The filming of “The Heroic Charge” was marked by several events that could have turned into drama. Among them, a brutal fall from John Wayne, who a few seconds later experienced a great moment of panic.
The Heroic Charge : the difficult peace effort
After The Fort Apache Massacre (1948) and before Rio Grande (1950), John Ford signed in 1949 the second part of his cavalry trilogy, The Heroic Charge. A western that marks the reunion between the filmmaker and his favorite actor John Wayne.
However, the director initially doubted the actor for the role of a character older than him. But when he discovers John Wayne’s performance in The Red River, where he is already aged, John Ford is impressed. He would even have launched after having seen the film of Howard Hawks:
I didn’t know that son of a bitch could play.
In The Heroic Charge, John Wayne lends his features to Captain Nathan Brittles. In 1876, after General Custer’s defeat at Little Big Horn and a few days before retirement, this soldier makes his last patrol and does everything possible to avoid a bloodbath, while the Indian tribes gather for the offensive .
At the same time, on his camp, two young lieutenants played by John Agar and Harry Carey Jr. do everything to seduce Olivia Dandridge (Joanne Dru), the niece of Major Allshard (George O’Brien). This one sports a yellow ribbon, which means that her heart is taken.
Victor McLaglen, Ben Johnson and Mildred Natwick complete the cast of the feature film that John Ford is filming partly in his beloved landscapes of Monument Valley, magnified by the photography of Winton C. Hoch. The latter obtains an Oscar for his work, disturbed by disagreements with the filmmaker. During a storm, the director insists on continuing to shoot, while the cinematographer fears that the cameras will become lightning rods likely to fry the team. But John Ford does not give up, which offers The Heroic Charge one of his iconic sequences.
An almost fatal accident for John Wayne
Another incident during filming nearly claimed the western’s headliner’s life. In his work American Titan: Searching for John Wayneauthor Marc Eliot reveals that during the shots of a scene where the actor waves his blue coat to Native Americans, his saddle seat belt came loose.
The actor therefore found himself ejected from his horse and hit the ground hitting his head, losing consciousness for a few moments. But the story does not end there, as told by the star quoted in the book and by the site Showbiz CheatSheet :
At that time, there are about fifty horses charging at me. I come to my senses and hear the old man, Mr. Ford, scream. It’s general hysteria. But a trainer with guts rushes towards the rushing horses to stop them, while they are a few meters away from trampling and killing me.