The Jayhawkers! (1959)
Director: Melvin Frank.
Starring: Jeff Chandler (Luke Darcy), Fess Parker (Cam Bleeker), Nicole Maurey (Jeanne Dubois), Henry Silva (Lordan), Herbert Rudley (Gov. William Clayton), Frank DeKova (Evans), Don Megowan (China), Leo Gordon (Jake Barton), Shari Lee Bernath (Marthe DuBois), Jimmy Carter (Paul DuBois), Renata Vanni (Indian Woman), Berel Firestone (Jayhawker), Al Wyatt (Jayhawker), Charles Bail (Jayhawker), Ned Glass (Storekeeper).
a government agent infiltrates the vigilante group the Jayhawkers (bushwhackers were pro-South and Jayhawkers were pro-union, non-military guerilla raiders)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Territory of Kansas. Shortly before the Civil War.
An exhausted Cam Bleeker falls off his horse. He crawls over to get some water to drink from a pond. From what's written on the back of his shirt he appears to be an escaped convict. It says "Territory of Kansas". He rides to an isolated farmhouse. He opens the door and calls out the name of a woman, but the woman in the cabin looks frightened. Cam falls to the floor. The woman's boy and girl come in and want to know who the man is, but the woman has never seen him before. She and the children get the man into bed. When she looks at the back of his shirt she can tell he is a convict.
When Cam wakes up the woman tells him her name, Jeanne Dubois. Cam wants to know where his wife is. She explains that she bought the place six months ago. She then points out a grave that Cam sees through the window. He tells Jeanne that his wife ran off with a man and wants to know his name. Jeanne says that she tried to find out in the four days he was sleeping, but no luck. She asks Cam if he would stay on at the farm. She says she has great need of him. Cam says the land belongs to him, but she explains that she and her husband bought the land and cabin legally. Jeanne explains to Cam that in the town of Knight's Crossing they have put up notice of a reward for him, a very sizeable reward.
Two men come riding up to the cabin. Jeanne has Cam use a trap door to gain access to the cellar. It's the sheriff and his deputy asking for Cam Bleeker. She says she has not seen him. But the dog pulls out Cam's prison shirt from a hutch. The lawmen see it. They leave, but as soon as they are outside they tell each other that Bleeker's there. She let's him out of the cellar. He tells her thanks and says that this puts him in her debt. He goes over to the fireplace and removes some stones to get to his pistol and holster. He asks where her husband is. Missouri Red Legs raided their place and killed her husband. They had come from France. The raiders asked him how he felt about slavery. He was slow to answer so they shot him dead.
The two children only speak French, so Cam starts to teach them English, but it's improper country English. The cavalry arrive at the homestead and spread out around the cabin. The officer in charge tells Bleeker to come out before one of the children get hurt. He gives his pistol to Jeanne and comes out with his hands raised. The cavalry take him to town to speak with the Governor, who is a military officer. The Governor goes over Cam's record. He formed a unit, known as Bleeker's Brigade, of all Kansas men to fight in the Mexican-American War. Back from the war he tried to make a go of it, but then the struggle for Kansas began and there were raids. Bleeker formed a vigilante group and went on several raids in which people were killed. The Governor offers Bleeker a fresh star with a clean record. He want a man named Luke Darcy, leader of the Jayhawkers. Darcy is trying to grab all of Kansas piece by piece and place it all under himself.
The Governor wants to hang Luke Darcy. He tells Bleeker to join Darcy's group, become a Jayhawker. Bleeker refuses, so the Governor tells him the identity of the man who took his wife in a raid, made love to her, then left her to die in a ditch of pneumonia. It was Luke Darcy. Now Bleeker wants to get Luke Darcy. He starts immediately on the chase. He rides back to the cabin to retrieve his pistol. Jeanne comes out to ask if he is going to kill the man who took his wife. He says, yes. She tells him he has no right to execute a man and he says he does. He leaves.
Vigilantes are hanging two men and start to hang a third, when Bleeker intervenes at gunpoint. He saves the third man and they ride away from the vigilantes. Bleeker asks the man who he knows as Jake why he is wearing the red leggings of a Missouri Red Leg. Jake explains he works for Darcy. Bleeker demands Jake take him to Darcy. Jake says Darcy will kill him if he does, but Bleeker threatens the man with violence if he doesn't take him. The two men ride out to Darcy's place.
Darcy and his Jayhawkers have just taken over a town. Darcy is dressed like a fancy gambler in a suit. He sits as a judge listening to the complaint of a man. The defendant is accused of busting up the man's place and causing $300 dollars in damages. The accused says he was drunk. Darcy has his men take the man out of town to execute him. The town officials think the sentence too harsh, but Darcy insists his men will forfeit their lives if they break their promise to him to behave themselves.
