Well, this is a manly-manly movie with lots of horses and good ole fashion American justice. Following the original Bruce Cabot line from King Kong (1933) we now arrive at The Undefeated 1969. This movie was originally billed as having the most horses ever used in a movie with 2500. According to thehorse.com the movie was filmed in Durango, Mexico, and the horses were rented from local villagers so an accurate count is not possible. The hooves were branded to identify ownership.
This movie had a lot of star power including most of the traditional John Wayne posse.
Of course, the biggest star in this movie was John Wayne. Wayne who never served in the military was cast in the role of Union cavalry officer Col. John Henry Thomas. Like the other 1969 movie, Wayne was a little old and a lot heavy for this part. The name John Henry Thomas seems to be based on George Henry Thomas who was known as the Rock of Chickamauga where he saved the routed Union army by making a determined stand while the rest of the Army retreated towards Chattanooga. Of course, the Civil War Thomas was a general and from Virginia as opposed to the character who was a Colonel and hailed from the Oklahoma Territory. Oklahoma was an Indian territory until 1889 so if he hailed from there he would be some type of illegal land squatter. But I’m sure they made him from Oklahoma so he could have an adopted Cherokee son named Blue Boy and we would all know how fair and liberal the character was.
Rock Hudson was cast as Confederate Col. James Langdon. This character seems to be largely based on Confederate Gen. Joseph O. Shelby. Shelby was active mostly in the trans-Mississippi west during the war. Following the surrender of the South, Shelby and around 1,000 of his troops headed south to Mexico. They became know as “the undefeated” in popular lore. They hoped to work to fight as a foreign legion for Maximilian I of Mexico, the leader of the French invaders of Mexico. Maximilian granted Shelby and company land to settle but would not accept them as fighters. This ended two years later when the rightful government came to power. One of our favorite drinking holidays comes from this war. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican Republican forces under Juárez won an unlikely victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla. So we drink. Nobody likes the French.
Hudson served during WW II as a Navy airplane mechanic. He worked hard to get into acting and his big break came in 1956 with Giant which also starred James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. Hudson was cast in this movie because he was tall like John Wayne and Wayne wanted to be cast with tall actors. Also, he was a good Bridge player so he and Wayne had that in common. Apparently, they had a great time and were friends by the end of shooting. Later Hudson said of Wayne – “I did a movie with Duke Wayne and was very surprised to find out he had small feet, wore lifts, and a corset. Hollywood is seldom what it seems.”
Following a very successful career in movies including many with Doris Day and television shows such as McMillian and Wife. Hudson died of AIDS in 1985 and was one of the first major stars to announce that he was afflicted with the disease.
The adopted Cherokee son of Col. John Henry Thomas, Blue Boy, was played by Roman Gabriel. Gabriel was Filipino American and was the first Asian American to quarterback an NFL team. He was the quarterback for the Los Angles Rams from 1962–1972. That’s right the Rams were in LA. After a decade with that team, he ended his career with the Eagles who were and still are in Philadelphia. Gabriel was a long-haired quarterback and by that, I mean his hair touched his ears and his bangs had to be pushed out of his eyes. They gave him a long wig for this part and made him into the standard broken English Native American. He was only in one other movie and a few television shows.
Another football player turned actor was Merlin Olsen in his first role as Little George a giant razorback that didn’t like to fight. Olsen also played for the Los Angles Rams from 1962-1976. His career was mostly on television and he had a recurring role on “Little House on the Prairie.”
Jan-Michael Vincent played the young Confederate Lt. Bubba Wilkes. Just like one of the old redneck boys
Vincent was a handsome young actor that was a force to be reckoned with from the 1970-1980s. He was often cast as a lone force bucking the system. He was worked with major stars of the era such as Charles Bronson in The Mechanic (1972) and with Robert Mitchum (1971) in Going Home. In 1984, he was cast in the TV show “Airwolf.” After 3 years starring on this show with Ernest Borgnine, Vincent’s star power was gone. Mostly to blame was his addition to alcohol and drugs. He had several wrecks that ruined his voice and his good looks.
In 1978 Vincent played a surfer in Big Wednesday (1978) which prophetically foreshadowed his real-life trouble with booze and self-doubt and really never being able to reach his full potential. Big Wednesday which starred Gary Busey and William Katt is a fantastic movie and will be reviewed in the not too distance future.
