Monthly Archives: November 2013

Women in Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 18, 2013

Women in Westerns


Sacajawea points the way west (N.C. Wyeth)–one of the early significant female characters in the west.  There is no known photograph of her, despite some of the things you will see on the internet.  She died before the age of photography.  However, in 1955 in The Far Horizons, Donna Reed played her in very dark make-up, which didn’t run even when she was required to cry.  She led Fred MacMurray and Charlton Heston to the Pacific Coast, while falling in love with Heston (as William Clark).

Compson-The_Terror_of_The_RangeCompsonasStarr incourt-martial28

As long as there have been western movies, some of them have emphasized women.  The poster above is for The Terror of the Range (1919) and features Betty Compson.  According to the poster, it also features “Incomparable riders, a beautiful heroine, a hero who is ultra daring and the bold, free adventurous life of the last frontier.”  At the time this movie was made, that frontier era was only about 30 years in the past.  The still shows Compson nine years later as a glamorous Belle Starr with Jack Holt in 1928’s Court-Martial, now thought to be lost.

Historically, the American west was a land dominated by men, with only a small population of women as the frontier developed.  That means it’s possible to tell a good western story without women, just as men often seemed peripheral to the female melodramas of the 1930s and 40s.  However, since romance has always been a strong element of the movies, there have always been roles for women in western stories, too.  Sometimes, depending on writing, direction and performance, they can make a dominant contribution to the story.  There was the cattle queen era of 1950s westerns (think Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar, Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious, and Barbara Stanwyck in Forty Guns or The Furies, along with a number of others).  Since 1970 or so, there have been a number of attempts to tell western stories with a stronger female point of view, or with more assertive female characters (and there were always some assertive female characters in the west).

The lists below constitute an attempt to collect some of the stronger female performances in westerns, as well as some that were obviously less successful.  As with all such lists, they tend to be matters of opinion and they are not complete.  If you care to take issue with any appearance on one of these lists or think somebody’s been omitted, please leave a comment.  The lists will be revised periodically as other movies and performances come to my attention.  See also Great Performances in Westerns, Women’s Division.  For the fashion, especially notable in the late 1960s, of casting European actresses in westerns, see the post on European Women in Westerns.


The Outlaw:  This was supposedly Howard Hughes’ 1943 retelling of the story of Billy the Kid.  But the dominant image associated with the film was never a male one.  The actor who played Billy is not much remembered (it was Jack Beutel), but few forget Jane Russell, even if it was a terrible movie.

Excellent Women in Westerns:

Claire Trevor in Stagecoach

Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again

Jean Arthur in The PlainsmanArizona and Shane

Marlene Dietrich in The Spoilers (1942)

Veronica Lake in Ramrod

Gail Russell in Angel and the Badman

Anne Baxter in Yellow Sky

Judith Anderson in Pursued and The Furies

Loretta Young in Rachel and the Stranger

Barbara Stanwyck in Union Pacific and The Furies

Linda Darnell in My Darling Clementine and Two Flags West

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory

Paula Raymond in Devil’s Doorway

Denise Darcel, Hope Emerson and the cast of Westward the Women

Shelly Winters in Winchester ’73 and The Scalphunters

Elizabeth Threatt in The Big Sky

Joan Crawford in Johnny Guitar

Dorothy Malone in Quantez and The Last Sunset

Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo


Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights.

Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights

Lee Remick in The Hallelujah Trail

Rosalind Chao in A Thousand Pieces of Gold

Annette Bening in Open Range

Anjelica Huston and Diane Lane in Lonesome Dove

Grace Kelly and Katy Jurado in High Noon

Geraldine Page in Hondo

Susan Hayward in Garden of Evil and Rawhide

Greer Garson in Strange Lady in Town

Katy Jurado in High Noon and Man from Del Rio

Carolyn Jones in Last Train from Gun Hill

Capucine in North to Alaska

Jane Fonda in Cat Ballou

Joanne Woodward in Big Hand for the Little Lady

Madeline Stowe in Last of the Mohicans

Mariette Hartley in Ride the High Country

Pamela Reed in The Long Riders

Diane Cilento in Hombre

Joan Hackett in Will Penny and Support Your Local Sheriff

Cate Blanchett in The Missing

Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit

Hilary Swank in The Homesman

Natalie Portman in Jane Got a Gun

Haley Bennett in The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Jessica Chastain in Woman Walks Ahead (2017)

Rosamund Pike in Hostiles (2017)

Helena Zengel in News of the World (2020)

Movie Review: 'Hostiles' stars Bale, Pike in violent, slow-burn western | WTOP

Rosamund Pike in Hostiles

News Of The World' Star Helena Zengel On Her Breakout Western Role – Deadline

Helena Zengel in News of the World

These three seemed to be good in most westerns in which they appeared.  Indeed, they tended to be typecast and known principally for their roles in westerns:

Joanne Dru (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Red River, Southwest Passage, DrangoReturn of the Texan, Wagon Master)

Virginia Mayo (Colorado Territory, Along the Great Divide, Devil’s Canyon, The Big Land, The Iron Mistress, The Proud Ones, The Tall Stranger, Fort Dobbs, Westbound)

Katy Jurado (High Noon, San Antone, Arrowhead, Broken Lance, The Badlanders, Man from Del Rio)

Women9Baxter Anne Baxter in Yellow Sky.

Woman as Outlaw Dupes

Mona Freeman in Streets of Laredo

Laura Elliott/Kasey Rogers in Denver & Rio Grande

Julia Adams in Bend of the River

Janet Leigh in The Naked Spur

Dorothy Malone in Quantez

Julie London in Drango

Angie Dickinson in Gun the Man Down

Mariette Hartley in Ride the High Country

Vera Miles in Molly and Lawless John

Candice Bergen in Bite the Bullet

Women6MartinelliBelle Starr

The female gunfighter has always been an interesting fantasy.  This is Elsa Martinelli as Belle Starr in The Belle Starr Story, aka Il mio corpo per un poker (1968), a spaghetti western directed by Lina Wertmuller.  Not much like the real Belle Starr (Myra Belle Shirley), right, who was killed at the age of 40 in 1889 in Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) by unknown persons.  She was also played by such beauties as Gene Tierney and Jane Russell, among many others.

