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Laramie Movie Scope:
The Undefeated

Post-Civil War western reconciles feud between blue and gray

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(1969) Upon receiving word of Gen Lee's surrender to Gen Grant three days earlier, Col John Henry Thomas (John Wayne), having just led his Union cavalry unit in the West against a group of Confederates, approaches the rebels under a flag of truce to share the news, only to discover they already knew but nonetheless continued fighting for their lost cause.

In the East after the surrender, Col James Langdon (Rock Hudson) of the Confederate Army prepares to lead his soldiers and their families ("homeless pilgrims") 700 miles through Yankee-occupied territory and across the Rio Grande into Mexico with arms and ammunition to meet with representatives of Emperor Maximilian in Durango before being escorted to Mexico City.

But before leaving Langdon Hall Plantation, he's confronted by Thad Benedict, a carpetbagger offering 60¢ per acre before taxes take away the property. "This house is not for sale," says the proud Southerner. "All right, who's gonna pick your cotton, and who's gonna plow up all that bottomland out there?" questions Jimmy Collins, a Negro accompanying Benedict: "And who's gonna chop the wood when it gets cold?" After dispatching the irksome pair, Col Langdon sets fire to his mansion and its buildings.

Resigning his commission, declaring that after three years only ten men of the 75 who enlisted with him survived the conflict, John Henry Thomas heads off with his cavalrymen to round up wild horses in the Arizona and New Mexico territories to sell a herd to the US Army.

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen from James Lee Barrett's screenplay, based on a story by Stanley L. Hough taken from Lewis B. Patton's novel, this post-Civil War western (score composed and conducted by Hugo Montenegro) reconciles the prejudices and animosities between blue and gray while a white girl falls in love with red Indian. A historical error occurs when one of Thomas's men asks another writing a letter: "Where do you think you're gonna mail that, Solomon?" "There's a Pony Express, ain't there? Somewhere." Not in 1865 since the Pony Express discontinued its brief existence in November 1861.

At the Pedro Flats stage depot, Thomas finds Monsieur Pierre Petain and Señor Luis Escodero, representatives of Emperor Maximilian, waiting with an offer to purchase at top dollar his entire herd of 3,000 horses, sight unseen, which he declines until the stagecoach arrives and he hears Giles and Parker's less generous offer on behalf of the US Army for only 500 horses. "You'll take 'em all or none," Thomas replies before accepting the earlier deal. "You're selling horses to Maximilian in preference to your own country's army?" Giles questions. "No, I'm selling horses for $35 in preference to 25. You two figured to make $10 a head."

After evading a small company of US Cavalry with Giles demanding Thomas be stopped from crossing into Mexico with his horses, the former Union officer answers an inquiry from one of his men: "Trouble? Well, let's see. We got Maximilian on one hand and Juarez on the other and bandits in between. On top of that, we're Americans in Mexico taking a cavy of horses to a very unpopular government. Why should we expect trouble?"

After Thomas's adopted son Blue Boy (Roman Gabriel), a full-blooded Cherokee, espies a band of 40 to 60 bandits shadowing a wagon train of people, including women and children, the two men ride to warn Langdon's outfit that the desperadoes are after their gold, horses, wagons, and women. Attired in their butternut uniforms and displaying the Confederate battle flag, Col Langdon and his men at first grudgingly appreciate the forewarning but soon discover that this Yankee and his Indian companion deserve their complete respect.

Thomas makes acquaintance with James's sister-in-law, Ann Langdon (Marian McCargo), a widow whose husband had been killed at Shiloh where Thomas had fought - to whom he advises, "Always remember, windage and elevation" when firing a rifle - along with James's wife Margaret (Lee Meriwether); Blue Boy catches the eye of James's 16-year-old daughter Charlotte (Melissa Newman), whose affections Bubba Wilkes has been trying to win.

When the Confederates walk into a trap, Thomas concludes: "Looks like we got ourselves mixed up in somebody else's war."

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2012 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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