Dub Taylor played the role of McCartney uh Mr. McCarney. He was an American actor that had almost 250 movie and television credits. Some of his films were Bonnie and Clyde (1967), Evel Knievel (1971), The Wild Bunch (1969), and Soggy Bottom, U.S.A. where he played Cottonmouth Gorch.
Antonio Aguilar was cast as Gen. Rojas of the Juaristas. IMDB says he is “one of the most iconic actor-singers of Mexican cinema.” The overwhelming majority of his films were made in Mexico during their movie golden age in the 1950s.
Marian McCargo played Ann Langdon the widowed sister-in-law of Col. Langdon. She is best known as a former tennis champion and attending the same finishing school as Jackie O. She was considered to be a classy actress and she comes through as very stiff in this part.
Lee Meriwether played the wife of Col. Langdon, Margaret. Lee was Miss America 1955. It is commonly believed that she played the role of the Catwoman in the”Batman TV series. However, she only had this role in Batman: The Movie (1966).
Melissa Newman starred as Charlotte the daughter of Col. Langdon and the love interest of Bubba Wilkes and Blue Boy. She never did much after this movie and thank god. She spent so much time trying to look cute and enunciating every syllable of her fake southern accent that I would say she is the worst part of the movie.
Of course, the regular John Wayne cortège was in tow. Naturally, there was the duke’s drinking buddy Bruce Cabot. Cabot played the role of the Confederate 1st Sgt. Jeff Newby. His main function was passing out booze to the officers.
Ben Johnson was cast in the role of Short Grub. You never really see his rank but I assume in addition to providing frontier gibberish he was the Union 1st Sgt.
John Agar was one of the Union soldiers named Christian. During WWII Agar was an Army Air Force physical instructor. In 1945, Agar marriage the actress Shirley Temple. His first movie role was in Fort Apache 1948 with John Wayne and Henry Fonda. He was in other war and western movies.
Paul Fix was cast in a small role as Union Gen. Joe Masters who levees Col. Thomas and his men out of the army. Fix served in the Navy during WWI. Fix a personal friend of Wayne’s showed up in enough movies to be considered part of the gang. However, he may be best known as the sheriff from The Rifleman tv series. It is believed that he taught Wayne the “rolling walk” or as some may call it “a fancy ladies walk.” However at least one interview stated that it was legendary western lawman Wyatt Erp that taught him to be a cowboy. Fox was the father-in-law of famous western actor Harry Carey Jr. Fix is also known by many for his role as Dr. Mark Piper in the 1966 second pilot for “Star Trek” but I personally am partial to his role as Sheriff Cody in the Night of Lepus (1972).
Harry Carey Jr. played another of the Union soldiers named Webster. Carey was the son of two actors- Harry and Olive Carey. His father was one of the early western stars and worked with director John Ford. Carey Jr. joined the Navy when WWII broke out. He served three years as a medical corpsman before his father used his influence to have him transferred to John Ford’s Navy photographic unit which also worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA.
After the war, Carey Jr. started acting. He worked with directors Raoul Walsh and Howard Hawks. Jr. began working with Wayne in Red River (1948). In total he was in 9 movies with Wayne including: She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950), The Searchers (1956), Island in the Sky (1953), Rio Bravo (1959), The Undefeated (1969), Big Jake (1971) and Cahill U.S. Marshal (1973). In total, Harry Carey Jr. appeared in nearly 100 movies and almost 100 television programs. He was cast with his father in Red River (1948) and with his mother in, The Searchers (1956), Two Rode Together (1961), and Billy the Kid Versus Dracula (1966).
Perhaps the oddest actor in this movie was Big John Hamilton who played Mudlow. Hamilton was in four films with Wayne: The Alamo (1960), McLintock! (1963), Hellfighters (1968), and The Undefeated (1969). Hamilton was active in San Antonio politics in the 50s where he met Wayne. They became friends and the Duke cast him in the 4 roles. Hamilton opened Hamilton’s Steak House and Wayne often visited the restaurant.
Royal Dano had a small part playing a one-armed Confederate Maj. Sanders at the beginning of the film. In addition to having a 40-year film career, he has a well known and expressive voice. There’s also that name. One role I remember him from is the drinking pastor in The Right Stuff (1983). He also recorded the voice for the audio-animatronic Abraham Lincoln in the Hall of Presidents at Disney.
