Victor Mature stars in this Anthony Mann Western. Mature plays Jed Cooper and hangs around with an Indian named Mungo (Pat Hogan). I think Jed Cooper's last name is a hint that this is a homage to the Last of the Mohicans, although it is the American cavalry and not the British who are the target here.
Cooper is a mountain man and sometime scout for the army. The Civil War is winding down and Red Cloud is not happy that the army has built another fort on their land and is scaring away their game. he is joining up with another tribe to wipe out the white men.
Captain Glenn Riordan (Guy Madison) runs the fort until Col. Frank Marston (Robert Preston) shows up looking to be make a name for himself. This subplot is really reminiscent of Fort Apache with Preston playing the Henry Fonda character and Madison playing the John Wayne character. Marston had lost 1500 men in the Battle of Shiloh, earning the nickname as "The Butcher of Shiloh", but he said he would do it again. He is the typical Anthony Mann character, a borderline psychotic on a mission. He says things like "With a hundred men I'll meet Red Cloud in his own front yard and crush him."
While scouting Red Cloud's camp, Cooper tells Marston that Red Cloud "has a dozen camps just like this all over the valley. They split up. Easier to hunt food that way." When Marston gets stuck in a bear pit Cooper tells him, "You know Colonel, there's something eating you. I've seen it before, mostly in Indians. When they get so full of hate they can't wait to kill. I've done some killing myself, but I never went out looking for it." Cooper leaves marston in the pit, mostly because he is in love with his wife, but eventually goes back to get him out.
Marston, going against the advice of Cooper and Riordan, has decided to attack Red Cloud before the snow comes. He is determined to get glory before the Civil War ends, and he doesn't mind losing some men to accomplish it. Marston leads the men out and Cooper follows. The troops get ambushed and Cooper leads the men back to the woods and tells the men to head back to the fort but Marston doesn't make it back.
The movie ends with Cooper in a sergeant's uniform dismissing the troops and then walking over to Marston's widow. Cooper putting on the uniform signals the end of his wild ways, the end of the frontier, and the end of the Indians.
NY Times Review
The Last Frontier (1955)
Civilization; 'Last Frontier' Vague on Who's Good or Bad
By BOSLEY CROWTHER
Published: December 8, 1955
"CIVILIZATION is creeping up on us, lads." That's what an old fur trapper says early along in Columbia's "The Last Frontier," which came to the Paramount yesterday. And that seems as good an explanation as any for what's wrong with this film Civilization. It's creeping up on us. It's even creeping up on the cavalry-and-Indian films.
Time was when, in pictures of this sort, the cavalry was good and the Indians were bad. Then civilization started creeping: the Indians were good and the cavalry bad. Now it appears we've reached a juncture where civilization has got so far that everybody is ornery. It's hard for a fellow to know what's going on.
At least it is with this picture. A simple-minded trapper, Victor Mature, is jumped on and forbidden to trap by the nasty Indians so he becomes a scout for the cavalry. This doesn't work out any better, because the commander of the frontier fort, Robert Preston, is a brute. He hectors everybody, including Anne Bancroft, his wife, who soon finds herself vacillating between her marital vows and Mr. Mature. He, used to simple, direct people, is so confused he runs amuck.
Finally, they have a big battle in which Mr. Preston and lots of Indians are killed. This seems to make it quite simple for Miss Bancroft to accept Mr. Mature.
Frankly, we don't think anybody gets a decent deal, including the innocent people who pay to see this Cinema-Scope film. The story is so disordered and the color photography is so deliberately dim that the whole thing is thoroughly obscurist. Civilization is no good.