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Film / Tumbleweed

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Tumbleweed is a 1953 Technicolor Western film directed by Nathan Juran, starring Audie Murphy, Lori Nelson, and Chill Wills.

Jim Harvey is a guide and guard on a wagon train. After he saves the life of a Yaqui Indian warrior, Tigre, the wagon train is attacked and Harvey realises their only chance of survival is if he can negotiate a truce with Tigre's father, the chief Aguila. Aguila orders Harvey to be knocked out, and tortured later, but he is set free by Tigre's mother. He goes to town and discovers the people on the wagon train were massacred, except for two sisters who Harvey insisted hide in the caves. Harvey is falsely accused of cowardice and the townsfolk threaten to lynch him. Harvey escapes on a borrowed horse named Tumbleweed, and tries to prove his innocence, discovering that a white man was responsible for the attack. It is the horse's intelligence and instinct that save Harvey, and Murphy's interaction with the horse, that drive much of the storyline.

Tumbleweed contains examples of:

  • The Alleged Steed: This is what Tumbleweed appears to be, and certainly what Jim assumes him to be: a broken down old cayuse who is part burro. However, Tumbleweed soon demonstrates hidden depths and Jim discovers that Buckley was not joking when he described Tumbleweed as his best horse.
  • Arrows on Fire: The Yaqui use flaming spears to set fire to the wagon train.
  • Boulder Bludgeon: Lam attempts to smash Jim's head in with a rock. However, when he misses, the rock causes him to overbalance and he falls to his death of the cliff.
  • The Cavalry: When Jim and the remains of the posse are pinned down and about to be wiped out by the Yaqui, they are saved by the arrival of Buckley and his men (plus Lam and Laura).
  • Character Witness: Jim Logan saves the life of the wounded Yaqui warrior Tigre. This saves his life twice later in the movie. First, Tigre's mother turns him loose rather than torturing him when she recognises him as the man who saved her son's life. Later, Tigre breaks Jim out of jail when there is a lynch mob coming for him.
  • Circling Vultures: Jim watches the circling buzzards and compares them to Yaqui who patiently waiting to starve him and the posse out. He even remarks that if you didn't know what they signified, they might even be considered pretty.
  • Clear My Name: Jim has to prove that he is not a coward or a collaborator after the wagon train he was guiding is wiped out while he was being held prisoner by the Yaquis.
  • Cool Horse: What Tumbleweed turns out to be; performing such feats as getting Jim away from the posse by climbing a cliff trail no other horse can follow, and by finding water when the two of them are dying of thirst.
  • Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like: When Tigre comes to break Jim out of jail, Jim complains that fleeing is just going to make him look guilty. Tigre replies that Jim doesn't have much choice now that he (Tigre) has killed a deputy.
  • Disney Villain Death: During his final fight with Jim, Lam dies when he grabs a rock and attempts to smash it down on Jim's head, only to overbalance and fall off the cliff.
  • Double In-Law Marriage: Sarah Blandon is very keen for her sister Laura to marry her husband's brother Lam. Laura is notably less keen on the idea.
  • Dudley Do-Right Stops to Help: Jim could have got away free and clear when Sheriff Murchoree collapses from thirst at Coyote Springs. Instead, he returns to save the sheriff's life, which ultimately results in him being captured again.
  • Injun Country: Much of the film takes place in Yaqui territory where the chief Aguila has declared war on all white men.
  • Moody Mount: Tumbleweed won't allow anyone he doesn't respect to ride him.
  • One-Word Title
  • Playing Possum: Tigre uses this tactic in an attempt to get the drop on Jim at the start of the film. Later, Jim, Murch and the remains of the posse do this to lure the Yaqui into ambush range.
  • Posse: Sheriff Murchoree organizes a posse to chase Jim after Tigre breaks him out of jail.
  • Powder Keg Crowd: Jim is almost lynched by a powder keg crowd when he rides into Borax. Only the intervention of Sheriff Murchoree manages to save him, and, even then, it still looks like any spark might ignite the mob into storming the jail and dragging him out.
  • Prospector: Jim meets a stereotypical old prospector, complete with mule, as he is heading for the alkali flats. The prospector gives him news about the Yaquis.
  • Revealing Injury: Tigre's mother recognises Jim as the man who saved her son's life because of a knife cut on his arm: a wound that Tigre gave him. Out of gratitude, she turns Jim loose rather than torture him.
  • Secondary Character Title: Tumbleweed is the horse Jim Logan is loaned when he sets off on his Clear My Name mission, and doesn't turn up till a third of the way through the movie. It avoids being a Trivial Title because Tumbleweed's talents prove vital in allowing Jim to survive and succeed.
  • "Shut Up!" Gunshot: Sheriff Murchoree (temporarily) quells an incipient riot by firing a shot over the heads of the instigators.
  • Thirsty Desert: Jim has to cross the alkali flats, only to discover that the springs on the other side he was counting on have dried up.
  • Trust Password: Jim is able to prove to Aguila that he really was Tigre's friend by showing him the necklace Tigre gave him just before he died.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: Jim saves Tigre's life by using a knife to dig a bullet out of Tigre's chest.
  • What a Piece of Junk: Tumbleweed is the equine equivalent. He looks a broken down old cayuse who is part burro. However, he is the smartest, most surefooted horse around, and saves Jim's life more than once over the course of the film.