Hara. The flame-haired actress – a star for over two decades, as comfortable in westerns like Rio Grande (1950) as dramas (The Quiet Man, 1952) and swashbucklers (The Spanish Main, 1945) had  decided her career was in need of a rejig. Demand for her services was slowing down – only four movies in the second half of the 1950s compared to 14 in the first half. 

In reality, her career was sinking fast and it felt like panic to imagine she could reconfigure herself at this late stage as a singer, signing a contract for an album first with RCA Victor in 1958 and then CBS in 1960 and starring in the Broadway musical Christine in 1960, a flop despite her “good singing voice and assured stage presence.”

But a bigger measure of her fall was that she ended up in television, spurred on initially by her brother, Charles B. Fitzsimons, who thought he could help better manage her career. Initially an actor, he had segued into production via independent producer Edward L. Alperson but without particular distinction.

They set up Tarafilm in 1958 with the aim of co-producing a series Women In the Case with CBS, profits to be evenly split. But that never surfaced and instead she was an actress for hire and at modest fees at that for, even for bigger stars, the small screen did not pay fees comparable with the movies. For the first time in her career a year passed without a single movie. In 1960 only television beckoned – Open Window, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Mrs Miniver and the DuPont Show of the Month. And there was something plaintive when O’Hara, who had espoused the freelance approach to her career, advised young stars to take a studio contracts if offered.

But Fitzsimons was feverishly working behind the scenes, trying to raise money for their Carousel movie production shingle, even going so far as applying to the U.S. Government’s Small Business Loan scheme. Without exhibitors determined to break the law, it’s doubtful they would have sourced the funding for The Deadly Companions. MPI put up nearly half the $390,000 budget for The Deadly Companions after Fitzsimons had commissioned a screenplay from novelist A.S. Fleischman.

Brian Keith was available because the television series The Westerner (1960) that had made him temporarily a star was cancelled after not even lasting a season.  He came cheap – a steal even for a low-budget picture – at $30,000. Sam Peckinpah, who had originated The Westerner, was primarily a television writer and director thirsting for an opportunity to make his mark on the big screen. So, also out of work after The Westerner was canned, he came cheap too, earning half Keith’s salary.

Peckinpah later complained about script problems, but that was par for the course with the director; if a movie failed it was someone else’s fault. O’Hara, who had worked with the best including Hitchcock and Ford, and like most top stars knew a fair bit about how and where to point a camera, later complained that Peckinpah was out of his depth. But that, too, was par for the course. Her autobiography Tis Herself was almost a litany of complaints.

The problem for O’Hara was more financial. While Peckinpah was guaranteed payment, she was not. As producer, she would be working for a fraction of her normal fee of $150,000, expecting to make that back – and more – when the movie went into profit. There was no reason to assume it would not make a decent sum, low-budget westerns having a habit of making money.

The movie was filmed on location in Arizona. The picture’s Gila City, where the bank robbery took place, was based on the Tucson of a hundred years before. Seeking authenticity, the set was constructed following artist drawings culled from the early 1860s. Props were also authentic – the doctor’s chair was from the period, the surgical instruments remnants from the era and even the apothecary jars had come from an early pharmacist shop.

Extras were genuine cowboys or Native Americans. Apaches and Papagos were hired as Native Americans. At a casting call at the Ramada Inn, producer Fitzsimons found the genuine cowboy article in the in the lobby “their Stetsons stained by sweat and faded by the sun and most of them wore working jeans and multi-colored shirts that had been washed but not ironed…leathery-faced men…speaking in low voices of how bum the cattle business was from all this drought and how fine it was a man could pick up a few dollars riding with the movie company.” Even the cactus was authentic, the director favoring scenes which featured the giant Sauaro species.

The cave for one scene was also genuine, not a stage set,  the result of an earthquake fault, 50-foot high and 40-foot across at the opening, spiralling hundreds of feet into the mountain. The roof, made up of boulders, was particularly precarious as any rumble could send it tumbling to the ground. Only essential crew were permitted for the scene which saw O’Hara firing a shotgun at an Apache. Fearing the sound of detonation might affect the roof, flash powder was used instead of cartridges.

