Duel at Diablo

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Duel at Diablo
Directed by Ralph Nelson
Produced by Fred Engel
Ralph Nelson
Written by Marvin H. Albert
Screenplay by Marvin H. Albert
Michael M. Grilikhes
Based on Apache Rising
Starring James Garner
Sidney Poitier
Music by Neal Hefti
Cinematography Charles F. Wheeler
Edited by Fredric Steinkamp
Distributed by United Artists
Release date
  • June 15, 1966 (1966-06-15)
Running time
103 min.
Country United States
Language English
Box office $1,500,000 (US/ Canada)[1]

Duel at Diablo is a 1966 western film starring James Garner in his first Western since leaving Maverick and Sidney Poitier in his first Western. Based on Marvin H. Albert's 1957 novel Apache Rising, the film was written by Albert and Michael M. Grilikhes and directed by Ralph Nelson who had directed Poitier in Lilies of the Field. The supporting cast includes Bibi Andersson, Bill Travers, Dennis Weaver and John Hoyt; Ralph Nelson has a cameo as an Army Major. The movie was shot on location amidst striking scenery in Utah; the musical score was composed by Neal Hefti.


A frontier scout, Jess Remsberg (James Garner), is searching for the murderer of his Comanche wife. All he knows is that it was done by a white man. While crossing the desert he rescues Ellen Grange (Bibi Andersson) from a pursuing band of Apaches, and returns her to her businessman husband, Willard Grange (Dennis Weaver). The couple has lived apart for most of the previous two years, since Ellen Grange was kidnapped by Apaches. She had been rescued, but then voluntarily returned to the Apaches to live with the son of the chief.

Jess learns from his friend, Lt. "Scotty" McAllister (Bill Travers), an experienced army sergeant anxious for a promotion, that the town marshal at Fort Concho has information about Jess's murdered wife.

Jess agrees to act as a scout for an Army cavalry unit of twenty-five inexperienced soldiers taking horses, ammunition and supplies to that fort. Willard and Ellen are joining them, as is horse breaker Toller (Sidney Poitier), a veteran of the 10th Cavalry (the "Buffalo Soldiers"). Toller has been contracted to provide horses to the army and will accompany the party, taming horses on the way.

The townsfolk treated Ellen Grange as an outcast after her first abduction, and are now even worse. Some men try to rape her, but she is rescued by Jess, aided by Toller. The two had previously had a confrontation in a bar, which, with McAllister's intervention, was resolved without ill feeling. On the morning the supply wagon is to set out it is learned she has again returned voluntarily to the Apaches. Her husband does nothing about it, but Jess goes after her. While rescuing her he discovers she has had a child by the now-dead son of the Apache chief, Chata (John Hoyt). Jess rides off with mother and child to catch up with the expedition.

The supply wagons, however, have been ambushed by Chata and his warriors, with serious losses of men, food and water. McAllister is seriously wounded, but is able to function. The men also look to Toller for leadership. Using the infant as a shield (he is Chata’s grandson), Jess and Ellen get through the Apache attackers encircling the besieged cavalry force.

McAllister devises a plan to break out of their position and take refuge in Diablo Canyon, where there is water and better cover. As part of the plan Jess is to speed to Fort Concho for help. That done, he can resume the search for his wife’s killer.

The plan succeeds. The besieged unit is able to break out and hole up in the canyon, and Jess, though his horse dies and he is parched from thirst, is able to kill his pursuers and get to the fort. Reinforcements are immediately sent to the canyon, where the unit is under constant attack and the defenders are being killed one by one. Willard Grange is captured by the Apaches and is tied upside down over an open flame overnight so that his cries of agony will prevent the others from resting.

At the fort Jess learns that the man he has been hunting for is none other than Willard Grange, who had been out for revenge for what had been done to his wife. Jess races to the canyon, arriving with the army reinforcements just in time to save the last few survivors (including Toller and Ellen Grange). Jess searches for Willard and finds him barely alive. Willard begs Jess to take pity on him and put him out of his misery, so Jess gives him his pistol and leaves. Moments later a single shot is heard.

The Apaches are disarmed and rounded up to be returned to the reservation. Chata is allowed a final embrace of his grandson before joining them. As the detachment moves out, Toller stands by the graves of the dead soldiers (including McAllister).



Parts of the film were shot in Paria, Kanab Canyon, Tom's Canyon, Glen Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs, White Cliffs, and Kaibab National Forest in Utah.[2]

Critical response[edit]

Writing in The New York Times, Robert Alden gave a positive review, stating that Much of it is raw and ugly, yet it is a film that will grip you, a film that will have a shattering effect by the time you go back out into the street.[3] A more critical, three-star review was written by Tony Sloman for The Radio Times, observing that it doesn't quite succeed, partly because the eclectic casting (including Swede Bibi Andersson and Brit Bill Travers) gets in the way of the authenticity. [4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Big Rental Films of 1967", Variety, 3 January 1968 p 25. Please note these figures refer to rentals accruing to the distributors.
  2. ^ D'Arc, James V. (2010). When Hollywood came to town: a history of moviemaking in Utah (1st ed.). Layton, Utah: Gibbs Smith. ISBN 9781423605874.
  3. ^ "Movie Review - The Screen: A Grim, Gripping Western, 'Duel at Diablo,' Opens Here:James Garner Stars in Ralph Nelson Film 5 Other Movies Have Local Premieres". Nytimes.com. Retrieved 24 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Duel at Diablo – review - cast and crew, movie star rating and where to watch film on TV and online". Radio Times. Retrieved 24 September 2017.

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