Vengeful Women with Guns

Loretta Young in Along Came Jones (1945; Dir:  Stuart Heisler)

Ann Savage in Renegade Girl (1946; Dir:  William Berke)

Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar (1954; Dir:  Ray)

Patricia Medina in The Buckskin Lady (1957)

Raquel Welch in Bandolero! (1968; Dir:  McLaglen)

Michele Carey in Five Savage Men (1971; Dir:  Ron Joy)

Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder (1973; Dir:  Burt Kennedy)

Madeline Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell and Drew Barrymore in Bad Girls (1994)

Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead (1995; Dir:  Raimi)

Sage Mears in 6 Guns (DVD, 2010)

Sara Canning in Hannah’s Law (MfTV, 2012)

Helena Bonham Carter in The Lone Ranger (2013)

Jacqueline Cerceres in Revenge (2013)

Eva Green in The Salvation (2014)

Natalie Portman in Jane Got a Gun (2016)

Haley Bennett in The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Taissa Farmiga in In a Valley of Violence (2016)

Outlaw Women 1952 Outlaw Women, 1952

Women in Gunfights (not quite the same thing, but there are some duplications)

Binnie Barnes in Frontier Marshal (1939)

Loretta Young in Along Came Jones (1945)

Jennifer Jones in Duel in the Sun (1946)

Joanne Dru in Red River (1948)

Mona Freeman in Streets of Laredo (1949)

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory (1949)

Alexis Smith in Montana (1950)

Anne Baxter in A Ticket to Tomahawk (1950)

Susan Hayward in Rawhide (1951)

Grace Kelly in High Noon (1952)    

 Maureen O’Hara in The Redhead from Wyoming (1953) 

 Barbara Stanwyck in The Moonlighter (1953)

 Joan Crawford and Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar (1954)

Karen Booth in Top Gun (1955)

 Beverly Garland in Gunslinger (1956)

Valerie French in Decision at Sundown (1957)

 Inger Stevens in Firecreek (1968)

Raquel Welch in Bandolero! (1968), 100 Rifles (1969) and Hannie Caulder (1971).

Candice Bergen in Bite the Bullet (1975)

 Madeleine Stowe, Drew Barrymore et al. in Bad Girls (1994)

 Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead (1995)

 Megan Fox in Jonah Hex (2010)

 Sage Mears in 6 Guns (2010)

 Sara Canning in Hannah’s Law (MfTV, 2012)

Eva Green in The Salvation (2014)

Natalie Portman in Jane Got a Gun (2016)

Haley Bennett in The Magnificent Seven (2016)

Rosamund Pike in Hostiles (2017)


Angie Dickinson brought obvious talents, as well as some that were not so obvious, to a terrific performance as Feathers in Rio Bravo (1959).

Women with a Past

Estelle Taylor in Cimarron (1931)

Claire Trevor in Stagecoach and The Stranger Wore a Gun

Marlene Dietrich in Destry Rides Again and The Spoilers

Gypsy Rose Lee in Belle of the Yukon

Joanne Dru in Red River and Wagon Master

Linda Darnell in My Darling Clementine

Virginia Mayo in Colorado Territory

Gloria Grahame and others in Roughshod

Katy Jurado in High Noon and The Badlanders

Julia Adams in The Lawless Breed

Shelley Winters in Winchester ’73, Saskatchewan, Frenchie                                                            and The Scalphunters

Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious

Valerie French in Decision at Sundown

Virginia Mayo in The Tall Stranger

Angie Dickinson in Gun the Man Down

Julie London in Saddle the Wind and Man of the West

Irene Pappas in Tribute to a Bad Man

Dorothy Malone in Quantez

Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo

Carolyn Jones in Last Train from Gun Hill

Donna Reed in Backlash

Anne Baxter in The Spoilers (1955), Three Violent People (1956) and Cimarron (1960)

Sophia Loren in Heller in Pink Tights

Maureen O’Hara in The Deadly Companions

Annelle Hayes in Two Rode Together

Capucine in North to Alaska

Barbara Luna and Marie Windsor in Mail Order Bride

Janet Margolin and Suzanne Pleshette in Nevada Smith

Claudia Cardinale in The Professionals

The female cast of Savage Pampas

Raquel Welch in Bandolero!

Diane Cilento in Hombre

Angie Dickinson in The Last Challenge

Angie Dickinson in Young Billy Young

Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West

Shirley Jones et al. in The Cheyenne Social Club

Inger Stevens in Five Card Stud

Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara

Jeanne Moreau in Monte Walsh

Julie Christie in McCabe and Mrs. Miller

Stella Stevens in The Ballad of Cable Hogue

Candice Bergen in Bite the Bullet

Pamela Reed in The Long Riders

Diane Lane in Lonesome Dove

Laura San Giacomo in Quigley Down Under

Madeline Stowe, Mary Stuart Masterson, Andie MacDowell and Drew Barrymore in Bad Girls (1994)

Crystal Bernard in Siringo (MfTV, 1994)

Greta Schacchi in Broken Trail

January Jones in Sweetwater

Helena Bonham Carter in The Lone Ranger

Natalie Portman in Jane Got a Gun

Stef Dawson in Painted Woman


Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain, and Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead.

Sagas with Female Leads

Jubilee Trail

Duel in the Sun

The Sea of Grass

The Furies

The Big Country

Forty Guns


How the West Was Won

Cold Mountain


The story of Wild Bill Hickok always presents an opportunity for a Calamity Jane, just as Wyatt Earp always has a juicy role for Doc Holliday.  This not-so-plain Jane is Ellen Barkin, in Wild Bill (1995).  With the real Martha Jane Cannary on the right.  Note the differences in body language, among other things.