Stunts involved included overturning a stagecoach and falling 35-feet. Stuntman Chuck Hayward nearly died during rehearsal when the horse bolted and the stagecoach struck a tree. He was married to Ellen Hayward, daughter of Joan Blondell and Dick Powell.

Perhaps the most immediately unusual aspect of the movie was the score. Among instruments used by composer Marlin Skiles were a toy trumpet, xylophone, vibraphone, kettle drum and cracked belt.

To help promote the picture the screenplay was novelized and went on to sell half a million copies, though it went out under the title Yellowleg and was not noticeably a movie tie-in.

The movie received good reviews. Box Office, which might be expected to back any exhibitor initiative, deemed it a “well above average western” with “superb performances” and “exacting direction.” Variety, which sided more with studios than exhibitors, nonetheless was mostly positive, except for “lapses and weaknesses” finding it “fairly engrossing” with O’Hara’s performance “one of her best for some time.”

As you might expect, exhibitors, too, got behind the picture. There was double “Gala World Premiere” in Tucson and Phoenix, on June 6 for the former the following night for the latter, attended by the stars. Surprisingly, given it was a target for saturation (i.e. multiple release region-by-region) and a low-budget number, it was shown in some major houses, in Detroit the 5,000-seater Fox, in Pittsburgh the 3,700-seater Stanley, a 3,600-seater in St Louis, in Buffalo the 3,000-eater Lafayette, in Cleveland the 2,739-seater Palace and in Seattle the 2,200-seater Music Hall. But bookings were scattered between June and September 1961.

But giving a  movie a helping hand would not necessarily translate into decent box office. Takings were poor – the best result a “good” $15,000 in Detroit. Cleveland produced a “fair” $9,000, St Louis a “fair” $10,000, Pittsburgh a “drab” $8,500, Buffalo a “thin” $5,000 and there was but $2,500 in Seattle. No major first run theaters signed up in Los Angeles or Kansas City, in each location going out in small multiple release, edging a “dim” $8,5000 from three cinemas in the former and a “moderate” $15,000 from three in Kansas City. Nor did first run line up to host it in New York and by the time it reached Portland it was playing on the lower half of a double bill.

In an attempt to recover some of its $60,000 loss, MPI changed the title in 1962 to Trigger Happy, altered the poster to focus on action rather than sex, and programmed it in a double bill with its second production The Checkered Flag. That proved a failure and MPI was wound up.

Buoyed by the unexpected success of The Parent Trap (1961), O’Hara’s career recovered and she was paired with James Stewart in Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) and reunited with John Wayne for McLintock (1963). Brian Keith never became a major star but still had a very decent career toplining smaller-budgeted films and in supporting roles. Charles B. Fitzsimons made a success of production, though mainly in television. We all know what happened to Sam Peckinpah.  

SOURCES: Brian Hannan, Coming Back to a Theater Near You, A History of Hollywood Reissues 1914-2014 (McFarland, 2016) p117-120;  Pressbook, The Deadly Companions; “Maureen O’Hara As Disker,” Variety, May 7, 1958, p59; “Maureen O’Hara Bagged for Series,” Variety, August 27, 1958, p27; “Christine Gives Columbia 3 On Showtime Shelf,” Variety, March 23, 1960, p45; Review, Christine, Variety, May 4, 1960, p56; “Longplay Shorts,” Variety, September 28, 1960, p58; “Family Classics,” Variety, November 2, 1960, p27; “MP Investment Trust Puts Coin into Pathe America Release,” Variety, January 25, 1961, p5; “Pathe America’s First Star: Maureen O’Hara,” Variety, November 9, 1960, p4; “Pathe Companions into Saturation Playoff,” Variety, June 7, 1961, p5; Review, Variety, June 10, 1961, p10; Review, Box Office, Jun 12, 1961, pA11; “Gala World Premiere for Deadly Companions,” Box Office, June 12, 1961, p10; “Don’t Do As I Do,” Variety, August 2, 1961, p4; “Fitzsimons Switches Pitch,” Variety, August 29, 1962, p16; “Motion Pic Investors Draws Criticism for Faltering Achievement,” Variety, December 12, 1962, p3; “Missouri-Made Feature in Second Round,” Variety, June 5, 1963, p18. Box office results: “Picture Grosses,” Variety – June 14 and 28, July 19, August 16 and 23, September 6, 13 and 20.

