Entertainment Magazine

The Last Frontier

Posted on the 30 April 2015 by Christopher Saunders
The Last FrontierThe Last Frontier (1955) doesn't rank high among Anthony Mann's Westerns. It's a B Movie blown to outsized proportions: lacking Mann's usual complexity, it only has nice scenery to commend it.
Jed Cooper (Victor Mature) is an Indian trapper seeking refuge in remote Fort Shango. The fort's run by Captain Riordan (Guy Madison), who expects an attack by Red Cloud's Sioux. He's superseded by Colonel Marston (Robert Preston), the kill-crazy commander who plans to attack the Indians over his subordinates' objections. Jed falls for Marston's wife Corinna (Anne Bancroft) while trying to foil the Colonel's suicidal intentions.
Like most Mann Westerns, The Last Frontier comes alive in its scenery. Mann contrasts the fort's conflicts with gorgeous Oregon scenery: William Mellor's spacious photography gives Frontier beauty even in its slow moments. From the impressive opening, where Jed and his friends bluff hostile Indians by ignoring them, to the epic climactic battle in the woods, Frontier delivers some fine set pieces. Yet Mann indulges in gratuitous directorial tricks (a crane shot as Jed's party enters the fort), imputing unwarranted grandeur to the penny dreadful story.
Mann's best Westerns are Old West psychodramas, contrasting landscape with character torment. But Frontier is flaccid programmer mush. The drama proves rote, the characters too broadly delineated. None of Howard Kemp or Vic Hansboro's psychological torment: Jed's ruggedly independent, the Colonel's crazy, the Captain trapped by orders. Similarly, Phillip Yordan and Russell S. Hughes' script relentlessly verbalizes its conflicts; how many characters speculate on whether Corinna wants her husband dead? Didacticism never serves Westerns well, hurting Frontier worse even than the cliches.
Victor Mature is an adequate lead if not a convincing frontiersman. At least until an embarrassing drunk scene late in the movie. Anne Bancroft is pretty but colorless, her screentime devoted to pouty smooching. Robert Preston is a cartoon martinet, neither compelling nor scary. Guy Madison's conflicted Captain fares best among the leads, stiff but believably conflicted. James Whitmore's crusty trapper steals every scene.
There's not much to say about The Last Frontier. Sometimes a movie's relegated to DVD bargain bins and late night TCM filler for a reason. Frontier is a great director on autopilot, delivering his trademark style without bothering to craft a story around it.

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