Less Successful Attempts at Female Leads in Westerns:

Barbara Stanwyck in Annie Oakley (1935; Dir:  Stevens)

Gene Tierney in Belle Starr (1941, with Randolph Scott)

Ann Dvorak in Flame of the Barbary Coast (1945, with John Wayne; Dir:  Kane)

Marie Windsor in Dakota Lil (1948)

Yvonne DeCarlo in The Gal Who Took the West (1949; Dir:  DeCordova)

Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious (1952; Dir:  Lang)

Jane Russell in Montana Belle (1952; Dir:  Dwan)

Maureen O’Hara in The Redhead from Wyoming (1952)

Doris Day in Calamity Jane (1953; Dir:  Butler)

Barbara Stanwyck in Cattle Queen of Montana (1954)

Barbara Stanwyck in The Violent Men (1955)

Barbara Stanwyck in The Maverick Queen (1956)

Mercedes McCambridge in Johnny Guitar (1954; Dir:  Ray)

Claudette Colbert in Texas Lady (1955; Dir:  Whelan)

The King and Four Queens (1956)

 Doris Day in The Ballad of Josie (1968)

 Shirley MacLaine in Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970; Dir:  Don Siegel)


Candice Bergin with Cheyenne child and fake severed Indian head in the revisionist Soldier Blue (1970).

Candice Bergen in Soldier Blue (1970)

 Michele Carey in Five Savage Men (1971; Dir:  Ron Joy)

 Raquel Welch in Hannie Caulder (1973; Dir:  Burt Kennedy)

Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead (1995; Dir:  Raimi)

Salma Hayek and Penelope Cruz in Bandidas (2006; Dir:  Sandberg, Roenning)

The Far Side of Jericho—Andrews, Burnett, Negrin (2006; Dir:  Hunter)

Sarah Canning in Hannah’s Law (MfTV, 2012)


Pamela Reed as Belle Starr is not to be trifled with in Walter Hill’s The Long Riders.

Female Directors of Westerns

Lina Wertmuller, The Belle Starr Story, also known as Il mio corpo per un poker (1968)

Nancy Kelly, A Thousand Pieces of Gold (1991)

Antonia Bird, Ravenous  (1999)

Randa Haines, The Outsider (MfTV, 2002)

Kelly Reichardt, Meek’s Cutoff (2010)

Suza Lambert Bowser, A River of Skulls (2010)

Rachel Talalay, Hannah’s Law (MfTV, 2012)

Susanna White, Woman Walks Ahead (2018)

Emma Tammi, The Wind (2018)

Kelly Reichardt, First Cow (2020)

Jane Campion, The Power of the Dog (2021)













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El Dorado

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 16, 2013

El Dorado—John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, James Caan, Charlene Holt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Ed Asner, R.G. Armstrong, Christopher George, Michele Carey (1966; Dir:  Howard Hawks)


Seven years after Rio Bravo (1959), director Howard Hawks largely remade the same story with the same leading man:  John Wayne as gunman Cole Thornton in El Dorado.  Wayne is seven years longer in the tooth (now at age 58), and it shows.  Although he has a (much younger) romantic interest in Charlene Holt’s Maudie, the romance doesn’t really provide the audience with the same kind of interest that the (much younger) Angie Dickinson did in Rio Bravo.  El Dorado is still quite watchable, if not in the same classic category as Rio Bravo; i.e., it’s not as bad as the eventual third remake (and Hawks’ last film), Rio Lobo (1970).

Why isn’t it as good as Rio Bravo, aside from an older lead?  Two reasons:  the story is slightly more complicated and doesn’t hang together as well (i.e., the writing is not as good), and the cast by and large isn’t as differentiated and doesn’t have the same chemistry.  Robert Mitchum as alcoholic sheriff J.P. Harrah is older than Dean Martin and has a different chemistry with Wayne—more equal.  He’s good, though different.  Neither of the female characters has the same charisma as Dickinson, although the writing isn’t as good for them here, either.  Ed Asner as Bart Jason is in his unappealing glowering villain mode (e.g., Skin Game) without much variety in his small one-note part.  Christopher George as Jason’s hired gunman Nelse McLeod is snakily charming, and George apparently became a favorite of John Wayne’s (getting future parts in Chisum and The Train Robbers); too bad for him it was so late in Wayne’s career. 


Cole Thornton (John Wayne), Nelse McLeod (Christopher George) and Mississippi (James Caan).

A young James Caan becomes slightly tiresome with his silly hat (we don’t care about it as much as the characters seem to), inability to shoot a gun, frequent quoting of the Poe poem of the title and especially with his unconvincing imitation of a Chinaman.  A significant part of his problems may be in the writing of his unnecessary character; cf. Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo and Stuart Whitman in The Comancheros, both better in similar parts as Wayne’s apprentice.  Caan was a better actor than Nelson, but the script doesn’t work in his favor.  At least there’s no singing here. 

R.G. Armstrong is Kevin MacDonald, head of the numerous MacDonald clan.  Thankfully, he’s not always spouting Bible passages, as he seems to in most Sam Peckinpah movies in which he appeared.  The ensemble never really comes together.  The one role that may be better than the original is Arthur Hunnicutt as bugle-playing Bull, in the Walter Brennan cantankerous old deputy part.  (For other Hunnicutt performances, look for him in The Tall T, The Big Sky, Two Flags West, Broken Arrow and even with a cameo as a too-old Butch Cassidy in Cat Ballou.)


Wayne’s Cole Thornton is an aging gunman, not so convincing here with a pistol.  He sometimes seems to wear it around his butt; he’s better with a longarm as a favorite weapon (Hondo and Rio Bravo).  The story is in two parts.  In the first part, Thornton is offered a job in the town of El Dorado by Bart Jason, asked to use his gun skills to drive the largish MacDonald family off their ranch so Jason can get their water rights.  Thornton refuses but unintentionally kills one of the younger MacDonald sons, played here by Johnny Crawford of the television show The Rifleman.  Sister Joey MacDonald (Michele Carey, with big hair, a useless hat, tight pants and a supposedly feisty attitude) shoots Thornton in the back, giving him a continuing injury which results in occasional pain and paralysis in his right (shooting) hand.  (You can see the climax coming now, right?) 

