Escape From Fort Bravo [DVD] [1953]

This reviewer (who knew John Sturges) finds himself almost glad that the director isn't here to see the level of disrespect with which Escape From Fort Bravo has been treated with on the Warner Home Video DVD. Not that all of it is the fault of Warner Home Video -- some of the blame for this movie not being more obviously a candidate for special treatment lies with MGM, the studio that originally made the picture; but rather than rescuing a deserving movie, Warner Home Video has missed an opportunity, and managed to heap more neglect upon it. Sturges was a contract director at the time of the film's production, and had just begun to get really good within that somewhat limited role -- Mystery Street and The People Against O'Hara were already to his credit, crime pictures that showed a certain directorial flair, if not quite the finely-honed visual/thematic point that, say Anthony Mann was bringing to such subjects during the same period; but Sturges was always at his best in action settings, especially outdoor subjects, and Escape From Fort Bravo gave him the chance to work in both, with a tough script and the right cast -- especially William Holden and John Forsythe, and a young John Lupton (who probably got his lead role in the series Broken Arrow from his work in this film) -- and in color. But the color was a major part of the rub where this movie was concerned. MGM's bottom line was suffering terribly at the start of the 1950's, from the intrusion of television on their audience and also the loss of their theater chain; and in their quest to cut corners, the studio's management decided to try making its color films using a German-based process called Anscocolor. It seemed promising at first, as a cheaper alternative to Eastmancolor, and MGM went so far as to shoot Kiss Me Kate (1953), no less, in Anscocolor. But it turned out that Anscocolor didn't produce reliably lustrous results, and the color would also fade over time. As a major musical, Kiss Me Kate was the subject of extensive restoration in the 1990's, and it still looks gorgeous in the twenty-first century (even when shown in 3-D); but Escape From Fort Bravo hasn't been as lucky and isn't ever likely to be -- unless it happened to have been directed by John Ford, most Civil War and cavalry movies (of which this is both) just don't attract the same kind of interest as a major Cole Porter musical. So we have what we have on this DVD, a very uneven image, suitable letterboxed to the non-anamorphic aspect ratio of 1.85-to-1, but with very unstable color and clarity. All of the skin tones look the same, except when they get washed out in some shots, and there a large amount of grain that works its way into the picture as is especially obtrusive on any decent-sized monitor; and even the Union Army blue varies significantly in tone and density from shot to shot. So the color was a flaw going in -- but it doesn't change the fact that this is a flawed but great cavalry/Civil War drama, which Sturges and company elevate beyond the limitations of its script. Indeed, elements of the story anticipate Sam Peckinpah's Major Dundee (1965), another movie that took decades to receive the respect it deserved (though it did finally receive it). Warner Home Video has given it only a fair transfer, but also a paltry 10 chapter markers (which can't even be accessed on the menu -- they're not labeled), plus the original trailer (which is a peculiarly flaccid and unexciting mess -- you almost get the feeling someone at MGM was trying to sabotage this picture). But this is a movie that could easily have rated a commentary track -- Warner Home Video has budgeted the latter for far lesser movies, including The Giant Behemoth -- and begs for one, in terms of its cast and subject and director. Instead, they've almost dumped it on the market on the cheap, in this stripped down edition that will do little to enhance the reputation of the picture or anyone associated with it or, indeed, Warner Home Video.
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Special Features

  • Theatrical trailer


Escape from Fort Bravo
A nail-biting Indian deadlock remains the climax of this otherwise overly verbose Western filmed in M-G-M's then-new Ansco colors (forerunner of Eastmancolor). After ruthlessly dragging an escaped prisoner through the Arizona desert, Union Army Captain Roper (William Holden) suffers rebuke from both the rebel prisoners and his commanding officer (Carl Benton Reid). Things settles down a bit with the arrival of Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker), with whom Roper falls in love. But Carla proves to be a Confederate spy assigned to engender the escape of Captain Marsh (John Forsythe), the Rebel leader. The plan succeeds to a point but the escapees are hunted down by Roper and Lieutenant Beecher (Richard Anderson). Returning to Fort Bravo with his prisoners, Roper and his captives ride right into a Mescalero Apache hunting party. Filmed on location at California's Death Valley, Escape from Fort Bravo was co-written by Australian-born actor Michael Pate. ~ Hans J. Wollstein, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • William Holden
    William Holden - Capt. Roper
  • Eleanor Parker
    Eleanor Parker - Carla Forester
  • John Forsythe
    John Forsythe - Capt. John Marsh
  • William Demarest
    William Demarest - Campbell
  • William Campbell
    William Campbell - Cabot Young
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