The Deadly Companions / Trigger Happy (1961) ***

Bank robbers ride into town. They pass kids playing a vicious game. There’s something unusual on a roof. Innocents are killed in the resulting shootout.

Remind you of anything?

Sam Peckinpah’s debut is best viewed as an early dummy run for The Wild Bunch (1969) but the title could refer to any of his westerns since there is always malevolence afoot among any of his marauders, be they soldiers, lawmen or outlaws.

By the simple device of waiting a year until “The Parent Trap” had charmed audiences everywhere, UK exhibitors were able to launch “The Deadly Companions” on the back of it, as if O’Hara and Keith were re-teaming for the western rather than the other way round. “The Deadly Companions” wasn’t released in Britain until summer 1962, a year after its launch Stateside, and on the lower half of a double bill.

He’s done no favors by a genuine oddity of a script which has to shoehorn in various odd characters around a basic premise of escorting a woman across Indian Territory. And, it has to be said, more than occasionally the film doesn’t make much sense.

Strangers Yellowleg (Brian Keith), better known as The Man With The Hat since he refuses to take it off in case he reveals his scalped head, gunslinger Billy (Steve Cochran) and Turk (Chill Wills), former Confederate deserter, team up to rob a bank after the first two save card cheat Turk from an impromptu hanging.

But they discover they’re not the first to come up with robbing the new bank and in the shootout with the other robbers Yellowleg inadvertently kills the son of single mum and dance hall hostess Kit (Maureen O’Hara). She decides she doesn’t want to bury the boy in a town where she is openly despised but plans to put him to rest beside the grave of her husband in an abandoned village in Apache country.

Pricked by conscience Yellowleg offers assistance. But Billy goes along with the idea because, and there’s no getting round this, he wants to rape her. Turk goes where Billy goes. At first she resists all offers of assistance and manages to fend off the amorous Billy but of course she’s not able to fix broken wagon wheels or catch a runaway horse. Eventually, it’s just her and Yellowleg, though the other two turn up at the end, Billy not having given up on the notion of bedding her.

The Native Americans they encounter, as in The Pistolero of Red River/ The Last Challenge (1967) are mostly drunk and no threat. In fact, civilization is deadlier, Kit even cold-shouldered at church, and with travelling companions like Billy danger is a constant. Kit might have done better not to get herself wet so often, since that involves either a) being nude behind a wagon to dry off or b) splashing around in full view.

Surprisingly, the hat provides a couple of tender moments. But mostly it’s kept on because Turk is the guy who scalped Yellowleg. There’s an odd presumption that, although his facial features can’t have changed, that only removing it will alert Turk to his true identity. Yellowleg wants to scalp Turk in revenge. He’s only just found him after five years looking. So when he occasionally abandons Kit in dangerous Apache territory it’s to make sure his quarry hasn’t gone far.

There are some nice touches here, although the tendency towards gorgeous sunsets seems out of place. The person on the roof is, for unexplained reasons, Kit’s son playing a harmonica. The town has odd priorities. It may have a new bank but the local saloon has to double as the church, various paintings of nudes on the walls covered up for the occasion, the preacher (Strother Martin) happily challenging our trio to remove their hats in the presence of God. Yellowleg has “something wrong with his shooting arm,” a bullet embedded close to his collarbone that having found his prey he doesn’t have time for the convalescence required after an operation. Authenticity impinges – a rig carrying a coffin and two people is a lot more cumbersome than a single horse dragging a sled, body wrapped in cloth.  

