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Dark Command
Dark Command
Actors: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George 'Gabby' Hayes
Director: Raoul Walsh
Genres: Westerns, Military & War
NR     2000     1hr 34min

In this pre-civil War saga, Walter Pigeon, as Confederate renegade William Cantrell, along with his raiders, clashes with the new marshal of Kansas City, Bob Seton (John Wayne). Their long-standing rivalry of love and powe...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Claire Trevor, John Wayne, Walter Pidgeon, Roy Rogers, George 'Gabby' Hayes
Director: Raoul Walsh
Creators: Jack A. Marta, Sol C. Siegel, F. Hugh Herbert, Grover Jones, Jan Fortune, Lionel Houser, W.R. Burnett
Genres: Westerns, Military & War
Sub-Genres: Westerns, Military & War
Studio: Republic Pictures
Format: DVD - Black and White,Full Screen
DVD Release Date: 05/16/2000
Original Release Date: 04/15/1940
Theatrical Release Date: 04/15/1940
Release Year: 2000
Run Time: 1hr 34min
Screens: Black and White,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 6
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

On to Kansas
Steven Hellerstedt | 09/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"DARK COMMAND is a good, old-fashioned western. The movie takes places in Kansas on the eve of the Civil War. Not just anywhere in Kansas, either - the movie's set in bloody Lawrence, the hotbed of guerilla activity during that war. Perhaps no guerilla leader was more notorious than Kansas's William Quantrill, the school teacher turned raider who fought against the Union until his death in 1865.

Although DARK COMMAND is a work of fiction, it doesn't try hard to hide its sources. DARK COMMAND is adapted from a novel by the talented and prolific W.R. Burnett, whose Hollywood credits include either the based-on novel and/or screenplay for such action classics as Little Caesar, the original Scarface, The Asphalt Jungle, High Sierra, and dozens of others. John Wayne plays a roustabout Texan named Bob Seton who's traveling through with dentist/barber/sidekick Andrew `Doc' Grunch (George `Gabby' Hayes.) While in Lawrence Seton meets and immediately falls for pretty Miss Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor), local belle and daughter of the president of the town's bank, a Virginian (where you were from counted a lot in Kansas prior to the Civil War.) Seton's competitor for the affections of pretty Miss McCloud, and a bit later for the office of town marshal, is schoolteacher William Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon.) That the real life Quantrill was also a Lawrence, Kansas schoolteacher is, well, probably something more than a coincidence.

Of course, Cantrell loses both the election and the heart, if not the hand, of Miss McCloud to Seton. As filtered through the Hollywood lense that's more than enough justification to embark on a campaign of pillage and murder, which Pidgeon's Cantrell proceeds to do with a certain amount of righteous dignity. Raoul Walsh, whose last movie before this one was the classic gangster movie `The Roaring Twenties,' directed DARK COMMAND with his usual relentless flair. Also in 1939, the young John Wayne had finally broken through to the a-list after playing the Ringo Kid in John Ford's `Stagecoach.' `Stagecoach' co-star Clair Trevor is billed above Wayne on the credits, but this is very much a John Wayne movie. The two principals, director Walsh and star Wayne, were at strong points in their careers and this movie did nothing to derail them. Wayne wasn't an icon yet but he had the moves down - he's shy and awkward around the women folk, toweringly commanding with men. One of the text extras on the film quotes Walsh's observation that `Wayne had learned to walk and talk' by the time DARK COMMAND was filmed, and if you watch some of Wayne's earlier b-movies you'd have to agree with Walsh's shrewd assessment.

I've seen a handful of Raoul Walsh movies in the past year and enjoy them tremendously. Pidgeon's Cantrell seems to be a prototypical Walsh heavy - he's erudite, urbane and refined, and, we suspect, substantially smarter than the hero. If Hollywood was about to fall in love with Freud Walsh definitely wasn't leading the charge. Even the presence of a maternal housekeeper, played in American Gothic style by Marjorie Main, doesn't do anything to explain what makes Cantrell tick. Cantrell is a Walsh villain, which means he's evil because he's evil and that's that. We'll have to understand him through action rather than introspection. In lesser hands this would leave us with a scowling, carpet-chewing bad guy. But DARK VICTORY'S script is tight, Walsh was a master at action dramas, and Pidgeon is too good an actor - he never drops Cantrell's courtly façade, and he's all the more a menace for it.

