Film Review: Thunder Over the Plains,
Andre de Toth, 1953

"Its hard to catch a man who's got every man woman and child on his side, sir" Captain Porter (Randolph Scott)

"Square-jawed, indomitable, heroic, incorruptible Randolph Scott, than whom there's no more consistent a pillar of good in Hollywood, is familiarly propping up justice in 'Thunder Over the Plains,'" Boseley Crowther New York Times December 10 1953

Thunder Over the Plains

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Thunder Over the Plains, Andre de Toth, 1953

After the Civil War, until its re - admittance to the Union in 1870, Texas was under martial law. Land grabbers appropriated the land of "helpless" Texans. Those such as Ben Westman (Charles McGraw) fought back against these "carpet baggers", He is identified as a "robin hood" figure, a "kind of hero". The US Army is in the position of enforcing the law, despite the injustice of it. Randolph Scott is Captain Porter whose orders are to make sure that an auction of land takes place without incident, which he does to the letter, even though he is a southerner himself.

Subsequently Porter gets involved in a struggle between his duty as a soldier and his duty to himself and his community, not only in argument but in practical terms. This B movie is more complex than most, Porter becomes more and more entwined in championing the cause of justice. It has a well crafted script, with strong characterisation.The Balfour (Hugh Sanders), is the villain who is ruthless in despatching anyone who gets in his way, and exploiting those around him. A highly moral tale is strongly directed by de Toth, There is one particularly compelling sequence where an informer is spooked by various noises as he traverses a back alley. We witness and share his taut experience which is up there with the best in noir.

Scott is a little too advanced in years to be credible in the domestic scenes with his leading lady. The lack of chemistry is worsened by Phyllis Kirk hugging Scott more as her father rather than a husband and lover. But he puts in the usual great performance as the stoical upstanding and principled enforcer of the law, prepared to break the rules a little if the cause of justice makes it seem necessary. Personally I find him more compelling and convincing than Wayne and, for me, this performance has more strength than Wayne's in Rio Bravo, especially since in the latter Duke had some powerful co stars to feed off. Randy''s participation in a film is usually enough to make a film worth watching, and while this film is not in the same league as Scott's work with Budd Boetticher, I have no hesitation in recommending it.

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Chris Smallbone February 2009
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