Maureen O’Hara (The Rare Breed, 1966) in tempestuous mode is the star attraction here. She’s independent, sassy, tender in turn, and able, for the most part, to defend herself against Billy. It seems a tad inconceivable that she would fall for her son’s killer much as, for purely practical reasons, she might accept his protection.    

Brian Keith’s character doesn’t quite come off since it takes too long for his quest to be spelled out. Neither do he and O’Hara gell as they would in their next teaming, The Parent Trap (1961) .

Steve Cochran (Mozambique, 1964) is mostly in scene-stealing mode and it would have helped his character if it had been spelled out whether Kit was a mere dance hall hostess or one who gave out extras for a price. Chill Wills (The Alamo, 1960) also seems to be on a different planet when it comes to acting. But it does seem a shame all the boys put so much effort into trying to steal scenes when Maureen O’Hara without doing very much sneaks away with the entire picture. A.S. Fleischman (The Adventures of Bullwhip Griffin, 1967) wrote the screenplay based on his own novel, O’Hara’s brother produced, and, you might as well know, it’s the actress who sings the theme song.

Nevada Smith (1966) ****

Half breed Max Sand (Steve McQueen) has little truck with the notion that revenge is a dish best served cold. But he’s too young and raw, far from Lee Marvin’s callous killer in Point Blank (1969), to properly avenge the slaughter of his family by three outlaws.

This is a coming-of-age tale with a distinct difference. Max’s development includes, apart from initiation into sex of course, learning to read and write so he can make sense of signposts in order to track down the murderers and receiving tuition from gunsmith Jonas Cord (Brian Keith) so that he can at least loose off some shots without doing himself damage. Vengeance burns so deep that he even stages a bumbled robbery so he can be sent to the prison where the second of his targets is incarcerated. Now that’s dedication for you. And along the way he learns the most important lesson of all, how to live, and not destroy himself through vengeance.

Even so, all Cord’s tuition counts for nought when Max needs a knife to dispatch his first victim Coe (Martin Landau). And he’s not yet so slick with a weapon to avoid serious injury himself. Kiowa saloon girl Neesa (Janet Margolin) nurses him back to health at her tribe’s camp. They become lovers but he rejects the wisdom of the elders and the opportunity to make a life with her.

Unfortunately, Bowdre (Arthur Kennedy)  is a jailbird. And worse, held prisoner in a swamp. Probably the worst bank robbery ever committed sends Nevada there. Max enrols another woman, Cajun Pilar (Suzanne Pleshette) working in nearby rice fields – fraternisation between the jailbirds and these women permitted – to steal a boat to help him and Bowdre escape. Bowdre gets his and this time it’s Pilar who is the collateral damage.

A genuine outlaw now, Max has no trouble joining a band of robbers headed by Fitch (Karl Malden), the final prey. By now calling himself Nevada Smith, Max’s plans are thrown into confusion when it becomes apparent Fitch is aware of his true identity. A surprise ending is on the cards whichever way you cut it, and especially thrilling since it occurs during a well-planned gold bullion robbery.

It’s a film of two parts but divided into three if you like, the unusual swamp setting fitting in between two sections of more straightforward western. Though in the hands of director Henry Hathaway (True Grit, 1969), there is little that’s so straightforward given his mastery of the widescreen and his hallmark extreme long shot. He’s capable of moving from the extreme violence of the vicious murder and rape of Max’s mother to the son’s discovery of the bodies shown just through Max’s physical reaction. And there’s some irony at play, too: gold triggers slaughter and climax; mental dereliction not as feared as its physical counterpart.

Although Hathaway was a true veteran, he was not best known for westerns in the manner of John Ford, more at home with film noir (Kiss of Death, 1947), war (The Desert Fox, 1951) and big-budget pictures like Niagara (1954) with Marilyn Monroe and Legend of the Lost (1957) teaming John Wayne and Sophia Loren. In a 30-year career he had only made three westerns of note – The Trail of the Lonesome Pine (1936), Rawhide (1951) and Garden of Evil (1954). So it was something of a surprise that in the 1960s over half his output was in the western genre. And unlike Ford and Howard Hawks who stuck to the formula of action within a defined community, Hathaway tended towards films of adventure, where the main character, often of a somewhat shady disposition, wandered far and wide.

