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Dark Command

USA 1940
produced by
Sol C. Siegel for Republic
directed by Raoul Walsh
starring John Wayne, Claire Trevor, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George Hayes (= Gabby Hayes), Porter Hall, Marjorie Main, Raymond Walburn, Joe Sawyer, Helen MacKellar, J.Farrell MacDonald, Trevor Bardette, Stanley Blystone, Al Bridge, Mildred Gover, Harry Cording, Dick Rich, Tom London, Jack Rockwell, Wally Wales, Harry Whoods
screenplay by F.Hugh Herbert, Lionel Houser, Grover Jones, based on the novel by W.R.Burnett, adapted by Jan Fortune, music by Victor Young, second unit director: Joseph Kane, special process photography by Bud Thackery

review by
Mike Haberfelner

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Kansas, in the days before the Civil War (but not too many days before):

Doc Grunch (Gabby Hayes), dentist and barber, and his associate Bruce Seton (John Wayne) travel through the small town of Lawrence, when Bruce stumbles upon lovely Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor), daughter of bank owner Angus McCloud (Porter Hall), and decides he wants to stay and eventually marry her ... not that she is in the least bit impressed though by a simple cowhand who can neither read nor write and has no proper job. So Bruce takes evening classes with the local teacher Will Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon) and applies for the job of Marshall of Lawrence. Problem is of course that Cantrell wants to become Marshall as well - and he also wants to marry Mary.

It seems though that Bruce beats Cantrell to both, he defeats him in the election for Marshall, and he slowly wins Mary's affection and love. Cantrell is geting more and more desperate, so he starts a sideline in slave-trading and gun-running, and he and his gang are way too slick to ever being caught by the Marshall and his men, even though Bruce before long gets a good idea that Cantrell is behind everything.

Then though, Mary's young hothead brother Fletch (Roy Rogers) shoots a man who has just insulted the South (the McCloud family is originally from the South) in front of witnesses, and Bruce has to arrest him and has to resist her pleas to set him free or help him escape ... and ultimately it seems to be the gallows for Fletch. Now though, Cantrell sees his big chance, as he, a learned lawyer, passionately defends Fletch in court - and he uses his gang to intimidate the members of the jury ... and ultimately and seemingly against all odds, Fletch is pronounced innocent, which makes him a free man and makes Mary agree to become Cantrell's wife ...

Then the Civil War breaks out, and Kansas is somehow caught between the lines ... and Cantrell finds a new business venture for himself and his men: Dressed in uniforms of the Confederate army, Cantrell and gang are pillaging villages all over Kansas, with Marshall Bruce and his posse desperatly and unsuccessfully trying to catch up with them. At home though, Cantrell still poses not only as a respectable citizen but also as a real officer of the Southern army, something even his wife Mary believes, so she pays no mind in him being away for weeks on end. Eventually, even Fletch joins Cantrell's gang, believing he's with the real Southern army ...

Then though public opinion shifts in Lawrence, and suddenly the populace believes it's no longer safe to have their money deposited in McCloud's bank, simply because he is a Southener, which eventually leads to a turmoil during which McCloud is shot, and Bruce only just saves Mary from a similar fate.

Bruce and Mary both decide to leave Lawrence for good, she to live with her husband and he to settle somewhere West where there is no civil war ... however, when he stops by Cantrell's place to drop off Mary, he gets a bit too nosey for Cantrell's comfort and is incarcrerated. Eventually though, Fletch and Mary both realize that Cantrell is actually no army officer at all but the leader of the pillagers, so they break Bruce free and make an escape - during which Fletch is wounded - which eventually brings them back to Lawrence ... just in time to warn the citizens about the approaching pillagers, to bring the women and children to safety, and call back the local vigilante army that is looking for the pillagers in quite another neck of the wood.

Ultimately, Lawrence goes up in flames, but the vigilantes defeat the pillagers and during the fight Cantrell is killed, and thanks to proper preparation, the losses among the citizens were kept to a minimum - and Doc Grunch has saved Fletch's life and regained his self esteem to be a surgeon once more.

All's well that ends well !


Despite being produced by (comparatively) small Republic Pictures, mainly a producer of B-pictures and serials, Dark Command is definitely an A-list feature, starring Claire Trevor and Republic contract player John Wayne, who have just been in Stagecoach, Wayne's breakthrough, and directed by A-list director Raoul Walsh. The outcome is what you'd come to expect, a Western/Civil War-drama on an epic scale as Walsh knew how to handle them, with fine performances of all of the involved, even Roy Rogers, Republic's newest singing cowboy star in an unique breakaway from leading man status.

The film though is not perfect, the script has a few shortomings and unnecessary shbplots that slow down the proceedings, but on the whole, it's quite solid Western entertainment.


review © by Mike Haberfelner


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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD