Shot among the magnificent buttes of John Ford's beloved Mounument Valley, SERGEANT RUTLEDGE was the first mainstream western to cast an African-American as the central heroic figure. There already had been other westerns with black characters--from the 1923 silent THE BULL-DOGGER to
BRONZE BUCKAROO (1938) and HARLEM ON THE PRAIRIE (1939)--but these films were low-budget, all-black productions that were never screened for white audiences. Not only was SERGEANT RUTLEDGE produced by a major studio, but also it was directed by one filmdom's most-respected talents, Ford. The film
begins as Strode, a sergeant in the 9th Cavalry (an all-black unit under white command) is...