At the heart of De Toth's oeuvre lies an interesting contradiction. He hasan abiding interest in suspense, action, and the wellspring of violentevents (a fact underlined by the number of thrillers, frontier yarns anddramas he helmed during his career), but, as a director, characteristicallydisassociates himself from their process. This 'distancing' effect has beennoted by a number of viewers, creating some critical debate about De Toth'sengagement with his material. In my view his detachment is not to beconfused with aloofness - an interesting comparison can be made with StanleyKubrick's alleged 'coldness' - but is rather De Toth's way of resolving whatreally 'matters'. It is this intelligence, revealing itself sharply in hisbest films, that makes him such a worthwhile study. <br><br>Along with De Toth's assured debut 'Ramrod' (1947) and the austere 'Day ofthe Outlaw' (1959), 'The Indian Fighter' is probably the finest of hisWestern films, revealing a characteristic response to the demands of thegenre. In 'Ramrod' the moral questing springs from a noirish plot that isunsettled and full of tension. In 'Day of the Outlaw' issues are resolvedmore formally, played out against the stark landscape of Winter. In 'TheIndian Fighter', De Toth's concerns manifest themselves in his most lyricaland sensuous work. He thereby creates a film which, in emphasis, is indirect contrast to most other 50's Westerns.<br><br>This is ostensibly a tale of a famous frontiersman Johnny Hawks (played withusual lusty gusto by Kirk Douglas), back from the wars. Ultimately he has toredeem his reputation, discovering balance within the indigenous people hehas previously warred against. Gold has been discovered on Indian land, andthe bad guys (a marvellous performance by Walter Matthau, ably supported byLon Chaney, Jnr) are out to kill and cheat to secure the riches. This, andthe related fear of a tribal uprising, provide the main action point of thefilm. <br><br>As the Indian fighter of the title, ironically the first thing we noticeabout Hawks is his reticence. In fact he hardly fights at all - only when heis obliged, or when called upon to at the climax of the film. For him,combat is not a prerequisite, although he is not slow to react when needsbe. A comparison with the bitterness of Ethan Edwards, say, in Ford's 'TheSearchers' is revealing. Edwards loathes the Commanches, with a bitternessentirely absence from De Toth's hero. As Hawks' opponents observe, he ismore of an Indian lover than fighter. And, of course, in the most obviousway, they are right. Almost more important to the hero than his professionalreputation is his preoccupation with the Indian maid Onhati. Hissingle-minded pursuit, and later dalliance, with her initiates the maincrisis of the film, as he leaves the wagon train to be by her side, aftertaking it 'two days out of my way and half way up a mountain'.<br><br>This is a film full of sensuality, placed in contrast to 'duty', the callingof action. We are constantly reminded of the cool pools, green foliage,closeness of the earth, just as much as of the teachery and turmoil of thefrontier. Franz Waxman's score is lyrical and evocative, frequently idyllic.The glorious cinematography gives nature's perpetual garden a pantheisticgloss, sometimes intense, and always resplendent. Just as the main filmcaptures these images, so in mimicry does Briggs, a supposed protégé ofcivil war photographer Matthew Brady, who frequently accompanies Hawks. Heis eager to capture the grandeur around him. His camera is as significant tous as it is to Hawks, who makes a point of rescuing it at one point (duringthe battle at the fort). An important minor character, Briggs emphasises theappreciation of the sublime and beautiful that the film invites. A couple oftimes De Toth pauses the action (once at the fort and then at the wagontrain), to pan his camera for long seconds along sets and people, recordingtheir place in the Oregon landscape. Like Briggs he wants to admire, andrecord.<br><br>A circular film, 'The Indian Fighter' begins with Hawks gazing at Onhatibathing naked in a pool. It ends with him joining her in the water, forminga happy couple. The whole world of action is thus enclosed by their bonding,their sensual preoccupation usurping the violent demands of Indian-whiteconflict. <br><br>The scenes between the two lovers caused a murmur at the time. Considered'risque' for the conservative 50's Western, De Toth simply inserted them,and their sexual self-absorption, as entirely fitting his plan of things.What is more eyebrow-raising today is how he allowed the encounters betweentwo lovers to backstage the expected intrigues of masculine action, andactually assume greater significance, reversing regular audienceexpectations. This stress, an essentially feminine one. is completelyuncharacteristic of the Western at this time. Add to that a sympathetic viewof Indians and nature conservation (the Indian Chief's environmentalconcerns are a main reason for his refusing to exploit the land with mining)and you have an excellent film - a career highlight of this greatlyunderrated director.