Darcy wants to kill Jake for bringing a stranger to town. Bleeker steps in and says it wasn't Jake's fault. So Darcy tells his hit man Lordan to take Bleeker out. But Bleeker throws a whiskey bottle and hits the fellow in his gun arm shoulder knocking him down. Bleeker speaks with Darcy to let him join the outfit. The hit man picks up a whiskey bottle to throw at Bleeker, put Darcy stops him. He tells Bleeker that Lordan will have to kill him some day for humiliating him in front of the men. Darcy agrees to let Bleeker join.
The condemned man escaped his captors. He gets on the roof of the saloon and starts to kill Darcy with a rifle. Bleeker shoots the man in the left shoulder before he can assassinate Darcy. Darcy tells Lordan that Bleeker is a good man, "almost too good to be true." He tells Lordan to go back to where Bleeker came from and find out what he really lost.
The small army of Jayhawkers rides out. They cut down the two hanged Red Legs and bury them. They then ride to their mountain hide out protected by armed guards watching from the heights. Darcy takes Bleeker to his fancy office. He explains that he takes the towns one by one and then get the people on his side. Darcy has some of his men dress as Red Legs and has them do dastardly deeds. Then he comes with his Jayhawkers to drive the Red Legs away. The grateful townspeople then think that Darcy is a hero. He will repeat the process until he is strong enough to take the town of Abilene. Take Abilene, he says, and you take the whole territory of Kansas.
Lordan comes up to speak with Jeanne Dubois. He says he's a friend of Cam's. She asks him if he is o.k. Yes, he's o.k. He then asks her about Bleeker and his wife. She gets wise to him and shuts up. He then decides to rape her. She runs away but he follows. She gets mad and says Bleeker will kill him like he will kill Darcy. Lordan tells her she did him a big favor and says he will come back for her and start up where he left off.
Lordan rides in to tell Darcy about Bleeker. Bleeker is then told to report to Darcy. Darcy starts talking about Bleeker's wife. He puts a loaded pistol on his desk so Bleeker can pick it up and shoot him. He says he makes no excuses for who he is and what he's done. Darcy says that Bleeker's wife was no saint. She was a lonely girl who needed to be told she was beautiful. Bleeeker asks him if his wife ever told him she loved him. Darcy says yes. Bleeker leaves.
The pretend Red Legs raid Lynbrook, Kansas and do a lot of damage. Then Darcy and his men come in and chase them out. Darcy checks off Lynbrook on his map. The next town is Watsonville. Then they hit Farnol. But this time the townspeople wait in ambush for the Red Legs. Darcy and his "Red Legs" have to get out of town fast, but Darcy is wounded and falls from his horse. He is saved by Bleeker who picks him up and places him behind him on his horse. They ride out.
In camp Bleeker takes the bullet out of Darcy's right arm. Darcy asks the name of the next town they hit. It will be Knight's Crossing where Bleeker lived at one time. Darcy asks him if he would like to sit out this one. Bleeker says: "It's just another town." He then tells Darcy that he wants to be gone a day to do some personal business. Darcy lets him go, but sends Lordan after him to watch where Bleeker goes.
Bleeker goes one way, but Lordan wants to go into the town of Knight's Crossing. Bleeker arrives to see Jeanne. She asks him if he killed Luke Darcy and he tells her no. Jeanne is so relieved and happy. Lordan and Jake go into see the Marshall of the town to turn Bleeker in for the reward. The Marshall and his posse ride out to get Bleeker. Then Lordan and Jake take off.
Bleeker gives Jeanne some money so she will get out of town for awhile. There is going to be big trouble and he wants her and her children to be safe. He tells her that he made a deal to get Darcy, but now he realizes he can't hate the man. He has some big ideas that would be good for the people of Kansas. Jeanne is very skeptical. She was in the France after the mess caused by the dictator Napoleon and she knows about egomaniacal men. She cries that Cam is becoming just as rotten as Darcy is. He kisses her passionately. The dog barks warning them that the posse is coming. Bleeker rides away and goes to the camp.
The men are very happy to see Bleeker alive. They heard the hanging party had gotten him. Darcy wants to know who told the Marshall about Bleeker, because Bleeker says he never set foot in town and no one knew where he was except the two men who trailed him. Jake is brought in and he tells Darcy and Bleeker that it was all Lordan's idea. Lordan pulls his gun and almost kills Darcy. He then hits Jake in the stomach and gets away. Bleeker shoots at him but misses. Darcy kills Jake and Bleeker tells him he shouldn't have. It was all Lordan's idea and poor dumb Jake went along for the ride. Darcy tells Bleeker that he feels toward Bleeker what he felt toward his kid brother.