In part two, several months later in another town Thornton encounters McLeod, hired by Jason for the job Thornton had refused.  McLeod is now headed to El Dorado with a band of gunmen.  Thornton helps out knife-throwing Mississippi (Caan) in a bar room dispute, acquires him as an unwanted partner, and hears that his old friend Harrah has become a drunk over a bad woman, although he’s still the sheriff.  Thornton gets to El Dorado barely before McLeod and tries to sober up Harrah.  After a little more development, the shooting of one MacDonald son and the kidnapping of another by the sleazy Jason minions, Thornton participates in a climactic shoot-out which would be unchivalrous except for Thornton’s impairment. 


Sometimes the gun hand works.


Sometimes it doesn’t.

Taken directly from Rio Bravo is a scene in which Thornton and Harrah pursue an assassin into a bar and the boozy Harrah gets the evildoer while facing down a crowd that treats him contemptuously.  This time the scene is not as good as the original, although Mitchum does kill a piano.  (If the bartender seems sort of familiar, he is played by Jim Mitchum, Robert’s brother, and there’s a physical resemblance.)  In the end, it seems that Thornton gets Maudie (or she finally gets him), but the movie doesn’t really care much about that. 

There are some noticeable continuity problems.  Consider the wounded characters (Thornton and Harrah) constantly switching the arms their crutches are under, or Joey MacDonald’s wet and not wet butt in the scene where she shoots Thornton.  This wouldn’t seem to be careful direction from the normally masterful Hawks.  Other elements (lighting, camera angles, composition, etc.) are what you’d expect from a master.


Production still of stars John Wayne, Charlene Holt and Robert Mitchum. One of them seems to be underdressed.

Robert Mitchum said later that when Howard Hawks asked him to be in the film, Mitchum asked about the story of the film.  Hawks reportedly replied that the story didn’t matter because the film had some “great characters.”  That attitude toward the story is the cause of the movie’s weaknesses.  There are too many characters and the story never entirely comes together, despite the fact that the screenwriter is Leigh Brackett, an excellent writer who worked on Rio Bravo and a number of other Hawks classics.  Of course, she also worked on Rio Lobo, which was to be even worse than this one.  The script here has some good lines.  Thornton:  “Either one of you know a fast way to sober a man up?”  Bull:  “A bunch of howlin’ Indians out for hair’ll do it quicker’n anything I know.”  But the whole is somehow less than its parts.  This, The War Wagon and Big Jake are similarly watchable, but not great, westerns from the same late period in Wayne’s career—not as bad as either Rio Lobo or The Train Robbers.  And better than Chisum and Cahill U.S. Marshal, even.  Even if he was John Wayne, he needed a good premise, good writing, and roles that took his age into account.

This didn’t mean that Wayne’s career was basically done or stuck in endless repeats, though.  He would yet play one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn in True Grit the next year (1968), for which he won his only Oscar, aging rancher Wil Andersen in The Cowboys (1972), and J.B. Books in The Shootist (1976).  He was at the top of his game in all those, and they are better movies than El Dorado.

Shooting on the film started in late 1965. The movie was trade-screened to exhibitors on 15 November 1966 but not released until June 1967—about the same time as The War Wagon.  Both did well enough at the box office.


Howard Hawks didn’t really make many westerns–only five–although he did have a long and illustrious career as a director of movies.  If you throw out his last movie and worst western (Rio Lobo), the remaining four (Red River, The Big Sky, Rio Bravo, and El Dorado) stand up pretty well.

Trivia:  A belt buckle that John Wayne sports in many scenes features the Red River D brand, an homage to his first collaboration with Howard Hawks twenty years earlier in Red River (1948).  The opening credits feature a montage of original paintings that depict various scenes of cowboy life in the Old West.  The artist was Olaf Wieghorst, who appears in the film as the gunsmith Swede Larsen and provides Mississippi with his sawed-off shotgun sidearm.  This same kind of montage was used for the opening credits in Chisum.

More trivia:  El Dorado is not only the name of the town where the Robert Mitchum character is sheriff and where much of the action takes place.  It is also the name of a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, quoted more than once by Mississippi.  Name another western in which the Poe poem is quoted by a character.  For the answer, click here.

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Union Pacific

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 15, 2013

Union Pacific—Joel McCrea, Robert Preston, Brian Donlevy, Barbara Stanwyck (1939; Dir:  Cecil B. Demille)


In the movies’ greatest year, we had this rare western by one of the cinema’s greatest showmen.  It obviously had a big budget, being made in the DeMille style, and was promoted very expensively.  As well as being a great year for movies generally, 1939 was also a good year for westerns, with this, Dodge City, Stagecoach, Destry Rides Again, Frontier Marshal and the misbegotten curiosity The Oklahoma Kid.

UnionPacificLeads The romantic triangle.

Joel McCrea, a bigger star than John Wayne at the time, is Jeff Butler, a troubleshooter for the Union Pacific Railroad at the End of Track, wearing two guns with pistol butts facing forward.  His childhood and Civil War friend is Dick Allen (Robert Preston, charming in his first big part), now in the process of drifting over to the dark side for a big score.  They are both romantically interested in Molly Monahan, played with a painfully thick Irish brogue by Barbara Stanwyck.  Brian Donlevy, as one would expect, is the principal villain as Sid Campeau, the slimy saloon owner who corrupts Allen.  (See a young Anthony Quinn briefly as a sleazy gambler and Campeau confederate Jack Cordray, who tries to shoot Butler in the back.  The screen’s original Tarzan, Elmo Lincoln, is said to be an uncredited player in this, too.)


Its overarching story is the driving of the Union Pacific railroad line westward after the Civil War to meet the Central Pacific, overcoming all obstacles:  outlaws, Indians, snow, unmet payrolls and unfriendly mountain terrain.  The golden spike used in the meeting-of-the-lines scene is the real spike from 1869, borrowed from Stanford University.  McCrea and Preston are very good in this, Stanwyck a little less so, although that may not be her fault with her part written so faux-Irish.  Butler ultimately values his friendship with Allen and is able to escape hanging his friend, even when it becomes obvious that Allen has been involved in train robberies.  As one would expect, Allen redeems himself as he dies at the end.  At this stage of his career, Preston seemed to specialize in this kind of a role–the friend who goes bad (see North West Mounted Police, Whispering Smith and Blood on the Moon, for example).

