“When I was your age they said we could become Yankees or Confederates. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded six shooter, what’s the difference?”
Long before “The Departed” and long before “Infernal Affairs” there was “Springfield Rifle.” Released in 1952 and starring Gary Cooper, this film is a much more colorful and hokey Western than the masterpiece “High Noon” which came out the same year. While this film comes nowhere near the brilliance of “High Noon,” it is still an entertaining, tightly structured Western.
Set during the Civil War, Cooper plays Major Kearny, a Union officer charged with providing horses for the war effort. However Confederate guerillas keep hijacking his stock. Suspecting there is a mole among the Union ranks, Kearny poses as a dishonored soldier discharged for Southern sympathies. Under this new cover, he attempts to infiltrate the Confederates and expose the mole before the Union war effort is permanently sabotaged.
Obviously there are parallels between this film and “The Departed.” Yet while this film possesses a lot less profanity and gore than Scorsese’s masterpiece, it elicits the same amount of tension as any crime thriller. The film throws us into a nerve wracking 90 minutes as Cooper descends into a morally gray world of violence and deception. The film’s strongest trait is its structure. Story elements build off one another, and rarely do we feel like the film is dragging.
That said, “Springfield Rifle” is not a spectacular movie. The acting is mediocre at best, with the notable standouts being Cooper and Lon Chaney Jr. (who also starred in “High Noon”.) The ending is extremely hokey, and the Springfield Rifle itself is clumsily shoehorned into the storyline. Yet at an hour and a half, the film is refreshing breather from today’s cinema where scripts are incredibly bloated.
For another Civil War Western check out my review of The Horse Soldiers