Allegheny Uprising (1939)




Director:  William A. Seiter.

Cast:  Claire Trevor (Janie MacDougall), John Wayne (James Smith), George Sanders (Capt. Swanson), Brian Donlevy (Trader Ralph Callendar), Wilfrid Lawson ('Mac' MacDougall), Robert Barrat (Magistrate Duncan), John F. Hamilton (The Professor), Moroni Olsen (Tom Calhoon), Eddie Quillan (Will Anderson), Chill Wills (John M'Cammon), Ian Wolfe (Mr. Poole), Wallis Clark (Sgt. McGlashan), Monte Montague (Magistrate Morris), Olaf Hytten (Gen. Gage), Eddy Waller (Jailer in Carlisle).

colonials in Pennsylvania have an uprising even before the American Revolution


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

This is the story of James Smith and his Black Boys, 16 years before the American Revolution, in a Pennsylvania valley in the Allegheny Mountains. 

1759.  Canadian border.  An exchange of prisoners between the French and British.  Captain Swanson is in charge for the British.  Lt. Fouchier is in charge for the French.  A exchange of 15 British for 15 French soldiers will be made.  Among the British colonists is a group that are not soldiers.  They are civilians from the Pittsburgh area taken by the Caughnawaga Indians three years ago.  Captain Swanson takes offense to the remarks of some of the men and he tells his soldiers to hold them for court-martial.  The civilian named the Professor tries to explain that they are not soldiers, but the thick-headed and unreasonable Captain Swanson just refuses to listen.  The civilians are only saved by a scout for Captain Swanson's soldiers named Mac.  James Smith and the Professor recognize Mac and Mac recognizes them and they have a heck of a reunion.  Captain Swanson now rescinds his previous order.  (Mac informs the Captain that the English General Wolfe has been killed facing the French enemy.) 

James Smith, the Professor and Mac start out for home.  Nearing home, they encounter a man selling trade goods (including rum) to the Indians.  This worries the three men because they don't want the Indians armed and dangerous because of the goods traders.  Colonel Brady is supposed to be out with the Indians on the frontier making treaties.  Approaching MacDougall's Tavern, Janie MacDougall comes out to greet her father Mac.  Her eyes really open wide when she sees James Smith.  She grabs him and reminds him that he promised her that he would marry her.  But Smith says that was said when she was just a girl and was not to be taken seriously.  But Janie is head-strong and won't take no for an answer. 

The men at MacDougall's Tavern learn that there are Shawnee and Delaware Indians all around Fort Pitt.   They burned the town and scalped the children of McDowell's Mill.  The men start grabbing their long rifles to head for McDowell's Mill.  Janie tries to go with the men, but when she is discovered at McDowell's Mill, she is send back with a couple of men.  The men dress up as Indians and start tracking the Delaware Indians who are said to have snatched two of Jacob Miller's children.  James Smith says that the Indians have gone upstream in the water.  The men get ahead of the Indians and set up an ambush.  When the Indians arrive at the ambush site, many of them are killed by shots taken from the trees.  Then many of the men jump from the trees onto the Indians and kill them.  One Indian is taken alive.  Smith asks him about a cartouche that belonged to Colonel Brady's regiment.  The Indian tells them that Brady and his men were wiped out by the Indians.  (A valley man shoves Smith's knife-holding hand hard and the blade goes into the Indian killing him.)

The men go to Philadelphia to see Lt. Governor John Penn.  One of Penn's servants tells the men that he will see them tomorrow, but the men just push their way through a fancy ball and up to Penn.  Penn is astounded at their audacity, but they dismiss it saying that this is too important to wait.  They explain that they are Conococheague Valley men and that they are threatened by the Indians in their area who are being supplied by illegal goods traders.  They want the Lt. Governor to forbid goods trade with the Indians and to give their area military protection.  Penn agrees that the suspect trade will be prohibited.  To protect the valley, its citizens will help pay for the construction of Fort Loudoun which will be staffed by British regulars. 

The illegal traders in goods with the Indians are very worried about the new rules.  So they decide to trick the Governor and General Gage.  The plan is to mix trade wagons in with wagons carrying military goods.  If a trade goods wagon is discovered, they will just say it was a mistake. They may be able to fool the Governor and General Gage, but it is not so easy to fool the people of Conococheague Valley.  The men at MacDougall's Tavern are informed that trade goods wagons are coming in with the military wagons.  Once again, James Smith and his Black Boys dress as Indians.  (And once again Janie has to be sent back to her tavern.)  They jump the wagon train and take over without killing anyone.  They stack the trade goods in a big pile (including gun powder) and set the pile on fire.  They then return to the tavern. 

But a bad man named Callendar leading the wagon train has a bright idea.  He has his men place all the military goods in a pile and burn them.  They then go to the authorities and claim that the valley men burned all the goods.  Captain Swanson is given the task of teaching the valley men a lesson.  He and his soldiers head into the valley.  They capture Janie thinking she is a valley man.  They are shocked to find out she is a woman, but Captain Swanson insists that they take her into custody.  Four valley men come to Janie's defense, but Captain Swanson has these men also taken into captivity.  The British continue down the road, but are stopped by Smith and his men astride the road.  The Captain thinks that he can easily push Smith and his small group aside.  He soon learns, however, that there are hundreds of valley men on both sides of the road.  The Captain has to let the prisoners go. 