UnionPacificIndianAttack Indian attack!

There’s a fair amount of spectacle here, with two train crashes (one caused by Indians, one caused by snow) and a major Indian attack, in addition to the nefarious outlaws.  It’s in black and white, but so were most movies in 1939, especially westerns.  (The exception:  see Dodge City, below.)  Compare this with the later (1941) technological western and winning-of-the-west epic Western Union, featuring Randolph Scott as the conflicted lead who has to sort out his loyalties while (a) being tempted by the dark side and (b) playing off straight arrow Robert Young.  Both movies are quite watchable.

DeMille didn’t make many westerns, but some would say that he invented the feature-length western with The Squaw Man in 1914.  By 1939, he’d been making movies for more than 25 years already.


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The Plainsman

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 14, 2013

The Plainsman—Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, James Ellison, Charles Bickford, Helen Burgess, Porter Hall (1936; Dir:  Cecil B. DeMille)


In Belgium, Hickok wasn’t even billed as the main character.

Two or three years later, and this large-scale western would have been made in color.  This may be Gary Cooper’s best pre-High Noon western, although many of his earliest efforts in the genre (The Winning of Barbara Worth, The Virginian, Wolf Song, The Spoilers, Fighting Caravans) can be hard to find now.  It is better than The Westerner, a 1940 version of the Judge Roy Bean story.  This and the 1936 version of Last of the Mohicans are probably the most watchable pre-1939 westerns of the 1930s.


Cooper plays Will Bill Hickok, the long-haired plainsman of the title, although that could also be his friend Buffalo Bill Cody (James Ellison), newly married to easterner Louisa (Helen Burgess) as this film starts at the end of the Civil War.  The events between 1865 and Hickok’s death in 1876 are compressed seemingly into just a few months, and the movie is an overt exercise in myth-making.  Still, it can be fun to look for the actual history when it shows up.

Bill heads to Hays City, Kansas, where he finds miscreants led by Jim Lattimer (Charles Bickford) planning to sell surplus repeating rifles to the Sioux and Cheyennes.  Trying to prevent that, Bill gets into trouble both with the Indians and with Custer’s Seventh Cavalry (the historical Hickok did have run-ins with Custer’s brother Tom and other soldiers as a peace officer in Kansas in the late 1860s).  Meanwhile, Cody’s new wife Louisa tries to get him to settle down and start a hotel with her.  The third principal character is Calamity Jane (Jean Arthur, considerably more blond and much better-looking than the historical character), who has an ambiguous relationship with Bill but would obviously like to make it more romantic.

PlainsmanYellowHand Captured by Yellow Hand.

After capture by Indians, a couple of battles and attempts by Custer to find and arrest him, Bill’s pursuit of the gun peddlers takes him to Deadwood, where he kills Lattimer and holds the rest of Lattimer’s gang for the army, until Jack McCall (Porter Hall) shoots him in the back, leaving a beautifully unmarked corpse.  Cody arrives with the Fifth Cavalry, Bill is posthumously exonerated of any wrongdoing and America goes on to conquer Indians, evildoers and the frontier generally.


Two frontier Bills (Wild and Buffalo) holding off the Cheyennes under desperate circumstances.

Cooper plays one of the most attractive Hickoks on film, tall and lean with restrained humor and wearing two guns with butts facing forward (he’s convincingly good with them).  Arthur is quite good as well, although she looks very little like the historical Calamity Jane, and Ellison is adequate if a bit wooden in a good-looking way.  Director De Mille reportedly hated Ellison’s performance and wanted to ensure that Ellison never had as good a part in quite as good a film ever again.  If so, he was successful.  The historical Cody marriage was troubled, as this one starts out.  Young Anthony Quinn shows up toward the end of the movie as an unnamed Cheyenne.  

Jean Arthur began her career in silent movies, and she was in some very good movies in the 1930s and early 1940s.  But they were mostly in urban settings working with great directors–Frank Capra, Howard Hawks, George Stevens–in such films as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Only Angels Have Wings, The More the Merrier, etc.  She wasn’t bad in three westerns, though:  The Plainsman, Arizona (1940), and Shane (1953), her last movie.


DeMille directs Ellison and Cooper in The Plainsman.

In black and white.  DeMille hired famous Indian photographer Edward S. Curtis to shoot some stills and film for this movie.


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The Best Spaghetti Westerns

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 13, 2013

The Best Spaghetti Westerns

Director Sergio Corbucci claims that the idea for spaghetti westerns came when he was working as a second-unit director for his friend director Sergio Leone, filming in Spain on The Last Days of Pompeii (1959).  Seeing the landscape of Spain with its wild horses, extraordinary canyons, and semi-desert landscapes which looked a lot like Mexico or Texas, Corbucci suggested making an American Wild West-themed film in Spain.  Corbucci then directed his first western in Spain just before Sergio Leone completed the ground-breaking A Fistful of Dollars in 1964.  The Wikipedia entry on “Spaghetti Western” lists the first such as The Sheriff in 1959.


