Sergeant Rutledge (1960)

Genres - Drama  |   Sub-Genres - Courtroom Drama, Social Problem Film  |   Release Date - May 18, 1960 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 111 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Lucia Bozzola

Taking on Western racism just as the civil rights movement was gaining strength, John Ford's Sergeant Rutledge (1960) explores the case of an African-American cavalry soldier accused of raping and murdering a white girl. Part courtroom drama, part Western, the film reveals the facts about the crime in flashbacks as witnesses take the stand. Even as Woody Strode's formidable Rutledge proves his sterling character in taut sequences of cavalry clashes against the Apaches, the expressionistic use of light and color, particularly during Rutledge's encounter with a sympathetic female witness, points to the repressed sexual terror that drives the case against him. Strode's masterful performance imbues Rutledge with dignity as he defends himself in the courtroom scenes, and Ford also gives him a John Wayne-type star moment as he rides into Ford's signature Monument Valley to do his duty as a Western hero. Though Sergeant Rutledge was not one of Ford's popular successes, Strode's place as a breakthrough Western icon was confirmed by his brief yet evocative appearances in Once Upon a Time in the West (1968) and Posse (1993).