The "Red Legs" charge into town. They rob the bank. One man steals the teacher away. Bleeker makes him return the teacher to her students. His bandana slips and Jeanne's little girl recognizes him. She runs after him and gets run over by the horses of the bandits. He picks up the little girl and takes her to Jeanne. He tells Jeanne that she should have left. Jeanne looks at his red leggings and gets very angry. Yes, if they had left, then maybe some other woman's innocent little girl would be run over and killed. She pounds his chest and calls him a murderer. He says she's right and from now on it's going to be her way. He promises her.
In a wagon Bleeker and Jeanne take the little girl to the doctor in Abilene. A stranger tells Bleeker that it's Round-Up Day in Abilene. A lot of people have come in town for the big event. There will be a lot of money flowing in Abilene. The little girl will live, but the doctor is not sure the little girl will ever walk. Bleeker says she'll walk. He wants Jeanne and the kids to rent a house in Abilene. He is going to Topeka to talk to the Territorial Governor.
Bleeker tells the Governor that he will set a trap in Abilene for Darcy. A half a million dollars will be coming in on the train at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Governor can fill the train with federal troops and nab Darcy at the station. The Governor wonders if Bleeker is trying to set a trap for him. Bleeker says he is just going to have to trust him on this.
Back at the camp Bleeker supervises the men placing the rifles onto a wagon. He is told to go in to see Darcy. Darcy wants to know why Bleeker is having the men place the rifles in a hay wagon. Bleeker explains about Round-Up Day. He sits down for breakfast with Darcy and tells him all about his plans for Abilene.
The next day Bleeker and one of Darcy's men come into town. They hide the rifles in the hay within the barn next to the house that Jeanne rented in Abilene. He then sends the man and the wagon back to Darcy. Darcy will have to be in the house for one day and a night. Jeanne doesn't like the idea, but will go along with the plan. She goes to Topeka by train to talk to the Governor. He confirms with her the details of the plan.
Heading back to Abilene by train, Lordan happens to see her. He asks the station master about the woman and he says he doesn't know her, but she must be important because she just came back from seeing the Governor. Meanwhile, Darcy is snuck into town. When Jeanne comes back to see Bleeker she almost spills the beans as she starts talking before realizing that Darcy is now with Bleeker. Luckily Bleeker is able to cover for her as she is stunned by the surprise.
In Topeka the soldiers load onto the train headed for Abilene. Lordan watches for awhile and then gets on his horse to ride to Abilene.
In Abilene Darcy thanks Bleeker and Jeanne for devising and carrying out the plan. Darcy and his men start taking over the town grabbing the Marshall, the telegram operator and key military men. The people gather in the church. Darcy tells them that he has come to save the town. They will create a new, better life for the town and its people. He tells them to go home now. They will meet later at night. Lordan arrives in town. Darcy tells Bleeker and Jeanne to take the kids and get out of town. Start a new life elsewhere. Bleeker is surprised. He tells Jeanne: "He let me go." Bleeker decides he doesn't want to see Darcy hang. He goes looking for him in the saloon. He's there all right, but he's there with Lordan. Two of Darcy's men disarm Bleeker. News arrives that the soldiers have arrived and are all over town. Darcy sends his men out to fight their way out. He then decides to fight Bleeker man-to-man with his fists. He slaps Bleeker. Bleeker tells him: "Get out of here Darcy." But Darcy keeps slapping him. Bleeker starts fighting back. He defeats Darcy. The army has set up a gallows for Darcy. Bleeker gives Darcy his gun and hostler and tells him to put it on. They are going to shoot it out. Darcy draws and fires but misses and Bleeker kills him.
"Why did you cross me Bleeker?" asks the Governor. Bleeker answers: "I don't know. All I know is I couldn't let him hang." Bleeker turns himself over to the Governor, but the Governor lets him go. Two soldiers come out of the saloon dragging the body of Darcy. Bleeker demands that the soldiers carry him and the Governor nods in agreement. They carry Darcy's body. Bleeker walks with Jeanne.
Good movie. It keeps your interest. But in the the film there is what I hate about Hollywood and the United States. Not in the entire movie is slavery even mentioned. Bloody Kansas was all about slavery. It was the prequel to the American Civil War. But Hollywood and America don't want to mention that. They might get the South mad at them or the North thinking it is too political of a movie. So they make the bad man into a Napoleonic figure that doesn't care at all about slavery or non-slavery. He just wants to capture all of Kansas for his own personal kingdom. Men with strong convictions like John Brown and his family fought in Bloody Kansas because it was the prequel to the Civil War. There were slavery forces and non-slavery forces fighting it out to the death. And yet Hollywood takes this very serious topic (even using the term Jayhawkers referring to one group of the fighters) and totally avoids it. History here is so sanitized politically that is a betrayal to everyone who cares about politics and history. And it's a betrayal of the title of the movie. The movie promises history with this title and gives us nothing but pabulum. Ask yourselves what kind of country is the United States when it was, and to a very real extent still is, too scared to take a clear stance even against slavery?
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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