David A. Cook’s A History of Narrative Film says more than 400 of what are generically referred to as spaghetti westerns were produced from 1963 to 1973.  As a general matter, the best of them are the four directed by Sergio Leone, which show a remarkable progression in film-making ability.  Two western stars in particular reached a higher status through their appearances in spaghetti westerns:  Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef, who both appeared in Leone films in the mid-1960s.  And such other stars as Henry Fonda and Jack Palance had their careers prolonged by appearing in spaghetti westerns.  Spaghetti westerns usually exhibit most of the following characteristics:

  • There are often lingering close-ups and a fascination with blue eyes.  They often feature long shots, with fewer middle-range shots (compared to, say, the westerns of Budd Boetticher, who used mid-range shots a lot).
  • They were most often filmed in Spain and frequently their stories were said to be set in Mexico; perhaps due to the setting or simply to a fondness for grittiness, there was often lots of dust.
  •  They featured extended, and not very realistic, violence and brutality.
  •  The music was sometimes excellent in a new sort of way (especially that provided by Ennio Morricone for Leone and other films), but it was often disproportionately loud.
  • They were made by Italian directors with largely Italian casts, with a light sprinkling of American stars (either up and coming, like Clint Eastwood or Burt Reynolds, or getting to be long in the tooth, like Henry Fonda, Lee Van Cleef or Jack Palance).
  • They were shot without recording the sound, depending on putting the sound in later during post-production.  That resulted in a lot of dubbed voices, sometimes by the actual actor on film (Eastwood or Van Cleef), but often not; see, for example, Claudia Cardinale in Once Upon a Time in the West.  It could often mean that music or sound effects supposedly provided by someone on the film had the wrong accoustics.
  • There was often a fondness for the freakish, surreal or bizarre–dwarves, hunchbacks, inexplicably maniacal laughter, etc.


Our consultant for Italian and horror films, Adam Sorensen at Lionsgate Films, has provided one list of the best of the spaghetti westerns.  As he says, the list is dominated by the two Sergios:  Leone and Corbucci.

  1. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Sergio Leone)
  2. Once Upon a Time in the West (Leone)
  3. For a Few Dollars More (Leone)
  4. The Great Silence (Sergio Corbucci)
  5. A Fistful of Dollars (Leone)
  6. Django (Corbucci)
  7. Companeros (Corbucci)
  8. The Big Gundown (Sergio Sollima)
  9. My Name is Nobody (Tonino Valerii)
  10. Keoma (Enzo Castellari)

From Adam:  “The two Sergios (Leone and Corbucci) pretty much dominate the genre.  However, there is a third Sergio (Sollima) who also has a very good reputation.  In addition to this top ten, these are the most notable honorable mentions, in order of general acclaim:

*Day of Anger (Valerii)

*Run, Man, Run (Sollima)

*The Mercenary (Corbucci)

*Death Rides a Horse (Giulio Petroni)

*A Bullet for the General (Damiano Damiani)

*Mannaja (Sergio Martino)

*Django Kill… If You Live, Shoot! (Giulio Questi)

*Four of the Apocalypse (Lucio Fulci)

*The Grand Duel (Giancarlo Santi)

*Navajo Joe (Corbucci)

*Texas, Adios (Ferdinando Baldi)

*A Reason to Live, a Reason to Die (Valerii)

*Face to Face (Sollima)

*Cemetery Without Crosses (Robert Hossein)

*Sabata (Gianfranco Parolini)

*My Name is Trinity (Enzo Barboni)

  • “Some of these get pretty bizarre, surreal, and brutal, but that seems to be part of the appeal.”
  • For yet another take on the ten best spaghetti westerns, see this site:


Some of the more successful of the spaghetti westerns gave rise to sequels, even multiple sequels, sometimes by parties other than the original director.  Among the series, the best known is Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name or Dollar Trilogy, which features no continuity of character or story but each film simply has Clint Eastwood as a different character with identical costuming.  Such spaghetti westerns series include:

The Man with No Name or Dollar Trilogy (Leone)






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Rio Conchos

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 12, 2013

Rio Conchos—Richard Boone, Stuart Whitman, Anthony Franciosa, Jim Brown, Edmond O’Brien, Wende Wagner, Rodolfo Acosta (1964; Dir:  Gordon Douglas)


The lead is ostensibly Stuart Whitman, but Richard Boone steals this better-than-average western, and actually gets top billing in the wake of his Have Gun Will Travel stardom on television.  Jim Brown doesn’t have many lines in his movie debut, made just before his last football season, but he looks good and conveys a sense of fighting expertise.    

In 1867, Capt. Haven (Whitman) and Sgt. Franklyn (Brown) are transporting 2000 repeating rifles from St. Louis to Texas.  The rifles are stolen by a former Confederate, Col. Theron (“The Grey Fox”) Pardee (Edmond O’Brien), who takes them to Mexico.  Pardee plans to sell them to Apaches led by Bloodshirt (Rodolfo Acosta as the Apache chief, just as he was in Hondo and Trooper Hook).  Former Confederate Major Jim Lassiter (Boone) returned from the war to find his wife and son killed by Apaches, and he has become a revenge-obssessed alcoholic.  The movie starts with a scene of Lassiter killing half a dozen Indians at a burial.  When Haven finds Lassiter with one of the stolen rifles and tosses Lassiter in jail, Lassiter is forced to help Haven and Franklyn try to recover or destroy the guns across the Rio Grande in Mexico.  He reluctantly agrees, if they take Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa), a charming Mexican murderer also in jail, who speaks both Spanish and Apache.  The four don’t trust each other, and that’s where much of the drama lies for this movie.  How good is Lassiter’s word?  Can Rodriguez be relied on?  Does Haven know what he’s doing?


Capturing the Apache maiden (Wende Wagner).

Along the way they acquire a prisoner, Apache maiden Sally (Wende Wagner in dark paint and decolletage), who adds another note of hostility to the group although she doesn’t speak English.  They make their way into Mexico with a wagon load of gunpowder as bait for the gun thieves, fighting among themselves and with Mexican banditos and Apaches.  Lassiter is the most resourceful fighter and tactician among them, but they all have their strengths (as with The Professionals two years later).  They finally find Pardee on the Rio Conchos (a tributary of the Rio Grande, extending into the state of Chihuahua), along with the rifles and Bloodshirt’s Apaches, but are captured by the Indians and tortured before an explosive ending. 

rioconchosCaptured Captured by Bloodshirt.

There’s lots of action, most of it well-filmed.  Whitman is somewhat wooden and his part seems a little underwritten, but Boone is great, with a magnificent voice and weatherbeaten looks.  Franciosa is also very good, but his characterization (and that of most Mexicans in this movie) will strike current audiences as a little broad and perhaps stereotypical.  Wende Wagner, in her first movie, is the weak link, both in acting and in her part as written in the movie.  She doesn’t look much like an Indian (although she apparently had some Indian ancestry along with German and French), and her movie career didn’t develop into much.  Most of the dramatic tension comes from trying to figure out whether the four or five central characters will be, on balance, good or bad.  In the end only Haven and Sally survive the final action, and improbably they seem to go off together.  But Lassiter does get Bloodshirt, or, rather, they get each other.  

