Friday, August 11, 2023

Fighting Caravans - 1931 Movie

Fighting Caravans was made in 1931 and this black-and-white movie shows its age.  Based on a Zane Grey novel, it stars a young and very thin Gary Cooper.
Set during the Civil War, on-screen text at the beginning of Fighting Caravans explains that the term “fighting caravans” refers to wagon trains loaded with freight going to California.  As the movie progresses, the phrase takes on other meanings as well.
The plot of Fighting Caravans is basic: A diverse group of people are heading West and during their journey, they experience adventures and setbacks.  Gary Cooper plays Clint, a scout who got in trouble with the law after a night on the town and is facing a 30-day stint in jail.  Lily Damita, better known as the wife of Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn, plays a Frenchwoman heading to California on her own.  The machinations of Clint’s two grizzled friends throw them together and from then on, the question is will they or won’t they stay together.
After a series of typical setbacks, including the lack of Army protection, a suspicious-acting trader, sober wives with drunk husbands, a stagecoach that’s attacked by Kiowa people, the travails of travelling through mountains covered in snow, runaway wagons, and a climactic attack by Kiowa and Comanches, the wagon train finally reaches California.  Throughout these adventures Clint’s friends, the two old-timers who raised him and also are scouts, act as both comic relief and narrators who advance both the plot of Fighting Caravans and the budding romance between Clint and the Frenchwoman.
Despite some proto-feminist comments by the Frenchwoman saying she can travel on her own and doesn’t need a man to aid her, it’s very obvious that Fighting Caravans was filmed when women were not treated equally and Indians (as they were called in the movie) were always the enemy.  The women on the wagon train had more sense than most of the men but their ideas were played for laughs.  The Native Americans never became full-fledged individual characters and were mostly seen as an unnamed horde.
The audio quality was poor and the continuous background music made it even more difficult to understand the dialog.  (If the Frenchwoman was ever named, I didn’t catch it.)  Fortunately, the movie was only 81 minutes long.  At least, that’s what the Netflix DVD says; other sources give the running time as 92 minutes.  Whatever the duration actually is, Fighting Caravans is a movie worth seeing only if you are a die-hard Gary Cooper fan.