Cooper doesn't Disgrace Himself
I wouldn't say that "Springfield Rifle" is the best 50s western I have ever watched, I won't way that it wowed me with one great action scene after another, although it occasionally gets close and I won't say that the performance of Gary Cooper really stands out, although it's solid. But what I will say is that the storyline to "Springfield Rifle" surrounding counter espionage during the Civil War is one of the more interesting storylines I have come across in a western.
With every shipment of horses being intercepted by Confederate soldiers and horse raiders, the Union are desperate to get the much needed horses to their destination to stage an attack and hopefully end the war. When on the latest attempt to drive a shipment of horses to their destination gets intercepted, Major Lex Kearney (Gary Cooper) gets court marshalled and booted out of the Union army for being a coward and disobeying orders. But the truth of the matter is Kearney volunteered for a new counter espionage mission starting with him being kicked out of the Union army so that he can infiltrate the Confederates, But as Kearney starts to gain their trust and discovers who within the Union army is in fact a traitor his secret mission may end up even more dangerous than he imagined.
I will say that for about the first half of "Springfield Rifle" I was waiting for something decent to happen. Oh there was the storyline surrounding Major Kearney being court marshalled for disobeying orders and being booted out of the Union army, then joining the rebel Confederate cattle raiders but it all seemed rather obvious. But then comes a series of twists starting with Kearney finding out who the traitor is within the Union. It's a surprise as to who the traitor is but so well crafted into the story that it makes sense and as "Springfield Rifle" snakes its way through more twists and turns till it gets to the big ending it grabs your attention and keeps hold of it. I would even go to say that the "Springfield Rifle" storyline is quite a clever one or at least the second half with the first half plodding through a lot of ground work to get there.
As for the action, those expected fights and gun battles that should be part of any western, well most left me feeling slightly disappointed. A brawl between Kearney and Captain Tennick looked lame, false and totally staged as do a couple of the earlier gun fights. But interestingly as the second half of the storyline kicked in so did the action and there are some nice stunt scenes such as Kearney jumping from a carriage onto the horses pulling it as the carriage tumbles down a rock face, or the tense final gun battle set against a back drop of burning trees and bushes. It's just a shame that the first half didn't have better action scenes.
The combination of the clever twisting storyline and some stunning action makes "Springfield Rifle" a movie of two halves which goes from solid but ultimately uninteresting into something much better. And it is a case of having to get through all the ground work, the character set up to really enjoy the cleverness of the second half.
As for the acting well "Springfield Rifle" relies heavily on Gary Cooper to make it work and to be honest he does. Although it's pretty obvious that after being court marshalled all is not as it seems with Kearney, Cooper manages to infuse the character with a sense of mystery making you a little unsure of whether he is just being inquisitive wanting to put right the wrong done to him on a personal level or part of something bigger. There are moments where what I would call old style over acting encroaches on his performance, the over the top facial expressions almost causing laughter but Cooper carries "Springfield Rifle" firmly on his broad shoulders.
Aside from Gary Cooper, Paul Kelly does a solid job as Lt. Col John Hudson as does Philip Carey as Capt. Edward Tennick and the sharp eyed viewer may recognize Mrs Kearney, played by Phyllis Thaxter as she was Clark Kent's adopted mother Martha in the 1978 version of "Superman".
What this all boils down to is that "Springfield Rifle" is an enjoyable movie and a solid western which takes it's time to build before really capturing your attention with a second half that combines action with a storyline which twists and turns as it delivers a few surprises. It does have issues, but it is also quite clever and as such is more than just a western with plenty of action it is one which tries to engage your brain at the same time. But it is a case of getting through the half a movie of dull build up to get the good second half.