Director: Budd Boetticher
Starring: Rock Hudson (L t. Lance Caldwell), Barbara Hale (Revere Muldoon), Anthony Quinn (Osceola / John Powell), Richard Carlson (Maj. Harlan Degan), Hugh O'Brian (Kajeck), Russell Johnson (Lt. Hamilton), Lee Marvin (Sgt. Magruder), Ralph Moody (Kulak), Fay Roope (Col. Zachary Taylor), James Best (Cpl. Gerard), John Daheim (Scott).
Rock Hudson as cavalry officer trying to help the Seminole Indians stay free of the white man's yoke
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
This is the story of the Seminole Indians and their chief Osceola.
Fort King. Headquarters of the US Army, Florida Territory. 1835.
Colonel Zachary Taylor calls the court-martial to order. Second Lt. Lance Caldwell is charged with disobedience of orders, deliberate insubordination and murder. Caldwell pleads not guilty. He faces a possible death sentence. He takes a seat and tells the court marital judges what happened.
Flashback.He was circling the Everglades about ten miles from Fort King. He had just finished four years at West Point and now he is returning to where he grew up. As he rides along an Indian brave jumps down from a tree knocking Caldwell to the ground. The two men fight. Then several shots are heard and the Indian retreats, jumping into the nearby water to escape.
Caldwell rides in the direction of the shots. He arrives at a ranch just as the Seminoles ride away. Caldwell tells the rancher that it is hard to believe that the Seminoles are on the war path. The rancher tells him that the Seminoles stole some army horses and now they are attacking ranchers in the area.
Caldwell reports to Major Degan at Fort King. His uniform is dirty because of the fight he was in. Degan tells the newcomer to change into a clean uniform and then come back.
Caldwell returns in a clean uniform. Now he is a bit weary of Degan. But this time heís friendly, at least on the surface. Caldwell reports that he was attacked by a Seminole. He says that the Seminoles were always so peaceful. Degan tells him that times have changed.
Degan shows Caldwell a map on the wall and says that the Cherokees, Choctaws and the Seminoles have been obstacles to the white settlement of Florida. The Cherokees and Choctaws have agreed to go west. Only the Seminoles still defy the Majorís orders to go west. He attributes this to the existence of a powerful leader named Osceola.
Degan says he is going to flush out the Seminoles. The days of talking are over. He then explains the reasons for his strictness. He says he was number one in his class at West Point. He adds: "I live by the books, I fight by the books and I run this command by the books."
He says Caldwell was sent here for scouting duty. Caldwell will be assigned to patrolling action until the time that Degan is ready to move against the Seminoles.
After Caldwell leaves, Degan calls in Sergeant Magruder. He tells the Sergeant that he fears the new officer may like the Seminoles a little too well. Degan orders the Sergeant to watch Caldwell closely and report his movements back to him.
Caldwell rides over to Muldoonís Trading Post. He knocks on the door and someone sticks a gun barrel out from a slot. Caldwell puts his face close to the slot so his face can be seen. He is recognized and let in. Itís old Matty Sue and she is very glad to see Caldwell. She goes and gets Revere Muldoon. She comes out and greets Caldwell warmly.
He tells Revere that the army is going in after the Seminoles. Degan says itís all Osceolaís fault. It doesnít look good for the Seminoles. After giving her the information, he asks her if she has had a change of mind toward him. Revere says they were really happy when the three of them were together. The other person is John, who is half Seminole and half white. John just suddenly disappeared when the day came to go to West Point. He simply didnít show up. Caldwell says he lost his best friend that day. Revere says she doesnít know where John is. She adds that she wants to get to know Lance again. As Caldwell prepares to leave, she asks him when will she see him again? He says he will see her every time he has some time off.
Revere hurries off in a canoe to tell the Seminoles. When she arrives at the camp she is met by the old man Kulak and the other villagers. Kulakís son Kajeck tells Revere that he does not trust her. But his father does, so he takes her to see Osceola.
When Osceola is alone with Revere, they hug and kiss. Osceola is John. Revere explains that she talked to Second Lieutenant Lance Caldwell and he told her that army is coming after the Seminoles. Osceola says he has to meet with the Cherokee renegades first, but after that he wants to meet with Caldwell. He also wants Revere to arrange the meeting.
Meeting with his council Osceola tells them that if there is a war, the goods they have stolen are not enough. Osceola wants to seek a peaceful solution. He is opposed by Kajeck, but the hot head is overruled.
After the meeting Revere says she will spend the night with him and leave in the morning. They kiss again, but Osceola says that she really belongs to Lance Caldwell. He says Lance is good and he has accomplished a lot. Osceola asks Revere would her people accept him as her husband? Probably not. So Revere should give Lance a chance before she makes her choice between Lance and him. Revere consents to this.
