Pros:Woody Strode's outstanding courtroom scene performance.
Cons:Predicable script, overacting, dehumanizing of Native Americans.
The Bottom Line: I recommend this movie for no other reason to see Woody Strode's moving performance in the courtroom scene. He saves the movie.
While lack of formal theatrical training often limits the range of affect of former professional athletes turned actors, Woody Strode was capable, at times, of reaching inside himself and delivering a top-notch performance.
Case in point: the 1960 John Ford western, "Sergeant Rugledge". In that movie, Rutledge--played by Strode--is being courtmartialed for a brutal rape and murder he did not commit. At one point in the trial, the bigoted prosecuting officer has him on the stand and grills him about his motivation for choosing to warn his 9th Cavalry comrades of an impending Indian ambush rather than ride north to freedom.
With tears welling in his eyes, Rutlege rises to his feet and, voice quivering, declares that the 9th was his home and that he is a MAN, not a "swamp-running n*****." This "from the gut" brand of acting is stuff of which Strassburg alums such as Pacino, DeNiro, Nicholson were made.
I have probably seen this movie a half-dozen times or more, and Strode's performance in this scene still moves me. Maybe it's the significance of "Sergeant Rugledge" having been filmed four years before the Civil Rights Act became law. But I also ponder what personal experience Strode tapped into to yield that performance.
I imagine it might have been his days with the Los Angeles Rams. It's a fair assumption that when he and three other African American players broke the color barrier in professional football in 1946, they suffered the same cruel harassment from teammates, opposing players and white fans as did Jackie Robinson (who became the first African American to play major league baseball around the same time).
Wherever it came from, Woody Strode's courtroom scene made an otherwise mediocre film memorable.
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