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Springfield Rifle

Springfield Rifle(1952)

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Home Video Reviews

The Gary Cooper historical actioner Springfield Rifle (1952) has recently made its DVD debut bundled in Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection from Warner Home Video. The firearm of the title is much more a final-act device than the film's focus, which deals with the birth of military espionage. It's not top-shelf Cooper, but it's a serviceable enough vehicle from the latter phase of the laconic lead's career, and his fan base should be pleased by its arrival.

The scenario by Frank Davis and Charles Marquis Warren concerns the struggles of the Union command to protect its drives of much-needed Cavalry horses through the Colorado wilds from the predations of bands of jayhawkers seeking to provide the stock to the Confederacy. The rebels can't have their intimate knowledge of the herd movements without inside information, but Washington finds it unseemly to descend to the level of developing counter-intelligence.

Certain officers in the field, however, act on the gravity of the situation by staging a covert ruse. Major Lex Kearney (Cooper) a Virginian whose Southern sentiments are open to question, is transferred to the outpost in the hopes that he can lead a drive past the looters, but turns rather than fight once confronted by them on the trail. He's summarily court-martialed for cowardice, and the combination of his experience and his apparent bitterness gets the attention of Archie McCool (David Brian), a local rancher who reveals himself as the ringleader of the rustlers.

Kearney's disgrace, as it develops, was staged solely to gain access to the cabal. The downside is that fact is shared with only a select few, and those on the outside include Kearney's frustrated wife (Phyllis Thaxter), who can't understand why he won't come home and deal with the crisis presented by their young son's having run away in humiliation. It's her presence that ultimately tips McCool's mole to the subterfuge, and places Kearney in jeopardy of execution as a traitor. With the help of the loyalists among the troops, and a convenient cache of the then-new chamber-loading rifle that would "turn one man into five, and fifty into an army," Kearney is able to confront the rustlers, and the real betrayer, in a well-staged final confrontation.

Director Andre de Toth bears a certain amount of cult cache for efforts like House of Wax (1953) and The Gunfighter (1950), but the workmanlike job that he put forth here was not particularly remarkable. Notables in the supporting cast include Lon Chaney, Jr. providing dimwitted bluster as McCool's head lackey; as well as Paul Kelly and Phillip Carey for keeping the audience guessing in their respective roles as Kearney's immediate superior and chief accuser.

Warner's mastering job on the DVD does no disservice to the rich palette of Edwin Dupar's cinematography, but the disc is bare-bones in terms of extras. In addition to Springfield Rifle, Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection also contains Sergeant York (1941), The Fountainhead (1949), Dallas (1950) and The Wreck of the Mary Deare (1959).

For more information about Springfield Rifle, visit Warner Video. To order Springfield Rifle (which is only available as part of Gary Cooper: The Signature Collection), go to TCM Shopping.

by Jay S. Steinberg