To counter the influx of wagon trains heading to the Indians, the valley men decide to close the valley to traders.  The men just tell the wagon train leaders that they cannot go through the valley.  Valley magistrate Duncan has to go to the Lt. Governor's office to justify the actions of the valley men.  Callendar is brought in as a witness against the valley men.  He has with him a false document saying that the valley men will do whatever they want regardless of how it affects the government.  It is relatively easy for magistrate Duncan to expose this fraud.  Regardless of this, General Gage will be sending more troops into the valley.  They will also arrest James Smith.  Magistrate Duncan rides back quickly to tell Smith that there is a warrant for his arrest. 

Smith decides on a new strategy.  They will let the wagon trains go through the valley.  The wagons with illegal goods will be stored at Fort Loudoun and having illegal goods at the fort will make Captain Swanson a criminal.  Magistrate Duncan gives Smith a search order for the fort.  Duncan will come along and serve it.  The valley men appear before the fort.  This scares the men in the fort because they think the men will attack.  But Smith and his delegates under a white flag go to the fort and talk with Captain Swanson.  But the Captain is still so stubborn that he has to be considered an idiot.  He refuses to listen to Smith.  As Smith and his men return to their main force, one of Callendar's men with a long rifle is able to shoot Smith in the shoulder.  This slows Smith up, but certainly does not stop him.  He comes up with a new idea.  Shifts will be formed that will shoot their long rifles at the fort (while avoiding hitting any soldiers) in a constant barrage that will keep the enemy awake for days.  When Janie learns that Smith has been wounded, she rushes to his side. 

Captain Swanson submits and agrees to abandon the fort.  When he sees Smith, he says:  "I'll be back and you'll pay for this."  The soldiers are allowed to leave, but Callendar's men are delayed by the valley men.  Callendar and the other leaders selling trade goods have their backs whipped with tree switches.  Smith has one of the wagons filled with trade goods sent to Philadelphia to present to General Gage and Governor Penn.  The valley men then decide to abandon the fort.  Janie has a hard time of it, but is able to convince the men to let her take Smith to see the local doctor to make sure his wound is healing properly. 

British troops under Swanson appear in front of MacDougall's Tavern.  They start arresting all the valley men, clasping them into irons and throwing them into a large ad-hoc jail cell. Captain Swanson demands that the men tell him the whereabouts of Smith, but they men will not cooperate.

A messenger rides out to the local doctor's house and tells Smith that the British have half the valley in irons.  James Smith lets Callendar discover his whereabouts.  Callendar heads back to the tavern to tell Captain Swanson.  He mistakenly reports that the nine valley men were all drunk and bragging that nine valley men would take Fort Loudoun.  Everyone laughs at the very idea. 

During the night, however, Smith and his eight men head to the fort.  The garrison is asleep with arms stacked.  The valley men are virtually able to walk right into the fort.  They put the arms under guard, disarm the guards and take the fort.  They then release all the prisoners. 

As Smith and a friend start their return to MacDougall's Tavern, Callendar and his men ride up on the two.  The friend wants to put up a fight and one of Callendar's men shoots the valley man.  In the confusion, Smith's weapon discharges but up into the air.  Callendar now arrests Smith for the murder of his friend who Callendar says was going to turn Smith in to the authorities.  Luckily, Janie sees what happened and she rides to tell the entire valley.  Smith is placed in the Carlisle Gaol.  But soon there are hundreds of valley men outside the jail.  Smith agrees to speak to the men to tell them to disband.  He does so because he thinks if he runs he will be thought guilty of the crime.  It takes some doing, but Smith manages to disband his men. 

The trial is held.  Callendar is the first witness and he says that Smith shot his one-time friend with the barrel of the rifle virtually touching the man's chest.  The defense is able to use this to show that Callendar is lying.  Janie shoots two shots at the type of shirt the deceased was wearing at the time of his death.  The one shot from far away is a nice clean hole.  The one shot very close to the shirt produces a huge powder burn area.  Then the actual shirt the dead man was wearing is examined.  The hole is a nice clean one indicating that it was not Smith who shot the man.  It was Callendar or one of his men.  At this time General Gage enters the courtroom.  He tells his soldiers to arrest Callendar and his men and put them in jail.  He then orders the release of James Smith.  Furthermore, he relieves Captain Swanson of his command and has him sent back to England.  (Captain Swanson is taken by such great surprise that he has virtually nothing to say in his defense.) 

Smith and some of his men are heading out to Tennessee to start a new life.  He says good-bye to Janie and the men leave.  But Janie jumps on her horse and rides after Smith.  She is determined to get her man. 

This is an o.k. movie.  It's more of an action flick, but what was more interesting was Smith's constantly thinking of an effective counter to every British initiative taken again him and his men.  He is made to appear as a very smart man, as well as an effective leader.  John Wayne was pretty good as James Smith.  He was more humble and subdued in this role than many of his later roles.  Claire Trevor as Janie was a little over the top.  At times she was down right irritating. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.      


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