William Holden plays a detached Union captain guarding a slew of Confederate prisoners in the Arizona desert in this John Sturges directed Civil War western. Cold and extremely efficient at tracking down escapees through Mescalero Indian territory, Captain Roper (Holden) becomes distracted when the beautiful Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker) stops in for stay.
But when Carla eventually reveals herself to be in collusion with a small group of Confederate prisoners led by Capt. John Marsh (John Forsythe), he sets off to track them down and confront the woman he loves.
Escape From Fort Bravo ('53) is very similar to Sam Wood's Ambush ('50) in that both films follow the conflicts and relationships between men and women both inside and outside enemy territory (in both cases, the enemy is the misrepresented and often vilified Indians).
As it progresses, it becomes clearer that Escape From Fort Bravo is a film building towards symbolic unification and pre-Reconstruction era patriotism as our characters (both Union and Confederate civilians alike, are forced to work together to overcome the climactic Indian attack). In this respect, it most resembles a film like Michael Curtiz's Virginia City ('40).
With one last desperate maneuver, Holden's Capt. Roper attempts to break out of his selfish solitude and save the day until he's beaten to the punch by one of his previously escaped Confederate prisoners. On this day, out in the beating sun of the Arizona desert, redemption and absolution are already taking shape. [A-]