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With: Woody Strode, Jeffrey Hunter, Constance Towers, Billie Burke, Juano Hernandez, Willis Bouchey, Carleton Young, Judson Pratt
Written by: James Warner Bellah, Willis Goldbeck
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 111
Date: 05/18/1960

Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Buffalo Stance

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Ford's Sergeant Rutledge is an astonishing film not only for its sheer visual and narrative excellence but also for its early acknowledgement of race relations in America. It's strikingly similar to To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), but two years earlier and a great deal angrier.

The tall, laconic Woody Strode stars in the title role, a soldier in the 9th Cavalry (a.k.a. the "Buffalo soldiers"), accused of raping and murdering a white woman. Jeffrey Hunter (also in Ford's The Searchers) plays the white attorney assigned to defend him. The story takes place in the courtroom and proceeds in flashback as each testimony adds more detail.

Ford cynically puts the case in the hands of a corrupt court, a batch of impatient, obnoxious white men with a taste for gambling. Though certain issues of representation arise (such as the silly ending in which the white attorney gets to kiss the girl), Sergeant Rutledge gets enormous credit for its straightforward approach, its bravery long before Hollywood was ready for it, and its noble beauties.

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