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The Guns of Fort Petticoat

The Guns of Fort Petticoat(1957)


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teaser The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957)

Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier of World War II had become an actor on James Cagney's suggestion after the war. His autobiography, To Hell and Back had been made into a film in 1955 with a very reluctant Murphy playing himself. It became Universal Studio's biggest hit until Jaws (1975). War films and westerns were where Murphy excelled and both genres were combined in his twentieth film, The Guns of Fort Petticoat (1957).

Murphy had started his own production company Brown-Murphy Pictures, Inc. with producer Harry Joe Brown and The Guns of Fort Petticoat was the company's first production. It would also be its last. When Murphy violated his contract with Brown by choosing his next film without consulting him, Brown sued and the partnership was dissolved.

Columbia acted as distributor for the film, which was also known as Petticoat Brigade. The Guns of Fort Petticoat was originally to be directed by screenwriter and television director Walter Doniger, but the better known George Marshall took over. Doniger's script, based on the short story Petticoat Brigade by C. William Harrison, was retained. The film was shot in Technicolor by the legendary Ray Rennahan (who had won an Academy Award® for Gone with the Wind, 1939). The Guns of Fort Petticoat was set during the Civil War in Murphy's home state of Texas, but was actually shot at the Iverson Ranch in Chatsworth, California, and at the Old Tucson Studios in Tucson, Arizona, between April 16 - May 18, 1956.

Audie Murphy stars as Union officer Lt. Frank Hewitt, who is ordered by his commander to massacre Native Americans at Sand Creek. Knowing this will only incite the tribe to take revenge upon American citizens; Hewitt refuses and deserts his unit. He returns to Texas, where he is considered a traitor for fighting for the Union, rather than the Confederacy. It is only when he gives them proof of an impending tribal attack that he is taken seriously. With the men away at war, Hewitt must train the women to defend themselves.

In the cast was the future Mrs. Bing Crosby, Kathryn Grant, supplying the love interest. While The Guns of Fort Petticoat was in production, Grant had been out on loan by Columbia to Universal for Mister Cory (1957), which was in pre-production. Grant was working double-duty in the spring of 1956, preparing for one film while shooting another, thanks to Murphy, who had brought Grant to the studio's attention after her test for The Guns of Fort Petticoat had been so successful. The always reliable Hope Emerson and Nestor Paiva provided support, along with Jeff Donnell, Jeanette Nolan, and Sean McClory rounding out the cast.

Audie Murphy, while only 5' 5" and slight, was a real-life tough guy. His bravery in wartime carried over into civilian life, and he had taken to hanging out with the LAPD and riding along with them on drug busts, having a particular hatred for narcotics traffickers. He would also go on busts with various police departments in Texas, receiving an honorary deputy sheriff's badge in Dallas. While he was in Tucson for location work on The Guns of Fort Petticoat, the star continued to pursue his after hours interests. Murphy spoke with a reporter on the set about the dangers of narcotics and admitted, "I have been accompanying officers on similar cases in various cities because I am interested, as every citizen should be, in stamping out the narcotics traffic and combating juvenile delinquency." Murphy would take part in many drug busts in Tucson, and as an auxiliary deputy sheriff in Pima County.

The Guns of Fort Petticoat premiered in Los Angeles on April 3, 1957, receiving decent reviews from the critics, like the Miami News' Herb Kelly, who noted all the clichs but found the film fun; "Calvary officer, bad men, a floozie pianist and whooping red-skins. One of the girls becomes hysterical and Audie slaps her across the jaw. He also slugs it out with a man twice his size and wins. Hope Emerson is the best in the picture. She's an old battleaxe appointed sergeant by Audie to train the women in shooting and Injun fighting. Murphy is likeable as usual, and Kathryn Grant, as the love interest, is rather sweet. Others in the cast fit into familiar patterns."

Producer: Harry Joe Brown
Director: George Marshall
Screenplay: Walter Doniger (screenplay); C. William Harrison (story)
Cinematography: Ray Rennahan
Art Direction: George Brooks
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff (uncredited)
Film Editing: Al Clark
Cast: Audie Murphy (Lt. Frank Hewitt), Kathryn Grant (Anne Martin), Hope Emerson (Hannah Lacey), Jeff Donnell (Mary Wheller), Jeanette Nolan (Cora Melavan), Sean McClory (Emmett Kettle), Ernestine Wade (Hetty), Peggy Maley (Lucy Conover), Isobel Elsom (Mrs. Charlotte Ogden), Patricia Livingston (Stella Leatham).

by Lorraine LoBianco>

Graham, Don No Name on the Bullet: A Biography of Audie Murphy
The Internet Movie Database
Kelly, Herb "The Guns of Fort Petticoat. Verdict: Women Give Indians a Permanent", The Miami News 19 Apr 57
Larkens, Bob and Magers, Boyd The Films of Audie Murphy
Parsons, Louella "Kathy Grant Stars with Tony Curtis" The Milwaukee Sentinel 18 May 56

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