Race-y 1959 Movie

For a production in 1959 that dealt with race, and yet seemed to fly under the radar of controversy, watch John Ford’s “Sergeant Rutledge” (originally titled “Captain Buffalo.”)

A superb cast of black actors and a no-nonsense plot dealing with (supposed) black-on-white rape and murder should have made this screen explode, especially in the South. 

The black actors who play the troopers range from the tall, dark, handsome Woody Strode who plays the lead roll, with his deep voice and superb posture, to a light and whiny kid, to an ink-black fiercely aquiline man with obvious Spanish background.  The actors speak with many different accents and appear to come from many different levels and backgrounds in society.  It’s obvious they’ve been chosen as a kind of black bomber-crew, but who else at the time was trying to do this, at least in mainstream movies?

The man playing the old bearded sergeant is almost two people:  a sharp, hard-voiced old trooper among his own unit, and a quiet, soft-voiced, diffident person when dealing with white people.  The character was a slave, and learned how to stay alive in a dangerous time.

Note:  a southern friend pointed out that the rape victim was something most northern audiences would not have recognized, and that gave the film added levels:  the young actress had black ancestry.  The Colonel who is her father used to own slaves.


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