A Distant Trumpet

A Distant Trumpet is a 1964 American Western film, the last directed by Raoul Walsh.[3] It stars Troy Donahue, Suzanne Pleshette and Diane McBain.

A Distant Trumpet
French theatrical release poster
Directed byRaoul Walsh
Produced byWilliam H. Wright
Written byJohn Twist
Based onadaptation by Richard Fielder
Albert Beicht
novel by Paul Horgan
StarringTroy Donahue
Suzanne Pleshette
William Reynolds
Music byMax Steiner
CinematographyWilliam H. Clothier
Edited byDavid Wages
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
May 27, 1964 (1964-05-27)
Running time
117 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box officeest. $1,200,000 (US/ Canada)[1]
1,037,484 admissions (France)[2]

The screenplay by John Twist, Albert Beich and Richard Fielder is based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Paul Horgan.


In 1883, U.S. Army Cavalry lieutenant Matthew Hazard, newly graduated from the military academy at West Point, is assigned to isolated Fort Delivery on the Mexican border of the Arizona Territory, where he meets commanding officer Teddy Mainwarring's wife Kitty, whom he later rescues from an Indian attack.

Soon after a new commander, Major General Alexander Quaint, (James Gregory), takes charge. When his efforts to capture Chiricahua Apache chief War Eagle fail, he orders Hazard into Mexico to cajole the Indian chief into surrendering. Hazard convinces War Eagle to return with him with the promise the Indians will be provided a safe haven at a reservation in Arizona. En route to the fort, they encounter Major Miller, who orders the Indians be sent to Florida. Hazard and Quaint journey to Washington, D.C. to request U.S. War Department government officials to reverse their decision and allow Hazard to keep his word to War Eagle.


Original Novel

The film was based on a 629-page novel, published in 1960, which was based on extensive historical research.[4][5] The New York Times called it "the finest novel yet on the Southwest in its settling."[6] Another reviewer for the same paper called it a "first rate historical novel."[7]


Warners bought the film rights and announced they would make the film in 1960 with James Woolf and Jack Clayton as producer and director, Laurence Harvey as star, and Alan Le May to do the script.[8] It would be made for Challet Productions, Harvey's production company.[9]

Burt Kennedy wrote a draft of the script; he was under contract to Warners at the time and called the novel "wonderful".[10] Then Clayton was replaced by Leslie H. Martinson. Eventually, the film was set up with an entirely new producer, director and writer.[11]

Significant changes were made from Horgan's novel in reversing the character traits of the female leads, making Kitty Mainwarring the object of Hazard's affections and Laura the negative personality; and altering the narrative's climax (and history), by reversing the fate of the Apaches from their historic removal to Florida and restoring the male protagonists to full duty, thereby negating Hazard's point-of-honor refusal of the congressional Medal of Honor and resignation from the Army, which was the basis for the entire storyline.

Shooting took place in September 1963. Location filming occurred in Flagstaff, Arizona and Gallup, New Mexico.[12]

Critical reception

In his review in The New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the film:

A deadly bore...so dull you even lose interest in watching the horses and the stunt men doing their stuff...Seldom has there been a Western picture on which so much money was spent...from which so little excitement, energy or colorfulness exudes. It's as though Mr. Walsh and everybody were bitten by tsetse flies and went through the business of shooting the picture in a state of drowsiness."[13]

Variety said:

The stunning location terrain of the Red Rocks area of New Mexico and Arizona's Painted Desert gives the production a tremendous pictorial lift. Max Steiner's score is a driving dramatic force but the use of the main theme seems a trifle excessive. The picture would benefit from a lot more pruning by editor David Wages.[14]

Time Out New York feels that despite "an average script and a colourless lead performance from Donahue" the film "[emerges] as a majestically simple, sweeping cavalry Western, a little reminiscent of Ford in mood and manner. Brilliantly shot by William Clothier, it tends to have its cake and eat it by indulging in a spectacular massacre before introducing the liberal message, but still goes further than most in according respect to the Indian by letting him speak his own language (with subtitles)."[15]

Peter Bogdanovich called the film:

One of Walsh's weakest pictures, caused mainly by an intolerably bad cast and a predictable script. Whenever the director is allowed to linger on shots of horses and riders, Indians and cavalry, and on their battles, he shows his vitality, personality and strength. Otherwise, his efforts are hopeless against the talentless players and the hopeless words they are required to speak.[16]

See also


  1. "Big Rental Pictures of 1964", Variety, 6 January 1965 p 39. Please note this figure is rentals accruing to distributors not total gross.
  2. Box office results of Raoul Walsh films in France at Box Office Story
  3. SWASHBUCKLING EX-DIRECTOR: Walsh Turns Novelist at 85 Blume, Mary. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 July 1972: f13.
  4. Tale of Early Arizona Reflects Historical Facts Mason, Nadine. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 17 Apr 1960: E7.
  5. Books-Authors New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 30 Mar 1960: 34.
  6. HORSEMEN WHO RIDE ON FOREVER: A DISTANT TRUMPET. By Paul Horgan. 629 pp. New York: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy. $5.75. The Southwest and Its Early Settlers Are Vividly Portrayed by Paul Horgan By PAUL ENGLE. The New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 17 Apr 1960: BR1.
  7. Books of The Times By ORVILLE PRESCOTT. The New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 18 Apr 1960: 27.
  8. Warner Promises Renewed Activity: House Is Safe From Tigers, He Says, but Not From TV Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 23 Sep 1960: B7.
  9. Actor With a Hobo's Heart: Hollywood Letter By John C. Waugh. The Christian Science Monitor (1908-Current file) [Boston, Mass] 15 Nov 1960: 6.
  10. "Burt Kennedy: Writing Broadway in Arizona". Parallax View. November 6, 2008.
  11. Yul Brynner's Only for 'Must' Movies: Farthest Easterner Will Go West as Kramer Gunfighter Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] 14 May 1963: D9.
  12. Nat Segaloff, Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors, Bear Manor Media 2013 p 299-301
  13. The New York Times review
  14. Variety review
  15. Time Out New York review
  16. "The Raoul Walsh File - Part 4 Blogs by Peter Bogdanovich Indiewire August 28, 2013 Archived April 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine accessed 13 April 2014
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