Saturday, January 23, 2016


Audie Murphy finds himself in desperate trouble in “Land Raiders” director Nathan Juran’s exciting western “Tumbleweed” (*** OUT OF ****) when he tangles with hostile Yaqui Indians and treacherous whites.  What sets this Murphy horse opera apart is “Red Mountain” scenarist John Meredyth Lucas’ audacious screenplay based on Kenneth Perkins’ novel "Three Were Renegades."  Murphy gets himself mired deeper into danger to clear himself as this adventurous 79-minute oater winds down to its finale.  Initially, our resourceful hero displays benevolence when he comes to the aid of a wounded Yaqui brave in the desert.  Apparently, an unknown white gunman shot the Yaqui in the left shoulder and left him for dead.  Jim Harvey (Audie Murphy of “The Kid from Texas”) digs a bullet out of Tigre (Eugene Iglesias of “Apache Rifles”), the son of Yaqui chieftain Aguila (Ralph Moody of “Reprisal!”) who abhors whites with a passion.  At one point, a hateful Tigre tries to stab Harvey, but our hero manages to deflect this futile effort.  After saving Tigre’s life, our hero accepts a job as a guide for a group of pioneers.  At first, when he meets Harvey in the town of Mile High, wagon train master Seth Blanden (Ross Elliot of “Never So Few”) thinks Harvey is too young to provide them with adequate guidance.  Attractive Laura Saunders (Lori Nelson) is the sister-in-law traveling with relatives.  She likes the sight of Harvey, but Seth’s wife Sarah (Madge Meredith of “Trail Street”) disapproves of a drifter like Harvey.  Sarah wanted Laura to marry Seth’s brother Lam (Russell Johnson of “Gilligan’s Island”) because he is a stable individual. Harvey does a good job as a guide until the Yaquis box them in and try to burn their wagons.  Harvey sends the two women into hiding, and then he rides under a white flag of truce to parley with Aguila.  As it turns out, Aguila doesn’t believe that his son would befriend a white man.  The Yaqui chief ties Jim down between two spears and promises to carve his eyelids so he can watch the sun burn out his vision at dawn.  Tigre’s mother (Belle Mitchell of “Soylent Green”) lets Jim escape.  Afterward, Jim catches a ride back into the town of Borax.  He discovers that he is a persona non grata because the Yaquis scalped and killed the men, but the two women and a baby in the wagon train survived.

Ironically, Sheriff Murchoree (Chill Wills of “Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid”) keeps the townspeople from lynching Harvey when he shows up in town and generates controversy with his unaccounted for presence.  The citizens have a noose around Harvey’s neck and they have Murchoree crowded, so he cannot get to Harvey until one of his deputies, Marv (Lee Van Cleef of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”), armed with a Winchester intervenes, and Murchoree can extract his six-gun from his shoulder holster.  Murchoree puts Harvey into protective custody.  Later, during the night, Tigre breaks into the jail where Harvey is being held, stabs the guard that Murchoree left in charge, and the Yaqui explains that the guards were going to let the townspeople into lynch him.  Not long afterward, they are pursued by the townspeople and Tigre takes a bullet and dies.  Before the Yaqui dies, he informs Harvey that a white man had a hand into the massacre.  Eventually, a posse pursues Harvey.  Meantime, he finds himself afoot again when his horse goes lame.  Initially, he tries to steal a horse from a rancher, Nick Buckley (Roy Roberts of “Kid Galahad”), but Buckley’s ranch hand catches him before he can.  Harvey meets Buckley and his wife Louella (K.T. Stevens of “Vice Squad”) and explains his awful predicament.  Buckley takes sympathy on him and loads him calls the decrepit looking horse called ‘Tumbleweed.’ An incredulous Harvey is surprised when the animal displays amazing mountain sense and enables him to elude the posse.  At one point, when Harvey is about to die of thirst, ‘Tumbleweed’ scrapes a hole into the dirt that yields water.  Murchoree catches up with Harvey, but he is dying from thirst, too, when our hero finds him.  Strangely enough, Harvey wants to find Aguila because he is the only man who can clear him.  The revelation as to the identity of the white man who worked with the Indians is a surprise.  Our hero and the villain battle it out with their fists and the fight progresses from the desert floor up atop a mountain where the villain tries to crush Harvey with a rock.  

Lee Van Cleef has a bigger than usual role and he isn’t a slimy villain like he was during his usual 1950s westerns.  “Tumbleweed” qualifies not only as an above-average Audie Murphy oater but a welcome departure from his more straightforward routine sagebrushers.

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