John Wayne's first "A" film at Republic is a good story carried by a strong cast. One year after Stagecoach, he still takes second billing after Claire Trevor in their third of four pairings together. They worked extremely well together, and remained close friends for the rest of their lives. Walter Pigeon is given the part of the heavy, Roy Rogers gives the finest acting performance of his entire career, and veteran character actors Gabby Hayes and Marjorie Main round out the cast. Veteran director Raoul Walsh keeps the story moving and gives emotional depth to the characters that was unusual for Republic films at the time. Set in pre-Civil War Kansas, when both Northerners and Southerners were scrambling to settle Kansas and decide its political position on slavery, the story revolves around an uneducated Texas cowboy, Bob Seton (Wayne), who finds himself in conflict with local schoolteacher Will Cantrell (Pidgeon) over both the job of Marshall in Lawrence, Kansas, and the hand of the local Southern banker's daughter, Miss Mary McCloud (Trevor). When Seton appears to have won not only the job, but also Mary's heart, Cantrell decides that the way to power lies through lawlessness, and forms a band of freebooters who ravage both Northern and Southern settlements, causing destruction and terror in Kansas. While the film is not totally historically accurate, it does do a good job of portraying the viciousness and ruthlessness of pre-Civil War Kansas. It is told from the Northern point of view, and is a nice contrast to Errol Flynn's Santa Fe Trail, which came out the same year (1940) and portrays similar events in "bleeding Kansas" from a Southern point of view. Part-Western, part-Civil War movie, Dark Command is one of Wayne's best early starring roles. Fans of his, or of the genre's will not be disappointed.
In Kansas, during the Civil War opposing pro-Union and pro-Confederate camps clash and visiting Texan Bob Seton runs afoul of William Cantrell's Raiders.
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April 4, 2019