Escape from Fort Bravo (1953): John Sturges Western, Starring William Hoden, Eleanor Parker, John Forsythe

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Set during the Civil War, Escape from Fort Bravo is one of several Westerns directed by John Sturges in the 1950s, starring William Holden, Eleanor Parker, and John Forsythe.

Grade: B (*** out of *****)

Escape from Fort Bravo
Escape from Fort Bravo - 1953 Poster.jpg

1953 Theatrical Poster

Fort Bravo is a Union prison camp, led by the strict disciplinarian Captain Roper (William Holden). Things change when he falls for the pretty Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker), who presumably shows up to help with her friend’s wedding, but she is really there to assist freeing some prisoners, including her previous beau, Confederate Captain John Marsh (John Forsythe).

The escape occurs after the wedding celebrations and Carla goes with the 4 confederate escapees. Roper recaptures the escapees, but on the way back to the fort, they are attacked by fierce Mescalero Apaches who are hostile to both sides and the group gets trapped.

Roper frees and arms his prisoners. Bailey (John Lupton) escapes when one of their loose horses returns. The rest of the group are killed, including Campbell (William Demarest), Young (William Campbell), and the Kiowa guide; Marsh and Lieutenant Beecher (Richard Anderson) are wounded.

Trying to save Carla, Roper pretends that he is the only one  alive and walks out in plain view. He is wounded, but the cavalry comes to his rescue.

In the end, Roper thanks Bailey for his help, while Marsh dies, with a smile, knowing that he is not considered a coward anymore.

Sturges’ proficient direction elevates the western above the routine, compensating for the shortcomings in the writing.

The film served as an inspiration for the fifth title in the Belgian comic book series Les Tuniques Bleues (The Bluecoats) by Raoul Cauvin and Willy Lambil, a graphic novel titled “Les D√©serteurs” (1975)

Most of the film was shot on location in Gallup, New Mexico and Death Valley National Park.

A moderate success, Escape from Fort Bravo earned $1,525,000 in the US and $1,633,000 elsewhere, resulting in a modest profit of $104,000.


William Holden as Captain Roper
Eleanor Parker as Carla Forester
John Forsythe as Captain John Marsh
William Demarest as Sgt. Campbell
William Campbell as Cabot Young
Polly Bergen as Alice Owens
Richard Anderson as Lieutenant Beecher
Carl Benton Reid as Colonel Owens
John Lupton as Bailey


Directed by John Sturges
Written by Michael Pate, Phillip Rock, Frank Fenton
Produced by Nicholas Nayfack
Starring William Holden
Cinematography Robert L. Surtees
Edited by George Boemler
Music by Jeff Alexander
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date: December 4, 1953
Running time 98 minutes