RioConchosIndianAttack Apache attack.

This movie has a darker and grittier tone than, say, The Comancheros, which has a similar plot (stopping the sale of firearms to Indians) and the same screenwriter.  It probably suffered in its time for being an ensemble piece without instantly identifiable good guys, instead of a John Wayne-style obvious good guys vs. obvious bad guys western of the sort that audiences were used to then.  Lassiter, the most compelling character, is sometimes hard to identify with.  But that also makes it less predictable in its way.  An underrated and, these days, seldom seen western.

rioconchosPosterPolish Poster

Filmed in Arizona and around Moab, Utah.  Screenwriters are Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker (who also wrote The Comancheros, The War Wagon and the novel on which this film is based).  Good early score by Jerry Goldsmith.  Available on DVD as of 2011 together with Take a Hard Ride, a spaghetti western featuring Jim Brown on another expedition into Mexico.  This was probably the best western directed by Gordon Douglas, who also directed Fort Dobbs, Yellowstone Kelly and the 1966 Stagecoach remake, along with Barquero and at least one episode of Maverick. 

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The Jack Bull

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 11, 2013

The Jack Bull—John Cusack, John Goodman, L.Q. Jones, Miranda Otto, John C. McGinley, John Savage, Rodney A. Grant (Made for television, 1999; Dir:  John Badham)


Beautiful cinematography with a wintry cast to it, appropriate for the bleak material.  This was made for HBO before widescreen televisions were widespread, and widescreen DVDs of it can be hard to find. 

This is a grim tale of an obsessive hunt for justice in Wyoming, ca. 1890.  Myrl Redding (John Cusack) is a small horse trader in Rawlins.  A local cattle baron, Henry Ballard (L.Q. Jones), is trying to discourage locals from agitating for statehood, which he figures will restrict his ability to do as he pleases.  When Redding signs a pro-statehood petition, Ballard buys the land leading to a pass and puts in a fence, restricting travel in the area. 


Redding (John Cusack), trying to figure out what’s ethical.

On his way to an auction in Casper, Redding is forced to leave two black stallions with Ballard as security, only to find them in bad shape when he returns for them, with his Crow hand Billy (Rodney A. Grant) badly beaten by Ballard’s men.  From there things get out of control as Redding organizes his neighbors in an obsessive quest for justice—futile because the local judge is in Ballard’s pocket.  Everybody gets pushed into making choices they don’t want, even the purported semi-bad guy (Ballard). 


There are Unintended Consequences.  Redding’s wife Cora (Miranda Otto) is accidentally killed while seeking redress from the attorney general in Cheyenne, her death steeling Redding’s resolve.  Ballard’s foreman Staker (John Savage) is killed by Redding in a confrontation as Staker tries to get Billy.  A rancher’s wife gets killed accidentally in a confrontation with a band led by Redding, even though Redding didn’t want that. 

Redding is convicted of murder (for the rancher’s wife) and sentenced to be hung as statehood is declared.  Judge Joe B. Tolliver (John Goodman) investigates and sympathizes with Redding, but in the end there appears to be nothing anybody can do.  Not an easy black and white, good versus evil story.  Honor, duty, pride and justice collide, and people make their choices.  

Well acted, especially by John Cusack, Miranda Otto as Redding’s wife Cora in a brief role and by John Goodman who expresses the tragedy of it all.  Jones’ Ballard is continually objectionable, if clueless.  Having appeared in a number of Peckinpah and other westerns, his presence provides a familiar face.


Judge Joe B. Tolliver (John Goodman) explains it all, but he can’t fix any of it.

This bleak, tragic story has a screenplay written by Cusack’s father Dick, loosely based on Heinrich von Kleist’s 1811 novel Michael Kohlhaas.  (Dick Cusack also has a cameo as the jury foreman.)  Late 20th century social attitudes intrude a bit, with blacks given more visibility than they probably had in 1890s Wyoming.  Wyoming Territory was the first place in the country women could vote, but you probably wouldn’t find blacks on a jury.  The title apparently refers to a Jack Russell terrier, tenacious enough so that once it locks its jaws it never lets go.  Here that tenacity leads to a tragic conclusion.

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Escape from Fort Bravo

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 10, 2013

Escape from Fort Bravo—William Holden, Eleanor Parker, John Forsyth, Richard Anderson, William Demarest, Polly Bergen (1953; Dir:  John Sturges)


One of the best of the early John Sturges westerns.  Filmed in Death Valley and New Mexico, Sturges is obviously playing visually with the stunning desert landscapes throughout the movie.  The movie makes good use of color, if you’re watching a clear print.  Apparently there are problems with some DVDs.  Cinematography is by Robert Surtees. 

Fort Bravo is supposedly located in Arizona Territory during the Civil War (1863), when the war is not yet decided.  Confederate soldiers are held there under loose conditions; they may even outnumber their captors.  The fort is surrounded by hostile Mescalero Apaches in league with Cochise’s Chiricauhuas.  The main character is the implacable Captain Roper, convincingly played by William Holden.  He’s the one who deals with Confederates who escape, chasing them down in hostile territory and bringing them back.  John Forsyth is the leader of the Confederates, including a small group that is planning an escape.  (Echoes of the future Sturges WWII movie The Great Escape, to be made a decade later.)


The sullen Confederate captives are led by John Forsyth (center).

Eleanor Parker shows up as Carla Forester, an elegant Texas friend of the post commandant’s daughter (Polly Bergen) who’s getting married, and also the film’s principal romantic interest.  In fact, she’s there to set up the Confederate escape.  While doing so, she plays the hardened Roper, who falls in love with her.  She is more a Howard Hawksian female than a John Ford one—one who comes close to the edges of propriety in her relationship with Roper while she’s playing him.  The escape takes place, and Carla joins the escapees.  Roper is ordered to go after them, and the Apaches are after them all.  Roper does capture them, and they start to fight their way back to the fort.  The fight back is desperate; this is one of those cavalry movies (like, for example, Fort Apache) that depicts the Indians as good tacticians. 


