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Massacre River -- 1949 

See Credits and Review below Pictures

Click on Photos to Enlarge

1-sheet poster courtesy Eric Tudor.   Size: 27"x41"

Movies: Wright's Greatest Sorrow

Click here to read the story:

  • How and why Wright got into the movie business

  • Which movies were actually based on his stories

  • Which were based on stories he had never even seen and quickly despised.


massacrelobbymex2.jpg (25505 bytes)


Insert courtesy Rick Gunter
This 10 page press book measures 23x13
German Poster for Massacre River. "Zweikampf Am Red River," literally, "Duel at Red River"
Massacreriver3.jpg (55208 bytes) Publicity Photo
In 2001 Julian "Bud" Lesser mailed five photos to me, all from the production of Massacre River in 1948. Nothing is written on the back of this photo, but it is obviously Lesser on horseback at Canyon de Chelly during the filming of Massacre River in 1948.


Typed note on back says: "Massacre River -- On Location, Canyon De Chelly, Arizona. Seated, L. to R. Script Girl, 1st. Asst. Dir., (Unidentified), Carole Matthews (Lead), Rory Calhoun (Lead). [The "unidentified" must include two men to the left of Carole Matthews. --gerry]

Standing, L. to R. (Paymaster), Iron Eyes Cody (Support Actor), Otto Englander (Writer), Guy Madison (Lead), Harry Franklin (Prod.Mgr.)"

Handwritten note on back says: "Massacre River -- 1948 -- Iverson's Ranch, Chatsworth, Frontier Cavalry Fort Set. [Left to right] Cy Adler, Rory Calhoun, 'Cag' Burke Adler, Bud Lesser."
Typed note on back says: "Massacre River -- Wrap Party, RKO Pathe Studio, 1948. L. to R. Scotty Dunlap, Allied Artists Prod. Mgr.; Julian Lesser, Producer; George Burrows, Allied Artists Treasurer; Cathy Downs, Lead actress; Guy Madison, Lead actor; Frank Melford, Co-producer; Steve Broidy, Allied Artists Pres.  Allied Artists guaranteed completion of the picture to Bank of America and released it."
Typed note on back says: "Massacre River -- Wrap Party, RKO-Pathe Studio, 1948. L. to R. Frank Melford, David Selznick, Bud Lesser, Henry Willson. Melford and Lesser were co-producers. Selznick loaned stars Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun. Willson was Selznick's talent manager, made the deal for Madison and Calhoun."

Massacre River  (1949)  77 minutes ALLIED 

This movie was begun as a second re-make of When a Man's A Man, produced by Sol Lesser's son, Julian "Bud" Lesser (1915-2005). The name of the movie was changed to Massacre River shortly before release because the story no longer had any relationship to Wright's story.  The movie posters contained no reference to Harold Bell Wright.  

whenamans48b.jpg (27608 bytes)
Click to Enlarge
Rick Gunter, avid Harold  Bell Wright movie collector, forwarded an interesting illustration that Massacre River was called "When a Man's a Man" until shortly before the release date.  "The photo," Rick says, "shows a card of buttons, copyright 1948, that was sold in fabric stores.  On it is a photo of actress Cathy Downs and the caption, 'Appearing in Allied Artists feature, 'When a Man's a Man.'  Cathy Downs never appeared in When a Man's a Man, but she was in Massacre River (1949).  Apparently, this means the marketing people for Allied Artists 'jumped-the-gun' and released marketing items with the movie's working title before it was released."  Rick adds, "I also have a small card (Cracker Jack card?) with a picture of Guy Madison that says 'When a Man's a Man'.  Again, Guy Madison was not in When a Man's a Man, but he did star in Massacre River (1949)."
massacrebuttons.jpg (33702 bytes) On this button card they got it right: 

"Kathy Downs, Featured in the Allied Artists Picture, "Massacre River"

Courtesy Dave Hadsell


Reviews: Neither the New York Times nor Variety had anything complimentary to say about this movie, other than that the title was good.  “Filled with more than a standard complement of standard sagebrush elements, including the United States Cavalry, Indians, cowboys, and a romantic triangle,” said the Times.  “ . . . as original and exciting as a taffy pull.” 

According to Variety, the story centered around an early-west army post and the army’s efforts to keep the Indians in line.  Guy Madison and Rory Calhoun play army officers “who are both in love with the colonel’s daughter, Cathy Downs, but she favors Madison.  Triangle aspects enter when Madison falls for a gambling hall mistress, Carol Mathews, and friends try to patch up his romance with Miss Downs.”  