This movie begins with ragtag Confederates waiting for a Union attack. The artillery blows the hell out of the Rebs as the Union cavalry charges down and cuts them to pieces. As soon as the remaining Confederates fall back Col. John Henry Thomas (John Wayne) learns that Lee has surrendered three days prior to the recent killing. They mistakenly state that this is the end of the war but the overall surrender did not come for several weeks more. Thomas and his adopted Cherokee son Blue Boy (Roman Gabriel) rig up a white flag. The Confederate commander (Royal Dano) gives an impassioned speech saying the Rebs are only fighting because the Yanks are on their land. Not slavery or anything like that.
As the opening credits roll Col. Thomas and his men ride through scenes of freed slaves heading north and defeated Confederates walking south.
When the credits finish Confederate Col. James Langdon (Rock Hudson) rides across his undamaged plantation. A large number of Confederate men and women are loading wagons. He yells for them to get out of their uniforms and take down the battle flag. This is one thing they got right as the stars and bars most often seen in movies is in fact only the battle flag and not the flag of the Confederate nation. He then explains to them and us that they will be traveling as civilians until they meet the representative of Maximilian – the French invaders of Mexico.
We then go back to the plantation where Col. Langdon’s sister-in-law Ann Langdon (Marian McCargo) is looking at the grave of her Civil War dead husband – the Col.’s brother in case you are not following. That’s when the carpetbaggers show-up. Carpetbaggers were northerners that came south with all of their belongings in a cheap carpetbag to buy land and property at a discount since most southerners did not have the cash to pay taxes and such. Remember Scarlett trying to get money from Rhett to pay her taxes. You know the curtains, Carol Burnett!
Carpetbaggers are generally thought in southern culture to be the lowest form of trash. Another way to look at them would be good capitalist that buy low and sell high like Col. Thomas is planning to do with the horses.
So they show up, one white (Henry Beckman) and one black (James McEachin) which would be sure to inflame the recently whipped rebs. The carpetbaggers say they came from Natchez so it can be assumed that they are in Mississippi or central Louisiana and they have a 2.5-mile riverfront so that must be the Mississippi River. When Col. Langdon calls them trash the white carpetbagger tells his partner not to get uppity. Dog whistle much? Anyway, the Col. runs them off the property in a most unceremonial way.
In what must be a tribute to Show Boat (1951) or Band of Angels (1957) all the slaves are standing in the yard with their heads hung down in silent sadness. I found myself wondering why they were still on the plantation with the war over. Col. Langdon gives the oldest slave, Horace, his grandfather’s watch because he would want him to have it. Pre-spoiler alert – Langdon is going to burn the house and leave the land to taxes. Why not give it to Horace and company? They could hardly do worse than he did.
The Col. goes to the barn where two characters are introduced – the blacksmith Little George (Merlin Olsen) and he is huge because in real life remember he played for the LA Rams. The other is Mudlow (Big John Hamilton). Everyone on the Confederate side refuses to talk to him. We later find out it’s because he didn’t fight in the war because he didn’t want to get shot. What kind of person would avoid a war for his own personal benefit?
The scene changes to a bunch of Confederates loading wagons and getting ready for a trip. Lt. Bubba Wilkes (Jan-Michael Vincent) is making on Confederate Col. Langdon’s daughter. The Col. puts him back to work.
That night the Confederates head out but not before they burn all of the buildings on the plantation.
So having won the war single handily, Union Col. Thomas and his cavalry muster out of the Army with the help of Gen. Joe Masters (Paul Fix). They head back to Oklahoma and the west with a money-making scheme catching wild horses for the Army. When they leave, we are introduced to Short Grub (Ben Johnson) to supply us with authentic frontier gibberish.
Col. Thomas and his ex-Union bunch make it to the Arizona/New Mexico area where they meet up with Blue Boy and some Cherokees from the Oklahoma territory. While they are waiting, one of the now-cowboys is writing a letter. When another cowpoke ask him where he plans on mailing it, he says the Pony Express. Actually, the Pony Express only lasted about 18 months and was gone by October 1861 before the Civil War was going well. I do like their recruiting posters that stated – “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders, willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred. ”
Anyway, the Indians have the cook Mr. McCartney (Dub Taylor) traveling with them. Col. Thomas comments on McCartney’s cat to which McCartney replies “High Bred, finest partner I ever had. Cleans his paws and buries his leavings. A lot more than some folks I know.”
