SCREENING #7: DUEL AT DIABLO (1966) – 104 Min.


TV “workhorse” director Ralph Nelson, whose other representative movies are “Lilies of the Field” (1963), “Charly” (1968) and the very depressing “Soldier Blue” (1970), sets a vivid ensemble of actors James Garner, Sidney Poitier, Bill Travers, Dennis Weaver and Bibi Andersson against a desperate band of ambushing Apache Indians on the loose in his offbeat and in some parts slightly odd but truly exceptional revisionist Western movie “Duel at Diablo”.

This is our first color movie, shot on location in the vast landscapes of Utah and Monument Valley, Arizona, and it is truly in many ways (which I would like you to figure out by the screening) marking the shift from classic to modern film making, while displaying many typical tropes of the Western genre.

IMDb link:


16 thoughts on “SCREENING #7: DUEL AT DIABLO (1966) – 104 Min.

  1. Since it was my first time to see a Western movie, almost every element looked new to me. I did have an idea of what the Western culture is before watching this movie, but it seems that the idea of Western culture has been stereotyped in Japan, meaning they are not necessarily reflecting the real culture. For example, people dress up like a cowboy just because it looks cool. So it was a great experience for me to find out what real Western movies are about, including elements like costumes, dialogues and history.

    One of the things I liked about this movie is the use of music. The same song is used almost every time the troop is moving place to place. Since it is played over and over, the song becomes a sort of symbol or motif of the movie. As we discussed in class, it is also a monothematic music. The song itself kind of represents the whole theme of Western culture, which was really interesting to me. This is definitely something I’ve never seen before.

    Throughout the movie, I found a harmony regarding colors in the scenes. Based on the base hue like yellow, it seems like other colors are complementing each other. For instance, yellow, orange and brown are naturally blended in the scenes, used in the background, props or landscape. In addition to that, colors like grey and navy are possibly used as an accent. These colors can be found in soldiers’ uniforms and Toller’s costume. I think it is the context of harmony that makes the movie comfortable to watch.


  2. Duel at Diablo, filmed in 1966 is a brutal, bloody Western where constant action seems to detour from any real plot line. Perhaps I am biased because of my dislike for Westerns, but the topics that lay underneath this film were not as developed as I would have liked. Treatment of women, racial tolerance, minorities etc., Duel at Diablo introduces rare novelties in its story and leaves you wondering what point, if any, the writers and Director were trying to get across. The whole pace of the movie seemed rush and the ending was especially abrupt. However, on a good note, the cinematography was on par with its time; a lot of long shots, extreme close ups on the actors. The soundtrack was also gripping, if not at times a little redundant. There are a few continuity issues in the film, such as the colour of the horses. When Remsberg heads to Fort Concho, he’s riding a grey horse and then in the following scene when his horse collapses from exhaustion, it is brown. Apart from all this, the film did manage to keep my attention and I admit to becoming a little teary when Bibi Anderson had to leave her child behind.


  3. As a person who has never watched this type of movie, Duel at Diablo is highly impressive to me. I was amazed by the environment settings, characters, as well as the way the director filmed it. It maybe a little long and frustrating for the audience to watch the entire film that involves all the killings, fightings, and conflicts between the two different races. However, the filming skill on the fighting scenes are incredible. It is no doubt that the film includes a lot of professional shooting skills as the fighting scenes on the endless desert in Arizona; Cowboys on the real horses, the shootings and the arrows. Moreover, this is the first color movie that we screen in class so far. It represents the shift of different film genres.

    I enjoyed watching the film a lot because it does make me excited, nervous, and impressed all at the same time. In addition, throughout the film, we are able to understand the conflicts between two races – the Native American and the new American. They do not get a lone with each other, therefore they fight, they fight for their identities. Although some scenes are really cruel, I consider it is a gray film overall.