Neither source says which woman wins the man, but the Times mentions a “climactic raid by a war party of apathetic braves, which liquidates one of the ladies to untangle this snarled romance. . . .” 

In an email message, Julian Lesser commented that not all the reviews were so negative, and promised to send me some other reviews. Unfortunately, Julian passed away at the age of 90 before sending the more positive reviews.

I did, however, find this modern review by Boyd Magers:

"Highly underrated and overlooked Cavalry western, truly Shakespearian tragedy in nature, lust, broken friendships, secret trysts, unrequited love, unexpected death, hatred, revenge ... it’s all here. Three Calvary officers (Guy Madison, Rory Calhoun, Johnny Sands) are assigned to Indian Territory after the Civil War. Both Madison and Calhoun are in love with Sands' sister, Cathy Downs, who eventually agrees to marry Madison. Then Madison falls for shady lady in town Carole Mathews, leaving Downs brokenhearted. When Mathews’ saloon partner (Steve Brodie) tries to force her to sell out to him, Madison kills him during an argument. Madison resigns from the Army and plans to leave with Mathews. Distraught over his sister’s plight, and believing Madison is making a big mistake, Sands tries to change Madison’s mind but, in a scuffle over Mathews, he too is shot and killed. Angered, Calhoun vows to track down and kill Madison, who has now fled into treacherous Indian Territory with Mathews. The final tragic showdown comes in the desert when the three are trapped by marauding Apaches. A real departure from the norm. Well directed by John Rawlins."

Julian provided the following details:


     As I mentioned by phone, Father gave me rights to remake (a third time for Lessers) WHEN A MAN'S A MAN.  Harold Bell Wright's name was attached.  My partner, Melford, and I engaged a well-known writer to write a screenplay.  The writer wanted to use a new setting and wrote a story around the fast action of rodeo cowboys and their lives. That story turned out poorly, so Frank and I abandoned that script and started a new one with writer Louis Stevens.  

     At the time, a John Ford hit, FORT APACHE, was running, and his fort set stood at Iverson Ranch [Chatsworth, CA]. We could use it for modest cost.  So Stevens' story included that fort, cavalry, and Indians. 

     We shot exterior shots at Canyon de Chelly [Arizona] for spectacle, including water brought by recent rains. When we showed the finished rough cut to insiders and Father for opinion, the consensus was: ponderous, slow.  Father suggested a new end, a battle with Indians in which Guy Madison's girl is killed because they fled the fort and crossed the water into Indian territory.  I liked it, and we shot it.  

     By now the story had no relation to Wright's original. With new story and new setting we changed the title, based on the water, to MASSACRE RIVER.  

Julian Lesser, (email to Gerry Chudleigh, May 15, 2001)

Release: Monogram/Allied Artists
Production: Julian Lesser and Frank Melford: a Windsor production 
Screenplay: Variety says it is an original screenplay by Louis Stevens, but the New York Times says it is a screenplay by Louis Stevens, adapted from the novel by Harold Bell Wright.   

Julian Lesser comments: 

"Melford and I formed Windsor Pictures, a California corporation (named after Frank's Chrysler Windsor), to borrow money and make the picture.  Windsor made a release deal with Allied Artists, the arm for higher budget shows distributed by Steve Broidy's Monogram Pictures.  Since Monogram handled only low-budget pictures we tried to avoid naming them as distributor. As it happened, Broidy soon after took on MOULIN ROUGE, a top show far above Monogram.

Lieut. Larry Knight

Guy Madison

Lieut. Phillip Acton Rory Calhoun
Laura Jordan Carole Mathews
Kitty Reid Cathy Downs
Randy Reid Johnny Sands
Burke Kimber Steve Brodie
Col. James Reid Art Baker
Chief Yellowstone Iron Eyes Cody
Walking Bear J. W. Cody
Sgt. Johanssen Emory Parnell
Mrs. Johanssen Queenie Smith
Joe Eddie Waller
Eddie James Bush
Roberts John Holland
Simms Douglas Fowley
Piano Player Harry Brown
Scout Kermit Maynard
Frank Greg Barton
Circuit Rider Olin Howland


Availability: This movie is usually available from Comet Westerns.

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This Harold Bell Wright web site is written and produced by Gerry Chudleigh with the help of many friends.
Copyright © 2000-May, 2011 by Gerry Chudleigh
Last updated 05/26/11