Fans of old b-westerns will get a kick out of seeing a (very) young Roy Rogers and `Gabby' Hayes together in the same movie before they became cinema trail mates. Hayes' slightly mush-mouthed `gol-durn-it' routine can be grating, but Walsh uses him as a relatively subtle comic foil to good effect. If you've watched a few too many b-westerns chances are you'll find oddly touching the one scene between Hayes and Rogers. Rogers is in mortal danger and Hayes is his best and only hope. Hayes drops the Gabby act and lets George take over. It's a nice way for Walsh, through Hayes, to turn the tension up a notch and let us know that this is important. It's been my experience that Walsh's movies are filled with such nice touches, and it's one reason why I like them so much. DARK COMMAND has more than enough going for it to rate a strong recommendation. The script is good, performances are uniformly strong, and Walsh is a master at keeping things moving. It's a great early John Wayne western.

Interesting and rare John Wayne movie
Daniel Lee Taylor | 08/19/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This Civil War era movie was very interesting as it tried to follow a generalized campaign of the very infamous Captain Quantrell, the Confederate leader of raiding party's into the North. This was not one of John Wayne's best pictures but it ranks up there as being rare and informative. A must see for true John Wayne fans."
A lesser known Wayne Classic
Daniel Lee Taylor | GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas United States | 03/04/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"This movie solidified Wayne's place as a western star after Stagecoach. It is a rollicking fun western that has plenty of action. A really amazing cast was assembled for this film starting with Claire Trevor (of Stagecoach) and Walter Pidgeon. Gabby Hayes and Roy Rogers round out the stars of this movie. This is just a joy to watch. The pace never falters and it delivers plenty of fights. Find out if the illiterate cowboy from Texas can overcome the learned teacher who becomes the leader of a vast outlaw band during the Civil War. Will John Wayne get the girl? Forget that I asked. Get this movie."
Popular Wayne Civil War -Era 'Western' Still Shines!
Benjamin J Burgraff | Las Vegas | 11/03/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Dark Command" is a rip-roaring, entertaining 1940 John Wayne western with plenty of excitement, romance, and comedy, and it offers one of his most engaging pre-WWII performances, as illiterate but straight-shooting Texan 'Bob Seton', wooing Claire Trevor while defending Lawrence, Kansas as the Civil War erupts.

The film is significant in Wayne's career, as it acknowledged his emergence as a major star by the studio (Republic Pictures) who had produced the bulk of his 'quickie' westerns over the previous decade (in their previous incarnation, 'Lone Star' films). With the success of John Ford's "Stagecoach", Wayne's value to the young studio increased dramatically, as a commodity that could be 'loaned out' to major studios for a tidy profit, but without 'quality' Wayne films of their own, his 'bankability' wouldn't last, so Republic mounted a major production, with a top director (Warner's Raoul Walsh, who had helmed the Duke's ill-fated 'starring' debut, "The Big Trail", nearly a decade earlier), a first-class cast (including Trevor, in her third pairing with Wayne in less than two years, and MGM star Walter Pidgeon), and a terrific screenplay (based on a story by respected author W.R. Burnett). Wisely including their most popular character actor, Gabby Hayes, for comic relief, and rising star Roy Rogers (who, surprisingly, doesn't sing!) in support, the end result would not only build upon Wayne's rising status as a major star, but would give the studio credibility within the industry as more than a 'B' picture factory.

While the history covered in "Dark Command" is largely fabricated (with infamous mercenary William Quantrill reinvented as a more urbane, if equally dangerous 'William Cantrell', portrayed by Pidgeon), Walsh never lets the 'facts' interfere with the action, and the end result certainly delivers!

Definitely a 'keeper'!