Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sergeant Rutledge

At its core, Sergeant Rutledge is a murder mystery with social and racial overtones. Sergeant Braxton Rutledge, played by Woody Strode, is a former slave who joined the Army and is serving in the 9th Cavalry, one of the Buffalo Soldier regiments.

In just one of many connections to ASJ, this movie can be seen as a counterpoint to The Bounty Hunter, where Joe Sims, also a freed slave, chooses to make his way as a bounty hunter. Shot in color in 1960 in Monument Valley (and elsewhere), it is directed by John Ford and runs 111 minutes.

Sergeant Rutledge begins as a military court martial in August 1881 and then is told through alternating flashbacks and courtroom scenes, with very nice camera work to indicate when a flashback is beginning. Miss Beecher, played by Constance Towers, relates how she was trying to get from Junction City (another episode tie-in), Arizona, to Spanish Wells where her father, whom she hasn’t seen in twelve years, lives on a ranch. She meets Lieutenant Cantrell, played by Jeffrey Hunter, on the train.

When she disembarks at Spindle Station, where her father is supposed to meet her, the station master is nowhere to be found and after searching without success, the lieutenant and the train conductor must run and hop the train in order not to be left behind. It’s a little strange to see law-abiding citizens doing something Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry do so routinely! Alone at the isolated station, Miss Beecher encounters Sergeant Rutledge and then the action really begins.

Through flashbacks, the audience learns that Apaches have broken out of the reservation they’ve been forced onto (as in Six Strangers at Apache Springs); that just as the court martial is about to end, a new witness appears on behalf of the defense (like Kid in The Posse That Wouldn’t Quit and Harry Briscoe in The Men that Corrupted Hadleyburg); and like many ASJ episodes, especially those in the third season, there is a character in Sergeant Rutledge who may be based on historical fact, the sutler named Hubble. Despite the different spelling, perhaps he is a relative of the family that ran the Hubbell Trading Post located in northern Arizona, since that family operated numerous trading posts in the region.

Unlike Joe Simms, however, Braxton Rutledge not only understands gratitude, he demonstrates kindness and trust as well. Woody Strode’s portrayal is excellent, as is that of Jeffrey Hunter as his commanding officer and defense lawyer. Sergeant Rutledge is a film not to be missed.

Website for the Hubbell Trading Post: