I’ve always thought Ben Johnson was one of those actors who just looked right in westerns. There’s not a lot of them that do(Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot are two others that come readily to mind). That said, he worked equally well in other types of roles. As do the other two gentlemen mentioned.
Ben Johnson starred here in the 1951 western FORT DEFIANCE as Ben Shelby, a former Civil War soldier that arrives in the Arizona territory looking for Johnny Tallon(Dane Clark), a man who’d surrendered before delivering a message to a troop of Arizona volunteers to pull back before being surrounded. They were wiped out to a man except for Ben, one of the dead Ben’s kid brother. He wants to kill Tallon and knows where his family lives. There he finds old Uncle Charlie Tallon(George Cleveland) and Ned Tallon(Peter Graves, all of twenty-five), the blind brother of Johnny. Arriving just in time to prevent an outright thievery of cattle, three men offering fifty cents a head at the barrel of a gun, he falls in with the Tallon clan and helps them out for a while waiting for Johnny to get home from the war.
Ned is anxious for his brother to get home. Johnny had saved his life when a drunk had attacked him before the war with a broken bottle, though later that night he was savagely beaten, resulting in his blindness. Uncle Charley knew the truth and wouldn’t tell his worshiping nephew. Johnny had become an outlaw and apparently wasn’t coming home.
When Charley gets word that Johnny was killed robbing a bank, he finally reveals to both Ned and Ben that news. He hadn’t been fooled by Ben either. With Johnny dead, Ben sees no reason to stick around and decides to head home to his wife. Hurt by the news about his brother, Ned latches onto the idea of Ben becoming partners with Charley and he. They had good grazing land, but no cattle, run off by the Indians in the area who were upset about government plans to move them to a reservation.
At the town built up around Fort Defiance, Ben is writing a letter to his wife that he’s coming home and why he hadn’t until now. Right in the middle, he changes his mind, wads it up, and goes to buy 250 head of cattle, sending a telegram to his wife to join him. A rancher named Parker gets a look at that wadded up letter, having lost two brothers in that massacre, and heads out with his men to wipe out the Tallons.
A pitched gun battle begins, with Ben and Ned taking off while Charlie covers them, only to fall to a bullet, the Parker bunch chasing after him. Fleeing into Navajo Canyon, the pair are caught between the Indians and Parker’s men. There’s also cavalry in the area.
And Johnny Tallon shows up!
Ned and Ben have bonded and Ned is disappointed in his brother. Johnny wants to do right by his brother, hoping to take some of the ill-gotten money and fix Ned’s sight. Ben wants to kill Johnny, but starts to rethink his position because of Ned. Throw in a stagecoach with a young woman aboard being pursued by the Indians, the cavalry arriving, and the final confrontation between Johnny and Parker, you have an exciting finish.
Iron Eyes Cody has a small part as the Indian chief(billed as just Iron Eyes) and is listed as the technical director in the credits, I guess for all things Native American.
This was a few years before Graves did the show FURY, let alone the much later MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. He just looked impossibly young(sorry about that).
A good little western.