Lance is on patrol with about eight soldiers. A scout comes back to tell the officer that the Indians are just ahead. They travel toward the Indians. A shot rings out. The soldiers arrive just after the shot rang out. The lone soldier there reports that there were four Seminoles there and he shot one of them. The rest ran away.
Caldwell does not believe his story. Four Seminoles would have easily killed one soldier. He conjectures that he killed the one Indian as the Indians were leaving the location. He brow beats the soldier until he admits the truth of Caldwellís analysis. Sgt. Magruder tells Caldwell to go easy on the soldier. Heís new. Caldwell looks at the dead body. The Indian was Kulak.
Osceola sends Revere off to Fort King. She is to report back to him with Caldwell.
Back at Fort King Degan balls out Caldwell. He believes that Caldwall ram-rodded Trooper Taft. Degan says: "I will not have any troopers in my command taken to task for killing hostiles." After Caldwell leaves, Degan calls in Sgt. Smiley to take a letter. The letter is to the Adjutant General and it is about the conduct of Second Lieutenant Lance Caldwell.
Degan speaks with his officers and non-commissioned officers. He says that Osceola cannot sustain a long campaign. Thatís why heís going to move against the Seminoles with a small detachment immediately. He plans a surprise attack before the renegades and other tribes can join with Osceola.
Caldwell speaks up saying that this is not the season to go after the Seminoles. And he suggests that the men need special drilling for swamp fighting. Degan gets Caldwell to admit that however difficult, the task is not an impossible one. He tells the group to have everyone bring supplies enough for seven days. He dismisses the men, but has Caldwell remain.
Degan is really mad at Caldwell. How dare he question his plans in front of the men? Caldwell says he did try to talk to him in private, but the idea was dismissed. He tells Degan that the rains will come soon and then the Seminoles will have to move to higher ground. Then the army can get at them much more easily.
Sgt. Magruder comes to speak with Caldwell. He says that Major Degan has a fine military record. And, he says, Caldwell must admit that he has given the Major cause for alarm.
The next day Degan and Caldwell have the 30 or so men move out. A little after the troopers leave, Revere arrives asking for Caldwell. She just missed him says the officer of the guard. He notices from the brand on the horse that Revere is riding that it is one of the US Army horses stolen by the Seminoles.
Foolishly, the major has brought a large wagon carrying supplies with them and a cannon. Soon they have to release the horses and have the troopers themselves push and pull the wagon. This proves to be very difficult and the men soon become exhausted from the effort. Itís made worse deep in the swamp as in many sections they have to remove obstacles out of the way of the wagon. Corporal Gerard gets so tired that he falls exhausted. Suddenly a wagon wheel roles over his arm, breaking it. The Corporal screams in pain. Now they have to put the Corporal on the wagon making for more weight to move.
At night the men clean their weapons and bed down. Caldwell tells Degan that they have about another dayís journey before they will reach the camp of the Seminoles. Degan figures he can still surprise the Seminoles. About Indians, he tells Caldwell: "Iím an old hand at killing them."
The corporal has developed a bad fever. Caldwell asks permission for the men to loosen their collars, but Degan denies the request. The men push along and right into quick sand. Degan orders Caldwell to save the cannon. Caldwell starts to get a rope around the cannon, but when the wagon goes completely under water taking the Corporal with it, Caldwell jumps in to save the man. Degan is furious at Caldwell. He was supposed to save the cannon not one man.
Two soldiers have to carry the Corporal on a stretcher. Degan soon becomes exhausted and has to take a rest. During the rest break, the Corporal panics and starts running and screaming. Degan chases and catches him. He has to sock the crazed man to knock him out and quiet him. He tells Caldwell that the man is crazy. He orders Caldwell to bind and gag him. When he is alone, Degan asks: "How do you fight a swamp?"
The troopers travel at night. Magruder scouts the forward area. He comes back saying they found the Seminole camp. The troopers walk and then crawl to get a close look at the camp. It seems the Seminoles are having some type of pow-wow. Degan says they will wait until the Seminoles bed down for the night and then they will wipe them out.
When all the noise dies down, the troopers slowly advance. When they get very close, Degan gives the order to attack. The men descends on the sleeping men and bayonet them in their beds. But the men quickly realize that what they were bayoneting were just more blankets under the main covering blankets.
The men start congregating in the middle of the village. Degan shouts: "Theyíve run away! Why donít you come back and fight?" Just then Degan is hit with an arrow to the chest. The Seminoles in hiding use this as the sign to attack. Their arrows start taking out man after man. Other troopers are clubbed to death. Some of the men, including Degan, are able to get away by retreating over a creek. Caldwell is shot with an arrow in the arm and another in the chest. The Seminoles are about to club him to death in the river, when Osceola jumps in to save Caldwell.
