There are a few things The Legend of 5 Mile Cave could refer to—a pulp fiction comic book, the hero described in it or the buried treasure hidden in a light-swallowing cavern in the Arizona desert. But the movie of the same name is an endearing family Western in which, even when you can sense what’s coming next, you still are curious to answer one question: How?
Early in the movie, it’s clear this tale will be told in flashback. A young man fleeing a posse in Tucson in 1896 gets shot off his horse and nearly dies from banging his head on a stone in the fall. We immediately fast-forward to the summer of 1929, halfway across the country in Kentucky, where a young boy named Tommy Tilwicky (Jet Jurgensmeyer) becomes fascinated with “Shooter Green,” a comic book hero who can shoot a flea off a dog from 50 yards away, played by Jeremy Sumpter. There are plenty of details that need fleshing out, and Tommy is engrossed in the story while his widowed mother, Susan (Jill Wagner), struggles to make ends meet just before the dawning of the Great Depression.
She puts an ad out for boarders and along comes Sam Barnes (Adam Baldwin), who, as fate would have it, needs a place to stay but lacks money. He’s willing to earn his keep by taming wild horses so Susan can sell them, and the presence of a man around the place comes in handy. And, as fate would further have it, he’s able to tell little Tommy all about Shooter Green, warning the lad not to believe everything he reads in the comic book.
The flashbacks fill us in on the salient details: Shooter was aptly named, and his skills with a gun land him a job with a crew hired to protect stagecoach valuables. The dangerous job paid $500 for three months’ work—big money back then—which also makes marrying his feisty sweetheart, Josie Hayes (Alexandra DeBerry) and starting a life together worth the risk. After they’re married, he gains extra motivation for one last trip with the crew when he learns his wife is pregnant. But one last job/trip/robbery never seems to go as planned in the movies, and Shooter learns that protecting the stagecoach (filled with $200,000 in gold) isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. He finds himself suddenly at odds with former allies, double-crossed by his crew, freshly minus two guys he’s falsely accused of killing.
Tommy may be young, but he’s sharp and asks the right questions—namely, how does Sam know so much about Shooter, who was notoriously private? And what happened to the stagecoach money Shooter was supposed to help protect? Even Susan senses there’s more to Sam dropping into her and Tommy’s life at the right time. “I can’t put my finger on it,” she tells Sam, “but I feel like we’ve met before.”
We won’t tell you the answers here, but viewers paying careful attention will discover that they come at just the right intervals to keep the story interesting and moving at a steady pace.
Tommy learns what the movie attempts to teach its viewers: there’s value in keeping your word and protecting your family. Do those two things and, as Sam tells Susan, he’s “a firm believer that things have a way of working themselves out.” The script also has a way of working itself out and thus, The Legend of 5 Mile Cave merits the Dove-Approved Seal for All Ages.
The Dove Take:
A family-friendly Western that’s almost an anti-Western, in that it doesn’t rely overmuch on gun play or fistfights, it doesn’t twist history to make bad guys out of Indians, and it doesn’t make helpless damsels in distress out of strong female characters.