The story begins in 1863, at Fort Bravo...a remote Union prison in Arizona Territory. One of the soldiers stationed at Fort Bravo is Captain Roper (William Holden). A hardened, unkind, cynical man, Roper performs his duties with an iron hand.
Given the fort's remote desert location and the local warring Mescalero Indians, escape from the prison is hardly likely; however, when one man does try to escape, Roper, intending to make an example of him and, thus, discourage future break-outs, drags the man back to the fort at the end of a rope. With Roper's rather inhumane methods, his superior, who doesn't approve of such actions, makes the statement that he's glad he and Roper are on the same army.
The Confederate prisoners, of course, despise Roper and even taunt him by whistling "Dixie" as he walks by. Captain Marsh (John Forsythe) tells a few of his men that they are waiting for the right time and then they will break out....and the right time soon arrives...in the person of Carla Forrester (Eleanor Parker).
A friend of Roper's superior's daughter, Carla has come to the fort supposedly for a visit.
However, in actuality, she is engaged to Captain Marsh, and her purpose in being at the fort is to make arrangements with a Confederate sympathizer for guns and transportation of the prisoners.
Additionally, she is to distract Roper---a job which she does perfectly.
Completely smitten with Carla, Roper's emotionless facade begins to crack.
Totally in love with her, he asks her to marry him and to stay on at the fort. Carla indicates she loves him too...but does she?
Has her playing at love become real? Or are her kisses and tender words just an act?
What will Roper do when he discovers that several of his prisoners are gone...and that the woman he loves has deceived him? And what about the Mescaleros? As they move in for attack, will anyone be able to survive against them...especially in the harsh desert terrain of Arizona? These are the questions which will play out in the balance of this film.
William Holden was totally gorgeous at this point in his career!! He is ruggedly handsome in this film, and he looks fabulous in the Union uniform.
As always, Mr. Holden's acting was super. He definitely could portray the hardened, cynical, unemotional man to the hilt. Eleanor Parker was lovely, and although it was a bit unrealistic to think that she would have so many gowns with her (she was just visiting the fort), the gowns were stunning. There was great chemistry between Parker and Holden here---definitely passion in their kissing scenes. While I'm not a huge fan of Westerns, there was enough romance in this film to make it enjoyable for me. The ending was a bit abrupt, though, and could have been better, so although I'm giving 4 stars, it's more like 3.5...still a very solid, enjoyable viewing experience and one which I highly recommend (even to those who don't ordinarily enjoy Westerns).
The film is out on DVD, so it ought to be fairly easy to track down. Fans of William Holden and Eleanor Parker ought to especially enjoy it.