Pillars of the Sky (1956)


Pillars of the Sky is a 1956 American CinemaScope Western film directed by George Marshall and starring Jeff Chandler and Dorothy Malone.

Also known as The Tomahawk and the Cross (UK title).


Oregon Country 1868: Indians of many tribes trust Sergeant Emmett Bell, who rides into Doctor Joseph Holden’s mission with his Indian scouts. However, troop and weapon movements by new US Cavalry commanding officer Colonel Steadlow have endangered the peace and angered the chiefs, in particular one called Kamiakin. An outraged Bell tries to appeal to Steadlow as well as Captain Tom Gaxton, whose wife Calla was once in love with him. Calla and another woman are taken captive but are rescued by Bell, rekindling his and Calla’s romance.

The Indians ambush a large cavalry patrol and, after a fierce fight, the soldiers break through the Indians and manage to escape to Holden’s mission, using it as a fortification against an expected attack. Appeals for a truce go in vain. However, a particularly bloodthirsty act by Kamiakin results in his being killed by one of his own, whereupon Bell and the chiefs agree to do whatever is necessary to restore the peace.


  • Jeff Chandler as First Sergeant Emmett Bell.
  • Dorothy Malone as Calla Gaxton.
  • Ward Bond as Doctor Joseph Holden.
  • Keith Andes as Captain Tom Gaxton.
  • Lee Marvin as Sergeant Lloyd Carracart.
  • Sydney Chaplin as Timothy.
  • Willis Bouchey as Colonel Edson Stedlow.
  • Michael Ansara as Kamiakin.
  • Olive Carey as Mrs. Anne Avery.
  • Charles Horvath as Sergeant Dutch Williams.
  • Orlando Rodriguez as Malachi.
  • Glen Kramer as Lieutenant Winston.
  • Floyd Simmons as Lieutenant Hammond.
  • Pat Hogan as Jacob.
  • Felix Noriego as Lucas.
  • Paul Smith as Morgan.
  • Martin Milner as Waco.
  • Robert Ellis as Albie.
  • Ralph Votrian as Music (as Ralph J Votrian).
  • Walter Coy as Major Donahue.
  • Alberto Morin as Sergeant Major Frenchy Desmonde.
  • Richard Hale as Isaiah.
  • Frank Kova as Zachariah (as Frank de Kova).
  • Terry Wilson as Captain Fanning.
  • Philip Kieffer as Major Randall.
  • Gilbert Conner as Elijah.


The film was partly shot on location in Oregon over six weeks. At one stage it was announced the film was going to be directed by John Ford and star John Wayne.

Filming started August 1955.


  • One of the few westerns where the Indians actually ride bareback or on blankets instead of a blanket over the saddle.
  • Between takes, Ward Bond argued with Lee Marvin that the US should attack the Soviet Union because of what Bond claimed to be the Communist threat.
    • Marvin, an ex-Marine who was one of the most highly decorated US soldiers in World War II, was wounded in the fighting on Tarawa against the Japanese.
    • He asked Bond – who had never spent a day in the military – how he spent the war.
    • Bond had no real reply, as Marvin pointed out that the only thing Bond knew about war was what he pretended to fight on studio backlots.
  • Ward Bond did not like Jeff Chandler.
  • In order to make peace the Native American Indians were forced to speak English, attend church, and leave tribal traditions behind.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): George Marshall.
  • Producer(s): Robert Arthur.
  • Writer(s): Sam Rolfe (screenplay) and Heck Allen (novel, as Will Henry).
  • Music: William Lava and Heinz Roemheld.
  • Cinematography: Harold Lipstein.
  • Editor(s): Milton Crrauth.
  • Production: Universal International Pictures (UI) (presents) (as Universal-International).
  • Distributor(s):
    • Universal Pictures (1956) (USA) (theatrical) (as Universal-International).
    • J. Arthur Rank Film Distributors (1956) (UK) (theatrical).
    • Acme Films (1956) (Philippines) (theatrical).
    • Universal FIlm (1956) (Sweden) (theatrical).
    • Universal Film (1956) (Norway) (theatrical).
    • Koch Media (2008) (Germany) (DVD).
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) (2013) (USA) (DVD) (Western Horizons: Universal Westerns of 1950’s).
    • Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (UPHE) (2014) (USA) (DVD).
  • Release Date: 14 September 1956 (France) and 12 October 1956 (US).
  • Running Time: 95 minutes.
  • Rating: A.
  • Country: US.
  • Language: English.

Video Link

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