The action gets off to a quick start when a small Cavalry unit discovers a dead scout with an arrow in his back. It doesn't take long to realize that the previously-peaceful Utes are on the warpath. When they attack the soldiers, the Cavalry troop seeks refuge in a nearby fort. The situation there isn't much better. It turns out the fort has been surrounded for days and the scout sent to seek reinforcement--well, we know that he didn't get very far.
|Dana Andrews and William Talman.|
Augmented with stunning scenery, Smoke Signal zips along efficiently, mixing character-driven scenes with action sequences involving Indian attacks or the perils of the river. Although Dana Andrews--who was on the downside of his career--is billed as the lead, it's Piper Laurie who holds the film together.
|Piper Laurie and Andrews.|
Smoke Signal is peppered with familiar faces, to include Talman (Hamilton Burger on Perry Mason), William Schallert (the father on The Patty Duke Show), and Milburn Stone (Doc on Gunsmoke). However, the other cast standout is Douglas Spencer as a trapper that joins the soldiers. Surprisingly, the likable Spencer spent most of his Hollywood career as Ray Milland's stand-in. His best-known performance as a supporting player was as the reporter Scotty in 1951's The Thing.
Dana Andrews, who was still struggling with alcoholism at that time, gives an acceptable performance. Unfortunately, his character's eventual romance with Laurie doesn't work at all. First, at age 46, he was almost twice the age of his co-star. More importantly, the script doesn't give the two characters enough time together before they're smitten with each other. There are other flaws in Smoke Signal, too, starting with the unlikely reason that there just happens to be two boats in the fort.
|A better title?|