  4. I can’t really say that I enjoyed Duel at Diablo that much. To be fair, despite liking a few, westerns have never been a favorite genre of mine. The plot didn’t quite capture my attention, although I did appreciate the fact that there were a few subplots within the film. The ending also felt rather random. I can’t call it a deus ex machina, as we know that the fort was not too far away, but other than Remsberg’s revenge subplot nothing else was resolved. One of my biggest complaints would have to be with the music. There were decent tracks in the score, even some good ones, but they never felt appropriate whenever they were used. The actors on the other hand, did an admittedly decent job, despite the fact that I have issues with the casting choices. I really enjoyed Sidney Poitier’s performance in particular. Fight choreography left much to be desired, in fact they often didn’t make logical sense. Even the gunfights, one of the most appealing aspects of a western film weren’t all that great. Another aspect I did enjoy were the shots of the open desert. The wide shots of the desert really grabbed my attention.


  5. Although Duel at Diablo wasn’t the first time I’ve seen a western film, I would say that the film has disappointed me, story-wise. Among the films I’ve seen in this course, I’d say Duel at Diablo is my least favorite.

    The first scenes got me interested and curious. “What is going on?” was my first thought. There was a shoot out and it got me thinking that perhaps there’s a historical rivalry (in the story) with the Native Americans. As I watched, it got me confused with the storyline. The biggest revelation is her having a baby, rather than knowing who is the scout’s wife’s killer. Overall, I felt the story was rushed and incomplete. I feel like there’s a missing sequence in it because I felt like it doesn’t have much story to it. And because this was filmed in color, you can actually see the fake blood. I think, as filmmakers, we should preserve the suspension of disbelief to order for the audience to enjoy what they’re watching. If this was perhaps shot in black and white, then it wouldn’t be obvious in my opinion. The acting was also not the best. It looks comedic, rather than action. The acting I was pertaining to was the action scenes. It’s quite unrealistic to have the captain being shot with an arrow (when he was trying to save the girl) and still be able to turn and shoot the enemy. Although, I must say the arrow shots are filmed quite well.

    I think the depictions of Native Americans in the film are good, unlike the savage stereotype they always play.

    On the technical aspect of it, I really really enjoy the extreme long shots. This is really quite a change from the silent films and b movies we’ve seen in the course and I would say it is quite refreshing from the studio locations, not that it is bad. I think capturing the actual location is very! different from indoor filmings.


  6. So I have to be honest here and admit that I really, really, really dislike western. It is a setting I absolutely cannot stand. Whether it’s in books, movies or games. The setting just is not interesting for me and I felt that again with this movie.
    It has nothing to do with the plot because if the same kind of story was used in a 60’s Chicago setting I would have loved it.
    This movie that we saw felt so dry to me. I realize that the cowboy cliches that I know are brought by the spaghetti western and I also realized that in order for me to enjoy a western I need a romanization of that setting.
    The main characters were not very interesting to me. Even though the main character had lost his wife, not a whole lot was done with this plot line.
    It felt rushed in the end when he finds out about who killed his wife. It felt a bit too convenient.
    The woman was annoying and I thought it could be interesting to show her relationship with her husband since they went through some struggles together. There is potential there for some drama.
    Instead the husband just says that things might have been better if they both had a child….pfffff
    I liked the black protagonist. He was cool and actually got some good background history presented as well. But even with him I felt things could improve. I felt nothing really changed with his character after the battle was done. He saluted the dead commander and then rode off with everyone else.
    I also felt that the native Americans were portrayed as bad. Even though we talked about them being humanized it was the same trick I see in so many movies. In movies like we were soldiers you see glimpses of the Vietnamese kissing photos of their lovely wives before heading into battle and getting killed because “they are on the wrong side”.
    So even though we got to see a glimpse of the Indian tribe and their way of living, once the battle commenced they were the ones you were not rooting for


