Dark Command [1940]

Historically dubious but vigorously entertaining, Dark Command is the best of John Wayne's many movies for Republic (not counting Wayne's lovely producing debut Angel and the Badman and those two John Ford films). Set in "Bleeding Kansas" just before and during the Civil War, it highlights the romantic triangle of amiable but unschooled Texan Wayne, banker's daughter Claire Trevor, and schoolmaster Walter Pidgeon--just long enough for the earnest pedagogue to become embittered, turn into bushwhacker William Quantrill (here Cantrell), and start wreaking havoc in the Border States. This was Republic's first star vehicle for Wayne, following his breakthrough in Stagecoach (away from Republic), and it's an uncharacteristically impressive production: good writers working from a W.R. Burnett novel, Raoul Walsh brought in to direct, music by Victor Young, and strong costars and supporting cast (Marjorie Main, Porter Hall, Raymond Walburn--and Roy Rogers and Gabby Hayes!). Wayne himself is delightful. --Richard T. Jameson

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