The few surviving troopers are amazed that they spared Caldwell. But then they start thinking about Caldwell possibly being a traitor.
The Seminoles treat Caldwellís wounds. He asks why has he been spared? The chief speaks. It takes a while for Caldwell to realize that the Chief of the Seminoles, Osceola, is none other than his childhood friend John. Osceola asks him: "Why didnít you listen to Revere?" Caldwell says he saw her only once and she told him nothing. Then Caldwell realizes that Osceola and Revere are a couple.
Revere comes into see Major Degan, at his request. He questions her about her relations with the Seminoles. She admits that she has visited their camp. Then Degan asks her about her having possession of stolen property ó the US Army horse. He accuses both Caldwell and her of dealing with the enemy.
Sgt. Magruder comes in and tells Revere that the Seminoles spared Caldwell. And he was the only trooper that was spared. Now Degan tells Revere that he wants her to go to Osceola and asks him to come in under a flag of truce to talk.
Looking very pretty Revere arrives at the Seminole camp. She tells Osceola that she failed him. And she says the army has made an offer of peace. Revere sees Caldwell and he tells her that he should have died. She tells him that she missed him by less than an hour. Caldwell says now the army thinks heís a traitor. "Iíd be better off dead."
The next morning Osceola, Revere and Caldwell go to Fort King. Kajeck says the white men will only deceive Osceola. They do not want peace, they want to destroy the Seminoles.
Accompanied by Caldwell, Osceola comes into the fort under a white flag of truce. Degan and Osceola talk together. A little while later a trooper tells Caldwell that Degan had Osceola beaten and then thrown into the pit. Caldwell runs to the pit and climbs in to talk with Osceola. Osceola says he is hurt badly.
A furious Caldwell goes in to tell Major Degan that he brought Osceola in under a flag of truce. Degan doesnít care. He reminds Caldwell that a whole patrol of men were wiped out by the Seminoles. And this is Deganís only military defeat.
Caldwell says that Osceola came in because of him and if Degan would just show Osceola the middle road, heíll accept. Degan tells Caldwell that he is not fit to be an officer. Caldwell responds: "Youíre sick Major, mighty sick!"
Degan says he will court-martial Caldwell. He then confines Caldwell to his quarters. In his quarters, Caldwell notices that the rainy season has started.
At night Kajeck comes in to kill Osceola, because he thinks Osceola is too weak to fight the whites. Kajeck kills at sentry guarding the pit. Sgt. McGruder tells Caldwell that he better get out there or else Osceola might be dead soon. (He is probably referring to the water collecting at the bottom of the pit.)
Kajeck grabs a ladder and puts it down into the pit. He climbs down and prepares to stab Osceola to death. Caldwell jumps on Kajeck and the two men start fighting. Despite being very weak, Osceola tries to help Caldwell. Kajeck knocks out Osceola with one blow to the face. Osceola falls face down into the water. Then Caldwell is able to knock out Kajeck with a blow to his face. Caldwell rushes over to save Osceola but it is too late. He has already drowned.
The guards arrive. They see Osceola dead and Caldwell alive and conclude that Caldwell killed Osceola. (They canít see Kajeck because he is in the dark corner knocked out.)
Back to the present.The court asks Caldwell if he can produce the Indian that killed Osceola. No he canít. A number of witnesses testify against Caldwell, including Degan. So the court finds Caldwell guilty. Caldwell will face a firing squad.
The next morning Caldwell is brought in front of a firing squad. Col. Taylor cuts off Caldwellís epaulets from his uniform. The firing squad starts preparing to fire when they realize that the Seminoles have surrounded the entire fort. Kajeck and Revere come through the gate. The new Seminole chief says that he has come for the body of Osceola. He tells everyone that it was he who killed Osceola: "He was too weak." But he says: "No man, red or white, shall carry my burden."
Zachory Taylor tells Caldwell that he is free and that he will now investigate Major Dade.
The Seminoles leave with the body of Osceola. Taylor says perhaps they are seeing the beginning of a new way of life. Caldwell goes over to Revere. She says Osceola was a great man. Caldwell offers his arm to Revere to escort her away and she takes his arm.
Pretty good movie. The history part is not good, but it was an interesting story. For instance, Osceola (born 1804) was captured at Fort Payton and was imprisoned at Fort Marion (aka Castillo de San Marcos), St. Augustine and from there to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina. Three months after his capture, Osceola died of malaria, January 20, 1838. Rock Hudson and Anthony Quinn were both good in the film. Perry Mason's secretary, Barbara Hale, was very lovely in the film
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
See "Distant Drums" for the historical background.
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