Radio Drama Review: Fort Laramie

Fort Laramie  came to radio in 1956 in the midst of both the decline of radio and the rise of the adult Western on both radio and television that began with Gunsmoke and featured such programs as The Six Shooter and Have Gun Will Travel.

The program centers around Lee Quince (Raymond Burr in the series, John Dehner in the pilot) a Captain of Cavalry assigned to B Company at Fort Laramie under the command of Major Daggett (Jack Moyles). Their job is simple: keep the peace by enforcing the treaty and avoiding a war with local Indian tribes.

The series sets a high standard for realism on every level.  It takes a look at life on an old West fort from so many different perspectives. What happens when the company payroll is delayed? How are outbreaks treated? What type of people joined the Cavalry during this time? What would life be like for a widow of a soldier or for a young wife married to an officer and unused to the rigors of the West? The series uses thorough research, mixed a solid imagination, and good human drama to create memorable scripts.

The ugly reality of war is portrayed. The series is brutally honest about the terror of falling into the hands of Indians. In one episode, a woman talks about using a gun to defend herself but saving the last bullet for herself to avoid being captured by cruel Indian tribes. At the same time, the series also shows the prejudice, neglect, and in one case, outright insane slaughter that was heaped on Native Americans. The series keeps in balance.

The cast of the show is great. This series is Raymond Burr’s only starring role over radio. Usually he played heavies, but he shines as the experienced, sly, and Indian-wise hero. He’s ably supported by Moyles, the former star of Rocky Jordan Vic Perrin as the veteran enlisted man Sergeant Gorce, and Harry Bartel as the green Lieutenant Siberts.

With such a talented cast, Director Norm Macdonnell was able to do some interesting things. For the first half of the series, Quince was constantly cutting down the inexperienced naivete  of Siberts until Daggett called Quince out and said he was going to ruin Siberts, which forced Quince to address his own bad attitude and get Siberts to feel free to relax. This was really not the type of topic you’d see discussed with two ongoing characters a series in the 1950s.

However, the show dealt with a lot of very human issues, not all of them dark and serious. There were the humorous episodes that brought lighter touch. What made them work well was that these humorous shows were not thrown in randomly. They’d often come before  a very dark and serious episode,  as if to deepen the emotional impact of the next week’s show.

Like many shows from the mid-1950s, the programs that survive are in wonderful condition, making for great listening.

The full run was done by Andrew Rhynes as a podcast over at the Old Radio Westerns and is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0 stars.

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