Dark Command

Dark Command is a 1940 Western film starring Claire Trevor, John Wayne and Walter Pidgeon loosely based on Quantrill's Raiders during the American Civil War. Directed by Raoul Walsh from the novel by W. R. Burnett, Dark Command is the only film in which western icons John Wayne and Roy Rogers appear together, and was the only film Wayne and Raoul Walsh made together since Walsh discovered Wayne working as a prop mover, renamed him, and gave him his first leading role in the epic widescreen western The Big Trail a decade before.

Dark Command
1940 film poster
Directed byRaoul Walsh
Produced bySol C. Siegel
Written by
Based onThe Dark Command
1938 novel
by W.R. Burnett[1]
Music byVictor Young
CinematographyJack A. Marta
Edited byWilliam Morgan
Republic Pictures
Distributed byRepublic Pictures
Release date
  • April 15, 1940 (1940-04-15) (United States)
Running time
94 minutes
CountryUnited States

The film also features George "Gabby" Hayes as Wayne's character's sidekick.

The film was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Score and Best Art Direction by John Victor Mackay.[4]


Mary McCloud (Claire Trevor) marries a seemingly peaceful Kansas schoolteacher William Cantrell (Walter Pidgeon), before finding out that he harbors a dark secret. He is actually an outlaw leader who attacks both sides in the Civil War for his own profit. After capturing a wagon loaded with Confederate uniforms, he decides to pass himself off as a Confederate officer. Her naive, idealistic brother Fletcher (Roy Rogers) joins what he believes is a Rebel guerrilla force. Meanwhile, Cantrell's stern, but loving mother (Marjorie Main) refuses to accept any of her son's ill-gotten loot.

A former suitor of Mary's, Union supporter Bob Seton (John Wayne), is captured by Cantrell and scheduled for execution. After being rescued by a disillusioned Fletcher McCloud, Seton and Mary Cantrell race to the town of Lawrence (site of an actual infamous Quantrill-led massacre) to warn the residents of an impending attack by Cantrell's gang.



W.R. Burnett's novel was published in 1938 and became a best seller.[5] It was a rare historical novel from Burnett, who was better known for modern day crime stories.[6] Film rights were purchased by Republic Pictures who announced the film in May 1939 as part of their slate for 1939-40.[7]

Director Raoul Walsh had discovered John Wayne in 1929 when Wayne was a 23-year-old prop man named Marion "Duke" Morrison. Walsh was reading a biography of General "Mad Anthony" Wayne at the time and gave the prop boy the last name "Wayne" after casting him as the lead in The Big Trail (1930), a 70 mm Grandeur widescreen epic shot on location all across the West. Dark Command remains the only other film upon which both Walsh and Wayne collaborated during their lengthy careers.

The film was financed on a larger budget than Republic normally provided. It was a similar scale to a successful historical drama they had made the year before, Man of Conquest. Walter Pidgeon was borrowed from MGM.[8] Filming started November 1939.[3]

It was the second film John Wayne made with Claire Trevor after Stagecoach, the other being Allegheny Uprising (1939). Roy Rogers was given a key support role.[9]


Dark Command premiered in Lawrence, Kansas.[10]

It received favorable reviews and box office, and encouraged Republic to continue to allocate more money for John Wayne films.[11]

See also


  1. Landesman, Fred (2007-07-11). The John Wayne Filmography. ISBN 9780786432523.
  2. "Notes for Dark Command (1940)". tcm.com. Retrieved 2007-11-10.
  3. Of Local Origin New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]26 Oct 1939: 31
  4. "NY Times: Dark Command". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-13.
  5. THE BEST-SELLING BOOKS New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]01 May 1938: 109
  6. Burnett Publishes 20th Novel, The Tale of an Irish Bravo: Tireless Author, Bel-Air Resident, Shuns Publicity Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]19 Sep 1954: D4.
  7. REPUBLIC TO MAKE 50 FEATURE FILMS: 'Seven Million Dollars,' 'The Dark Command' and 'Wagons Westward' Top List FOUR SERIALS SCHEDULED Other 1939-40 Pictures Will Be Based on Jack London and Mark Twain Tales New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]06 Apr 1939: 34.
  8. DRAMA: 'Boom Town' Looms for Gable and Tracy Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]18 Nov 1939: A7.
  9. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD By DOUGLAS W. CHURCHILL Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]27 Nov 1939: 13
  10. Astaire-Zorina Duo Bright New Dance Idea: Film Ingenue Grows Up O'Brien Budgets Raised Mexican Actress Tested Veterans to Team Again Premiere Due in Kansas Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]03 Apr 1940: 13.
  11. John Wayne Wins Star Role in 'Big Bonanza': New Series for O'Brien Switch in Spy Yarns R.K.O. Signs Blackmer Sanders to Play Sleuth Pangborn Air Spieler Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]04 June 1940: 13.
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