Steve McQueen (The Cincinnati Kid, 1965) carries the picture with some aplomb, moving deftly from the wet-behind-the-ears youngster to a clever and calculated killer and still retaining enough humanity to enjoy a romantic dalliance. There’s enough action here to satisfy McQueen’s fans spoiled by The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963) and for those who had come to appreciate his acting plenty to enjoy. This and The Cincinnati Kid, where perforce as a poker player, he had to do a great deal of brooding, solidified his screen persona, a star you can’t keep your eyes off, wondering what on earth is going on in his mind. As much as he’s playing a character finding his feet, this is McQueen at very nearly the top of his game.

Brian Keith (The Rare Breed, 1966) is the pick of the support, adding a little softness to his usual more hard-nosed screen characters. The villains – Karl Malden (The Cincinnati Kid), Martin Landau (The Hallelujah Trail, 1965) and Arthur Kennedy (Claudelle Inglish, 1961) – are all good in their own different ways, and in the hands of excellent actors, easily differentiated. Suzanne Pleshette (Fate is the Hunter, 1964) shines in a too-brief role.

The sterling supporting cast includes Janet Margolin (Bus Riley’s Back in Town, 1965), Pat Hingle (Sol Madrid, 1968) and Raf Vallone (The Secret Invasion, 1964). John Michael Hayes (Harlow, 1965) fashioned the screenplay from The Carpetbaggers by Harold Robbins. 

Although Hollywood had been prone to sequels – Father’s Little Dividend (1951) following Father of the Bride (1950), Return to Peyton Place (1961), Return of the Seven (1966) etc – there had been no perceived market for prequels, so this was something of a first, Alan Ladd having essayed an older and considerably more sophisticated Nevada Smith in the 1964 film of Harold Robbins bestseller. 

The Rare Breed (1966) ****

Classic themes of hope, resilience and redemption influence director Andrew V. McLaglen’s follow-up to Shenandoah (1965). Add in a battle against widespread misogyny, thieves falling out, a brilliant stampede and a forlorn hunt that has echoes in the decade-old The Searchers. But other more serious issues are explored. At the film’s core is the question of how a nation built on innovation refuses to countenance change, in other words a country where hierarchy (inevitably male) has begun to impose its preference and how those who suggest alternatives must not just buckle to that collective will but admit they are wrong, a problem that in the half century since the film was made has not gone away.

Widow Martha (Maureen O’Hara) and daughter Hilary (Juliet Mills) bring to auction her white-face Hereford bull, a British institution, the first of its kind to be imported (for breeding purposes, you understand) to America where hardy longhorn cattle are the dominant species. Despite being insulted for her temerity in challenging the existing order, Martha is astonished to receive a winning bid of $2,000, only to realize this comes with conditions attached, the buyer assuming his largesse will also win her, a sharp elbow to the ribs dissuading him of this notion.

Determined to see the bull delivered to the Texan ranch, Martha decides to accompany the animal on its journey. Wrangler Sam (James Stewart), hired to transport it instead plans to steal it and to keep the dupe sweet until the time is ripe encourages her to develop romantic ideas towards him. When another cowboy, Simons (Jack Elam), with eyes on the same four-legged prize causes confrontation the game is up, though Sam sees the trip through.

Rancher Bowen (Brian Keith) belittles the Hereford bull although viewing Martha as a better proposition, but the only way to discover whether the beast can survive in the territory is to let it loose on the open range where it was likely to encounter blizzards (not so rare in Texas as you might think). Once the bull is set free, the movie shifts onto a question of endurance, not just of the animal, but of the mindset of Martha and Sam. Her faith in her insane idea is tested to the limit and, almost in compensation, a woman needing security/protection et al, she comes to appreciate the attentions of a less wild Bowen.

Both central characters have much to lose and much to face up to. Martha, in accepting she was wrong and letting Bowen into her life, will almost certainly be surrendering her independence (she can still be feisty but that’s not the same thing). It’s a testament to her acting that you can see that faith wilting. Sam, a conniving thief whichever way you cut it (although the storyline gives him something of a free pass), has to face up to the fact that he was planning to con a woman out of the precious possession on which her precarious future was built.

The scenes between Martha and Sam are superb, especially when he is grooming what he thinks will be an easy dupe. Sam, in a purgatory of his own making, almost certainly an outcast were the truth more widely broadcast, attempts to expiate his guilt.  

James Stewart and Maureen O’Hara had worked together in Mr Hobbs Takes a Vacation (1962) and there is no denying their screen chemistry. But there’s an innocence that O’Hara rarely displays, the woman in love suppressing those emotions not denying them as perhaps in The Quiet Man (1952). She’s both independent and, if the right man comes along, happy to accept his protection (from the male predators of the West), while at the same time keeping him on the right track and sorting out his world of misshapen priorities. There are some brilliant scenes where something else is going on story-wise and O’Hara is internalizing some deeper emotion entirely. It’s an acting coup for an actress like Maureen O’Hara who would never give up to convey so well a character on the verge of surrender.

This is one of James Stewart’s best roles, far removed from the principled hero of Shenandoah (1965) and returning him closer to the shifty character of Vertigo (1958) adept at self-justification. In the scene where he is found out by O’Hara he is outstanding. It’s not a given that the character will find a way to turn things round and his efforts to redeem himself make the latter part of the picture emotionally involving, especially as this is countered by O’Hara’s own internal battle.

It’s worth pointing out that although the narrative mainly concerns the two main characters, the background is filled with ruthlessness. Not only does Sam feel no compunction about stealing a bull worth $2,000, we first encounter Bowen’s son Jamie (Don Galloway) when he is making off with a herd of his father’s longhorns. The cattle barons use their wealth to “buy” a classy woman and cheat cowboys. And there is further murder along the way.

I was going to mark this picture down for the comedy which seems to amount to endless brawls but I wondered if modern audiences, reared on the never-ending fistfights and wanton destruction that usually indicated the finale of a superhero picture, would accept it quite happily, perhaps even welcome it. While Brian Keith (The Deadly Companions, 1961) stands accused not only of one of the worst Scottish accents committed to the screen – and these days of cultural appropriation – that does not take away from a character who, behind the beard, transitions from loathsome father to something more approaching humanity, in other words wild man who realizes the benefits of civilization.  

In fact, the broad comedy serves to obscure a film full of brilliant, cutting, funny lines, generally delivered in scathing tones by the woman.  O’Hara to Stewart: “You may bulldog a steer but you can’t bulldog me.” Stewart to O’Hara: “Can I help you with that” and her response “No, they’re clean and I’d like to keep them that way.” And that’s not forgetting the sight of the cowboys whistling British national anthem “God Save the Queen” in order to bring the bull to heel.

I forgot to mention the romantic subplot involving Hilary – in case you were wondering what role she had in all this – and Bowen’s estranged son, Jamie. Juliet Mills (Avanti!, 1970), older sister of child star Hayley, is excellent as the sassy daughter of a feisty woman, Don Galloway (Rough Night in Jericho, 1967) less of a stand-out in his debut, in part because he has to subsume his rage against his father.

Jack Elam (Once Upon a Time in the West, 1968) is good as always and you will spot in smaller parts Ben Johnson (The Undefeated, 1969), Harry Carey Jr. (The Undefeated), Barbara Werle (Krakatoa, East of Java, 1968) and David Brian (Castle of Evil, 1966). John Williams, masquerading as Johnny Williams, wrote the score.

Setting the comedy aside, this is a more intimate film from director Andrew V. McLaglen compared to the widescreen glory of The Undefeated and the intensity of Shenandoah and for that reason tends to be underrated. There are some wonderful images, not least Sam carrying the injured Jamie in the style of Michelangelo’s La Pieta – an idea stolen by Oliver Stone for Platoon (1986) – but mostly McLaglen concentrates on the actors.

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