Smoke Signal (1955)

Dana Andrews, Piper Laurie, Rex Reason, William Talman,
Smoke Signal is a movie starring Dana Andrews, Piper Laurie, and Rex Reason. A suspected cavalry deserter proves to be resourceful in helping the surviving members of a fort, flee Indians along a dangerous river.
  • 6.1 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • George F. Slavin, George W. George, Writer:
  • Jerry Hopper, Director:
  • Howard Christie, Producer:

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7 / 10

US Cavalry takes to the boats to escape the Indians

As a child in the 1960s I watched as many Westerns at the cinema as possible, and "Smoke Signal" was one of those that left a lasting impression. I had to wait many years for it to be shown on British TV, and then it wasn't quite as good as I'd remembered, but still quite novel, with the US Cavalry taking to the boats to escape Indians. Certainly the Grand Canyon made a spectacular background to much of the film, though with the white protagonists being confined to two small boats quite a lot of rather obvious back projection was necessary whenever one of them spoke.

Few films of the 1950s (or indeed of any period)dared omit a female from the cast, however contrived her inclusion might be, and here we have Piper Laurie visiting her father at one of the most primitive forts I've seen portrayed in a film at a time of tension with the Indians.

6 / 10

Every man has looked into his own soul-about time you did too.

Smoke Signal is directed by Jerry Hooper and co-written by George F. Slavin and George W. George. It stars Dana Andrews, Piper Laurie, William Talman, Rex Reason, Milburn Stone and Douglas Spencer. A Technicolor production that's primarily filmed at the Grand Canyon of The Colorado, cinematography is by Clifford Stein and musical supervision is provided by Joseph Gershenson.

After their fort is attacked by Indians a small group of survivors escape to the wild Colorado River. Their only hope of survival is to tackle the unforgiving stretch of water whilst holding off the pursuing enemy. But can they survive each other first?

Very much a mixed bag in terms of production, Smoke Signal is enjoyable enough for the undemanding Western fan. The story is a safe one as it focuses on a fractured group dynamic having to come together in order to survive the terrain and hold off the enemy pursuing them. The group consists of a pig-headed Captain (Talman), soldiers with prejudice, a pretty lady (Laurie), a trapper (Spencer) and a prisoner (Andrews), the latter of which is a despised "Indian Lover" because of him having been married to an Indian woman and therefore lived with the Ute tribe. Many human traits and qualities will be tested on this journey, the narrative strong enough to warrant the interest being held to see how it will all pan out.

The central idea and its themes has been done far better before in films like The Last Wagon and River of No Return, to name just two. However, Smoke Signal does feature unique location work on the Big Bend of the Colorado River (Stine doing fine photography work), and it's good to see a rarely seen tribe of Indians featured in a Western, the Utes. Bonus, too, is Talman (The Hitch-Hiker), who gets a good meaty part to show what he could give as an actor. Yet the makers give good stuff with one hand and take it away with the other. Great scenery is coupled with poor back projection shots, dummies are all too evident and Laurie is arguably the ultimate token lone female character in a Western. Even the normally reliable Andrews looks weary throughout, were it not for Talman and Spencer, this would fall into the badly acted drawer.

Western fans don't demand too much from a "B" production, but some of the efforts here are dangerously close to being "Z" grade. A shame because the strong story and the real location photography carry a high interest factor for the genre follower. A better director than Hooper would have certainly improved things, or at the least someone who could stitch things together more knowingly with tricks of the trade. The Pegasus DVD release has a decent print, not pristine, but clear in picture and colour levels. It's not one to recommend with great confidence to like minded Western fans, but there's enough in here to rank it just above average. 6/10

7 / 10

Twice a deserter

Smoke Signal stars Dana Andrews as an army deserter who left because his late commanding officer was hell bent on starting an Indian war which he did. When the Indians went on the offense Andrews deserted them and is now a prisoner.

Now the commander is dead and Andrews is a prisoner at his fort. But that might not mean much as most of the fort is dead and the Utes are closing in. There one chance for the survivors and it means heading down the Colorado River which as yet is unexplored, especially around that Grand Canyon area.

One woman the late commander's daughter Piper Laurie, one trapper Douglas Spencer and a bunch of soldiers led by Captain William Talman who has a special reason for hating Andrews as his brother was killed in a battle with the Utes. But it's pretty clear that Andrews is the one guy who really knows what he's doing.

The film is mostly the journey down the Colorado River where we see who makes it and who doesn't. Only six are left in the boat at the end, you have to see which six.

Nice location cinematography and good ensemble performance by a veteran cast.

7 / 10

One of the Best of All Westerns; Stirring Well-Acted Outdoor Drama

This fine production is in every way one of the best westerns, and the best adventures ever made by my standards. It is also a "sense-of-life" film, during whose course the viewer along with the characters discovers the truth about the central character for himself. The plot situation here is a tense one. This script has in fact one of the most interesting story lines of any western of which I have knowledge. A man named Halliday is being called a renegade, even accused of having started an Indian war. Yet Brett Halliday is a man who deserted to join the Ute Indians--who have now joined the Sioux---on a previous occasion for what he says was a different reason entirely. His story was he wanted keep the peace then and still does, but Evans, the man in charge at the local fort, wanted the war. The man who has captured him, Harper, leads his patrol back to the fort. Laura Evans, the Colonel's daughter, is also present. Her father is dead; and an overwhelming attack on the fort is now imminent. With no other choice, the few survivors have to make their way down the walls of the canyon beside which the fort is perched and try to escape via the river that flows there. The body of the film's many action scenes involve that attempted escape and Halliday's part played during it, which finally convinces a by-the-book Harper to let him go to the Indians and try to avert needless bloodshed. By this time, he has told the daughter the truth about her father--that he brought on the two wars by the way he had maltreated the tribes. And she has fallen in love with him and will wait for his return. Veteran Jerry Hopper directed the colorful scenes contained herein from a script by George W. George and George Slavin. In the good cast beside Dana Andrews, very good as Halliday, young star Piper Laurie as Miss Evans, William Talman in a his best role ever in film as Harper, Milburn Stone just before he achieved fame as "Doc" on "Gunsmoke's" long-running TV series, Rex Reason as Laura Evans' jealous suitor, Gordon Jones, Robert J.Wilkie, Peter Coe, Douglas Spencer and William Schallert. There are many good technical and creative contributions that make this a beautiful and memorable outdoor drama. Bill Thomas did the costumes and other fine professionals were involved; but the plot line concerning how men face adversity is so strong that a lesser cast, producers and artists could still have made this a creditable effort. That they did so much better than they might have done is a tribute to all concerned.

7 / 10

Utes and Sioux team up to take on the U.S. Army

Huge war party is about to attack an Army outpost against an outnumbered military unit. To survive, the soldiers must take to a dangerous river flowing through canyon country, harassed by the savages all the way. Their troubles were compounded by internal strife created by a prisoner the Army was taking with them. Good action yarn filmed in the Grand Canyon.