  7. I’m afraid to say, this was another movie I didn’t particularly enjoy. The reason is that I have seen so many superior Westerns, this felt like I was watching an amateur piece of work. If the purpose of this blog is to describe the significance of these movies in terms of influencing the genre, then my response would be a lot different. However that’s not the purpose of this blog.
    I like a Western to transport me back to that time period so I can really imagine what life and the people were like. Of course I want to see action-packed shoot-outs too, which get me on the edge of my seat. One of my favorites is “Unforgiven” (1992). A major reason for me liking it is the performances of Clint Eastwood, Morgan Freeman and Gene Hackman. All three inhabit their characters and keep you riveted to the story. Another reason was the real visceral sense it gave you of the violence being depicted.
    The acting and action scenes in Duel at Diablo are ham-fisted to say the least. To me, very little is plausible in terms of human emotion and physical reality. I would be surprised if any of the actors prepared a great deal for their roles. The director has no interest in the concept of cause and effect. The shoot-outs are borderline comical… I could go on. The sad thing is that I really like the premise of the movie. I can imagine a remake being something I would be interesting in watching.


  8. First of all colored screen was very refreshing to watch in this class. Something about black and white film fascinates me, probably because I am not used to it and so it is refreshing for me. Although colored film is definitely more watchable and easy to follow for me for some reason. It’s been a while for me to watch western film too. I am not really the biggest fan of western film. I didn’t like the acting and the over dramatic of this film. I wanted to be open minded and see the development from the older western film but I couldn’t really get the situation and the environment. One of the reasons could be I am too used to modern films and I already set up some kind of expectations. I felt like the actors were lacking of emotions and it was hard for me as a viewer to sympathize. Another factor is the action scene like the part the extras get hurt or get shot by guns and bow. In the future I would like to watch more western films and learn more about it.
    I like the ending when the guy begs to die and shot himself because I didn’t expect it. It was also interesting to see the side from another perspective, meaning the story telling from also the Indians. I have always wondered why bad people become bad because I know that people are not born as bad people but there are always reasons why they do such things.


  9. After watching this film I could not forget some of the scenes in the film. It was first time for me to watch western film and everything, such as music, clothing, and environment were new to me and that grab my attension. I really liked the setting and places that this film used since it seems like the environment of desert and rocks best fit to the film. Because film was taken in such places, the scene when cowboys try to trick native americns by using tricky path to win the fight and the scene when native americans uses rocks to hide and shoots cowboys to make them confused were good use of location.
    This movie was fist movie in the class
    which made me to think about the message in the film. I usually do not like watching war movie, so one of the topic of this film, what or who is right was intererting topic for me to think about after watching this. I think each group’s point of view was well shown in the film. I would like to watch more films which makes me to feel or think sth after watching the film.


  10. As much as I like a Western that pushes the genre into new frontiers, no pun intended; Duel at Diablo showed its youth. My appreciation for their depiction of Native Americans as a not-so-savage fell short when the despicable husband Grange was proven right. Thankfully, his subplot was limited to his personal fate by the tortures. The overwhelming force of Native Americans, whom during exposition I felt broke out of a reservation, were historically represented as the fierce Apache of legend. There is a pleasing romance to the inevitable defeat and struggle of the Apache trying to survive, but the film failed to make a historical connection to rampant disease and most controversially: small pox blankets.

    In a lot of Westerns and War genre, anscillary characters get the typical action death. But Duel at Diablo managed to mistakenly convey it in a silly way, i.e. hiding under wagon and man next to you gets an arrow in the back– the lack of talent it takes to show surprise is only matched by the unfitting Americana music. It’s an all-out battle, but it sounds like a fiesta! I feel like I enjoyed it more than my peers, but Duel at Diablo was a little dry.


  11. Duel at Diablo by far was not my favorite western movie. While I did not fully enjoy this film, I must say some aspects were interesting. As I mentioned in class, this this was my first film featuring Sidney Portier. I was surprised to see him in this genre of film. While watching I was anticipating some sort of racial bias against Portier’s character being African American, however the issue was never addressed. Even when the soon to be general and Portier’s character get into a verbal argument, the soon to be general refrains from addressing the race of Portier.

    In addition to the racial sensitivity throughout the film, Duel at Diablo also presented some rather controversial and racy topics from that time. Interracial sexual relationships and child bearing plus the approach that Native Americans were not unintelligent savages are issues presented in this film that normally would not be considered at that time period.

