John Sturges’ Escape from Fort Bravo sets a love triangle within a Civil War-era western, but the limited development of the characters makes the story hard for the audience to engage with their plight.
Set in 1863 while the U.S. Civil War is on-going, a group of Confederate prisoners are held in the Fort Bravo stockade in the Arizona Territory. The Mescalero Indians are dubbed their “common enemy” in opening graphics, but the movie offers no reason why, which is unfortunate and unfair.
Although Colonel Owens (Carl Benton Reid) is a higher rank, Captain Roper (William Holden) runs the fort in a stern, fair manner, going so far as to have a cordial relationship with Confederate Captain John Marsh (John Forsythe). Owens’ daughter comes to the fort for her wedding to another soldier. She is accompanied by her friend Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker), who makes evident her attraction to Roper. In a coincidence that strains plausibility, Carla is actually the ex-girlfriend of Marsh and is there to help him escape, using the wedding as a distraction. After discovering Marsh, Carla, and others gone, Roper leads a group after them. Returning back to the fort, they pinned down by the Indians, leaving viewers to wonder if and how they will survive.
Frank Fenton’s screenplay works best with the interaction of the soldiers. A few of those serving on the same side don’t like each other and make it known, but they stomach each other because their survival depends on it.
Setting aside the coincidence that gets Carla to the fort, the love affair between she and Roper is even less believable. She comes on strong from the outset, which makes sense when it’s clear to be a ruse. But when he returns the interest, she rebuffs it. And if she did fall in love him (though from the what’s shown, it’s not clear why), why not stay rather than run off with Marsh? Even stranger, when he learns he was played the fool, he still cares for her.
The video has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer is displayed in the original Aspect ratio of 1.66:1. Unfortunately, the video offers varying degrees of image quality. The variety of brown hues of the location landscapes in California and New Mexico are beautiful. During the day-for-night scenes, objects can get swallowed in the shadows. For as many scenes that have a sharp focus, which showcase the depth and texture details, there seems to be just as many where the focus is diffused and loses its clarity, such as when Roper talks to Chavez during a night scene and when Carla asks Roper to the dance.
The audio is available in DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio. The track sounded clean, free of signs of age or defect. The dialogue is clear and effects of the action scenes helped open up the soundscape. Jeff Alexander’s score distorts when it gets too loud, such as when Union soldiers go out looking for supply wgaons and get attacked by Indians, and this undercuts the emotions it is trying to augment.
Escape from Fort Bravo is a serviceable B-western undercut by its love story, which is unfortunate because the story has other compelling components that got less focus. The high-definition video presentation is now up to the usual standards of Warner Archive, so am assuming the inconsistent quality is a source issue. The only extra is the trailer.