The Horse Soldiers (1959)

horse soldiers poster 1959 review
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Nice looking, solid

Drags, unrealistic and forced romance

Movie Info

Movie Name: The Horse Soldiers

Studio:  The Mirisch Corporation

Genre(s): Western/War/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):  June 17, 1959 (Premiere)/July 1959 (US)

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

horse soldiers john wayne ending

Sally Forth!

The Civil War is ranging, and Colonel John Marlowe (John Wayne) has been given a covert assignment with his soldiers to enter the South and disrupt their supply chains while covertly cutting a path through the land.  Marlowe finds himself forced to bring a medical doctor named Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) who has opinions on Marlowe’s technique and goals.  Marlowe is forced to take a Southern woman named Miss Hannah Hunter (Constance Towers) as a prisoner to prevent her from revealing the soldier’s assignment and continues to pound south.  The Confederacy is catching up to Marlowe and his soldiers…can they make it out alive?

Directed by John Ford, The Horse Soldiers is a Civil War adventure film.  The movie adapts the 1956 novel by Harold Sinclair.  It received positive reviews but was considered a commercial failure.

I never had a John Wayne love.  I always found his movies stodgy and predictable.  While The Horse Soldiers fits into this mold, the movie does has its moments and some interesting history tied to it.

horse soldiers john wayne william holden

Do you like my ascot?

The movie is loosely based on Grierson’s Raid (April 17, 1863-May 2, 1863) which included the Battle of Newton’s Station (April 24, 1863).  The movie and the book it was based on was fictionalized and the story isn’t historically accurate but just borrows some events.  The film has a weird uneven nature where it can’t seem to figure out if the movie is about the butting of heads between Marlowe and Kendell, the war, or Miss Hunter.  It has a cheesy forced “romance” thrown in between Wayne and Towers (when it feels like script-wise it should have been Holden).  The movie also ends before it was supposed to due to the death of a stuntman named Fred Kennedy and plans to show Marlowe in Baton Rouge were scrapped.

There is decent chemistry between Wayne and Holden when they are adversaries, but there is no chemistry between Wayne and Towers…which makes the “I’m in love with you” declaration all the more funny and inappropriate.  Tennis player Althea Gibson takes on the role of Tower’s slave Lukey and surprisingly was able to push to get the script modified (somewhat) to change the cliché slave dialect of character.

horse soldiers john wayne constance towers

Wait…you what? Love me? Since like what…15 minutes ago? I’m confused.

The movie does look pretty good.  I do prefer Wayne’s Western settings, but the style and look of the film does have a bit of that southern feel.  It was shot on location around Louisiana and Mississippi.

The Horse Soldiers is what you’d expect from a John Wayne movie.  I prefer the Civil War setting to a World War II movie, but it always feels like you could drop John Wayne in any location, any time, and he’d still be the same actor and character.  If you are a fan of Wayne, the movie is one of his better films (simply on production quality), and John Ford always makes an interesting picture.  March onward with The Horse Soldiers!

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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