    This film felt a little chaotic at times. While watching, it is easy to see how this is a low budget film. Namely, continuity issues were obvious. The landscape however added a huge appeal to the film. Breaking from the studio system, the landscape and on scene shooting saved production costs while adding significantly to the production value.


    1. Factual Misunderstanding: Duel At Diablo was NOT a low budget film. Although it was produced by an independent film production company, and you could argue that its budget might have been lower than major productions of big studios, it featured a set of quite well-known actors and many action scenes shot on original locations, which actual low budget film could not afford.


  12. I would describe Duel at Diablo as a western “drama” maybe created by accident by a creator who stumbled in to the genre while trying to put a new spin on the action-western genre or perhaps the film was just not that well planned. Don’t get me wrong I did enjoy this film quite a lot, there were many interesting characters and sub stories, I just felt they were not explored enough. The film is basically character driven yet there was not deep enough story or emotion among the characters, we had an almost love situation between Remsberg and Ellen and a bit confusing rivalry between Remsberg and McAllister. I would have loved to see more passion and drama among the characters since the plot was so simple. On a positive note I was impressed by how violent the scenes manage to be without actually showing that much. You don’t get to see but you hear the screams on Ellens husband all night and in the morning all we see is that one severally burnt had to which Remsberg hands the gun to, and which the camera on Remsberg we hear the shot. It’s quite suggestive and even someone who grew up with modern standards on what is allowed on the screen I think can appreciate the action of Duel at Diablo.


  13. Yay our first western and it has actors in it that I have seen before! So duel at diablo is like every western from that time that I’m use to see, but it has a couple interesting aspects. Lets start with the norm, like every western you usually have that one outliner the guy whom is a loner and stays away from the public eye. In by doing so he has become very self-reliant. He is usually either a friends of the Indians, half Indian or has a Indian wife. Since he has spent time in the wilderness and with the Indians he is an expert tracker and survivalist. This one his wife was Indian. Also they usually also wear soft leather outfit kinda like Indians, I’m not sure if this is because it’s a better cloth or if its further to show their relationship with Indians. So as you can see the backstory to this movie is very typical of the time.

    Now the things that were different was the black actor whom race was never questioned or commented about through the whole movie. So that fact he was black wasn’t reflected in any part of his character. It could have been played by anyone of any ethnicity and it would have made no difference. The next part of the female had a mix Indian and white baby. Like a mother she wanted to take care of it, but I believe that was a selfish feeling without the needs of the baby considered because the society would have never accepted him when he got older. They didn’t even except her a white female whom escape and came back home. The Indians were also portrayed with a little bit more compassion giving them a reason for doing with they were doing and not just saying that they were savages.

    The movie had some parts that wrapped up a little nicer then I would have liked it but overall it reminded of the movies that I watch as a kid. The good, the bad and the ugly fitting for what they believed in or what they wanted. Whether it be for pride/morals or money. So I think it was a good movie.


  14. Duel at Diablo was the first western I have seen in a while and I think it really reminded me about how much I liked them. I loved the overall feel of the movie and how it reflected a lot on the aspects of a western.

    Thoughtful Western where both the cowboys and the Indians are shown to be both heroes and villains, and human at heart. Surprising to me for its ability to see both sides in that day and age. Explores issues of friendship, command, judgment and persecution in the developing West. I found it excellent for its ability to both entertain, provide suspense and also explore the issues instead of just making the “Injuns the bad men” and the “White men the good men.” Heroic cavalry lieutenant is ordered to move out green recruits on unbroken horses to get from the fort to the next destination. In the meantime, old cavalry friends, in new roles, reunite to accomplish the mission. The anger and prejudice of Indians against white men and women, and white men and women against Indians are inflamed by both a town woman who has been kidnapped and become an Indian squaw, and white man who has lost his Apache wife to lust and violence of others of his own race. Resolved in a way that goes somewhat above and beyond stereotypical “white hat/black hat” good guys and bad guys.


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