Lieutenant McAllister is ordered to transport several ammunition wagons to another fort through Apache territory with only a small troop of rookie soldiers to guard them. Along for the ride is ex-scout Jess Remsberg who is trying to track down Ellen Grange, who, having recently been freed from Apache captivity, has mysteriously run off again to rejoin them. Remsberg frees Ellen again and leaves her with the embattled soldiers as he rides off to the fort, not only for help, but to find the man who killed and scalped his Indian wife.
James Garner leaves behind his usual likable rogue that he normally plays for a role in Duel at Diablo as a grim and vengeful scout for the Army who’s been told by Lieutenant Bill Travers and graphically shown that his Apache wife has been killed. If he goes on a mission scouting for Travers delivering ammunition and green troops to another fort, he’ll meet up with the man who had the scalp, the marshal there, John Crawford.
Garner’s not the only who’s lived in both the white and Indian world. He rescues Bibi Andersson who’s been held captive by the Indians and when he brings her back to her husband, Dennis Weaver, he’s not exactly happy to see her. Decent white women were to do the honorable thing back in the day and commit suicide before being defiled by an Indian. Andersson’s not welcome back in the white world.
In the end nearly the whole cast is in a desperate battle for their lives against Apaches who have jumped the reservation. Also in the battle is former buffalo soldier Sidney Poitier. And with a whole lot of green troops in the battle, Poitier being around comes in mighty handy.
Duel At Diablo is not a western for the squeamish, it gets pretty graphic at times. The themes that were explored in such films as The Searchers, Trooper Hook, and Two Rode Together are really explored far more here. There’s also a little bit of Stagecoach in Duel At Diablo with Garner like John Wayne on a vengeance quest against the people who murdered his family.
Sidney Poitier’s part is interesting in that there really is no racial reference as far as his blackness is concerned. In fact Poitier having been in the army and fought the Apaches has just about the same attitudes towards them as the white characters do.
This is a good western, maybe a great one, but not one for the faint hearted.