DUEL AT DIABLO is a 1966 western starring James Garner and Sidney Poitier and based on the novel APACHE RISING by Marvin H. Albert, who co-wrote the screenplay. Directed by Ralph Nelson, I didn’t recognize the name until I’d seen some of the other films he’d directed(Lillies of The Field, Charly, Requiem For A Heavyweight, and Soldier Blue among others). A supporting cast includes Dennis Weaver and Bibi Andersson.
Jess Remsberg(Garner) is headed toward Fort Creel, sent for by his friend Lt. Scotty McAllister, former sergeant with vision of General down the road, when he comes across an army scout tortured to death by the Apache. At the same time, he spots a woman(Andersson) on a horse as it collapses who is being followed by a couple of Indians. When he rescues her, she tells him shes come from Fort Creel and he takes her back, much against her will. Her husband is Willard Grange(Weaver), a freighter in the town by the Fort.
Ellen Grange is not welcomed back by any of the townspeople they pass or her husband. Turns out she’d been recently returned after a year’s captivity of the Apaches when she’d been rescued. Her husband was more concerned with the horse she’d stolen to leave.
We learn why he’d been summoned when McAllister shows him a scalp with a bell tied into it. It had come from his Commanche wife, who’d been murdered and scalped. He’d quit scouting to go looking for her murderer. The lieutenant had gotten it from the Marshall, a gunman, of the town by another fort. He was either the one who killed his wife or knew who did.
Remsberg is convinced to scout for McAllister, who’s got to lead a troop of green soldiers to deliver ammunition and powder, as well as horses, to the other fort. The area between the two forts is filled with Apaches broken off the reservation and on the warpath. Sidney Poitier is a former army sergeant, now horse dealer, who’d sold the horses to the army. He’s forced to go along as the deal was contracted to be for saddle broke horses and he hadn’t had time to break but half before they have to move out. If he wants the rest of his money, he has to go along and work on them on the trip.
Weaver wants to deliver supplies to the other fort as well and gets the Fort Creel commander to let him accompany the troops, much against McAllister’s wishes.
As they are leaving, Garner learns Ellen Grange had run off again, stealing another horse. He’d rescued her a second time the night before when four townies had caught her trying to steal a horse and were intent on “getting what she’d given them Indians for a year,” returning her to her home. I had an idea of why she’d been so hard to return to the Apaches and was proved right. Think on it.
Garner is scouting and looking for Apaches when he finds them trooping along, full village with women and children, including Ellen, reports back. The troops are outnumbered by fighting men two to one and their opponents are not green, then goes out once more. He finds where they set up a new village, at a watering hole, with all warriors but a few gone. There he rescues Ellen- and her baby, the grandson of the chief, Chata, heading back for the troops.
They had been ambushed by the Indians and were pinned down, chuck wagon and extra water destroyed, half the men dead, a number of others seriously wounded. Garner reports the only water holes between them and their destination is one twenty miles away, where the Apache village is situated, and Diablo Canyon, only a half mile away, but the only way in and out is where Chata has most of the band located.
That’s when McAllister comes up with a desperate plan. When darkness falls, the troops set out with the wagons at a hard run. Garner, Poitier, and a couple of men stay behind under the cover of darkness. Chata won’t be in any hurry to catch them as they are pulling heavy wagons. They are to go but a short distance, then turn as though heading toward the water hole where the village is set up. When they draw the Apaches away, Garner, Poitier, and the others are to secure Diablo Canyon, taking care of any Indians left to guard it, then Garner is to take off for the fort for reinforcements. Then the troops switch and make a fast run for Diablo and hope they can hold out.
Garner is pursued by two Indians and hsi canteen has been holed by a stray bullet.
Does he get to the fort? Do the troops arrive in time? Does Garner find the man who killed his wife?
Watch the movie and find out.