The cowboys and Indians head out west and capture around 3000 wild horses without much incident. They start the herd east to the markets. It is very impressive to see that many horses on the screen. Today it would be CGI. Thomas and Short Grub head to the Pedro Flats stage stop to meet with the Army purchasing agents. When he gets there he meets two Mexicans (maybe French as they speak both languages) who work for Maximilian and offer him a large sum to deliver the horses to Mexico. I like the fact that the stagecoach manager refers to the men as popping jays which I have only heard used by Scotty on the original Star Trek.
When the US buyers show up they say they will only buy 500 horses and at $10 less than the Mexicans offered. Short Grub goes after the Mexicans to accept their offer. The purchasing agents ask “You’re selling horses to Maximilian in preference to your own country’s army?” To which Thomas replies “No, I’m selling horses for $35 in preference to $25.” Is it just me or is that what the carpetbaggers were doing?
When Thomas says that the agents are thief’s, one of them attempts to draw on him. Thomas backhands him to the ground. When Thomas grabs the other agent, the agent says “wait a minute! I didn’t do anything!” Thomas says “You should have” and knocks him to the ground. This is a classic John Wayne moment.
The cowboys and the Confederates make it across the Rio Grande, while the latter is hotly pursued by the US Army.
While Blue Boy is out scouting for the herd he finds the trail of the wagons and sees other tracks of bandits that are shadowing them. Thomas and Blue Boy travel to the wagon train of Confederates and after the initial shock warns them of the bandits. Blue Boy gets all “twitterpated” for Col. Langdon’s daughter. Col. Thomas gets a little crushed by Ann Langdon. They all get a little pissy about the battles they have shared but then drink some bourbon and work everything out. Thomas sends Blue Boy away and stays to face the bandits with the Confederates.
The next day the bandits show up and the Confederates arm the women on Thomas’ advice. Thomas gives advice to Ann “windage and elevation, Mrs. Langdon, windage, and elevation.” This is the most well-known line from this movie. Well, in short, they beat the bandits back with help from the Cowboys and Indians that Blue Boy brings. So the Confederates owe the Yanks one.
Later the Confederates invite the Cowboys and Indians to their camp for a 4th of July picnic. This causes me a little bit of distress. The Confederates were defeated at Gettysburg on July 4th, 1863 so it wasn’t a big day for the south. Also Vicksburg, Mississippi fell on that same date. So the holiday wasn’t too big in Mississippi until around the Bicentennial. Thomas explains that he is divorced from his wife but she is happy living in Philadelphia with her cat and teaching piano lessons. Later at the party, they get into a big donnybrook until the ladies break it up with shotguns.
When Lt. Wilkes find out that Blue Boy likes the Col.’s daughter they give him a beating and send him away on a horse. While he is in the desert he sees the Juaristas, the legitimate Mexican government solider’s. Blue Boy makes it into town undercover.
The Confederates make it to Durango where they are given a welcome dinner by Maximilian but damn wait it’s the Juaristas. The Cowboys and Indians arrive at Durango with the horses and have to wait for the French cavalry to arrive with the money.
The Juaristas tells Col. Langdon that he must ask Thomas for the 3,000 horses. To prove their determination they decide to shoot Mudlow, the coward that no one likes. He covers his eyes and cries but Langdon says he will ask for the horses. He has a deadline of noon or everyone will be shot. All the Confederates are imprisoned in the courtyard when the Col.’s daughter decides to go for a late night walk where the Mexican guards are laughing and drinking. Of course, they grab her but Mudlow sprints to her rescue and fights them off until he is knocked out. Blue Boy shows up and kills the three guards and takes the girl with him.
Langdon tells the tale and Thomas and his men decide that they have to help by giving away the horses to the Juaristas. The two Mexican/French popping jays head off to get the French cavalry. When the cavalry arrives they decide to stampede the horses through them and use gun wagons. They blow through the French quite easily. In a very sad part of the movie McCartney’s wagon wrecks and before he dies he asks that they take care of his cat. The camera then shows the dead cat.
Back in Durango as noon nears, they plan to shoot Mudlow and some others. Little George takes Mudlow’s place because they respect him now for defending the girl. The horses arrive just in time to stop the killing. Gen. Rojas (Antonio Aguilar), and the two Cols. have a toast and add it all up to war. The Col.’s daughter makes Blue Boy cut his hair and Col. Langdon decides he is going to run for the House of Representative. It seems like Ann Langdon is set to head to Oklahoma with Col. Thomas.
They all ride north to the sounds of Yankee Doddle.
World-Famous Short Summary – Former Yankees and former Confederates would rather give horses to Mexicans than let the French get them.