Sultry Confederate spy Carla Forester (Eleanor Parker) plays Lt. Roper (William Holden) as he falls for her.

Escape from Fort Bravo belongs to that small category of  cavalry westerns, along with Two Flags West and Major Dundee, that has Yankees and Rebs fighting side by side against the Indians.  The supporting cast is good, especially crusty William Demarest as the oldest Confederate.  Richard Anderson is decent as Lt. Beecher, a young Union junior officer.  John Forsyth is elusive as the Confederate commander, who has his own romantic interest in Carla. 


Lt. Roper (William Holden) faces a hopeless situation, vastly outnumbered by Apaches while trapped in the desert.

The film is not without weaknesses:  Eleanor Parker seems way too glitzy in dress and makeup for (a) the 19th century and especially for (b) a frontier post.   She also doesn’t seem very Texan.  The ending is abrupt and not entirely convincing, with the Apaches taking care of some of the difficult decisions.  It would be good to see at least a little of how Roper and Carla work things out instead of just watching them ride into the sunset with Carla’s betrayal unresolved.  Maybe a little more backstory on Carla would be interesting.  But this is a good, watchable western.

William Holden is the center of the movie and his flinty personality and determination make it work.  The film came out the same year that Holden won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17.  He’s equally good here.  Eleanor Parker didn’t show up in westerns much.  If you’d care for another look at her, this time in a colonial-period western, she plays an aw-shucks-type backwoods female who is after mountain man Robert Taylor in Many Rivers to Cross (1955).

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Western Union

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 8, 2013

Western Union—Randolph Scott, Robert Young, Dean Jagger, Barton MacLane, Virginia Gilmore, Chill Wills (1941; Dir:  Fritz Lang)


Vance Shaw (Randolph Scott; note that he also played a character named Vance in the previous year’s Virginia City) is introduced as he’s apparently trying to get away from a posse.  In doing so, he saves a Western Union surveyor/chief engineer Edward Creighton (Dean Jagger, with a hairpiece), then escapes.  Shaw seems decent and more than normally competent, but he has an undefined relationship with Jack Slade (Barton MacLane) and his outlaw gang. 


When the telegraph line gets serious about building between Omaha and Salt Lake (1861, apparently), Creighton gives Shaw a job as his chief scout.  The Oglala Sioux, through whose territory the line must go, present a problem, and Slade’s gang seems involved with them, too.  Shaw develops a romantic interest in Creighton’s sister (Virginia Gilmore), although Harvard-educated engineer Richard Blake (Robert Young) is also interested.  For a tenderfoot, Blake does pretty well, and Shaw’s situation becomes more complicated as Slade’s depredations against Western Union increase.  Slade, from Missouri, fancies himself helping the Confederate cause by stopping the transcontinental telegraph line.  Shaw loses Creighton’s trust.

Finally, Shaw goes to town to have it out with Slade, who turns out to be his brother.  Although his hands are burned, he gets several of Slade’s henchmen and wounds Slade, but Slade gets him.  Blake finishes off Slade, although wounded himself.  Shaw was so compromised he probably had to die to resolve matters, but it’s a bittersweet and vaguely unsatisfying ending. 


Meeting the Harvard man.

Scott seems to have more dramatic heft than Young, who is featured more prominently on many of the posters.  John Carradine plays the company doctor; Chill Wills is a lineman; there’s broad comic relief in minor characters (e.g., Herman the cook, played by Slim Summerville) which doesn’t wear all that well.  In color (meaning a big budget for 1941); directed by Fritz Lang; based on a story by Zane Grey.  Compare it with another technological western, Cecil DeMille’s Union Pacific, released two years earlier.  In all, this is much better than average for its time, and better than much of Scott’s work in westerns during the late 1940s and 1950s up until his collaboration with Budd Boetticher.  This is more straightforward than Rancho Notorious (1952), the last western directed by Fritz Lang.  The producer was Harry Joe Brown; fifteen years later he and Scott would form the Ranown production company for the Budd Boetticher-Randolph Scott westerns.


Shaw, Creighton and Blake head out to negotiate with Spotted Horse and the Oglalla Sioux.

There was a real western gunman Jack Slade, involved in a famous gunfight at Julesburg, eventually killed by Montana vigilantes in the early 1860s and mentioned in Mark Twain’s Roughing It.  But this character doesn’t bear much resemblance to the historical Slade and is much more obviously an outlaw.


Lang (center) directs stars Robert Blake and Randolph Scott.

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The Ride Back

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 7, 2013

The Ride Back—William Conrad, Anthony Quinn, Lita Milan (1957; Dir:  Allen H. Miner, Oscar Rudolph [uncredited])


Lead William Conrad doesn’t show up in these posters at all.  The American posters show the title with an exclamation point that doesn’t make much sense:  The Ride Back!  You don’t usually see it that way, though.

This film is an example of why the 1950s could be such a good era for westerns.  They were so strongly in fashion that stories that could have been in other genres got made as westerns.  This is a small story with a small but excellent cast and good writing.  The moving forces behind it seem to have been lead actor and co-producer William Conrad and co-producer Robert Aldrich.

ride-backTakingPrisoner Taking Kallen prisoner.

For current audiences, the balding, thickset Conrad seems an unlikely choice for a leading man.  For several years he had played Marshal Matt Dillon on radio in Gunsmoke, and his deep voice was very recognizable.  Here he is Chris Hamish, a deputy sheriff from Scottville (Texas?), who as the movie opens is in Mexico with a warrant for Bob Kallen, a half-Mexican gunman wanted for two shootings in the U.S.  With the help of a priest, Hamish finds Kallen in a small village living with a girl who is related to the priest.  He takes Kallen prisoner, although Kallen is open about the fact that he thinks he’s better with a gun than Hamish and plans to get away.  Hamish agrees with him about the gun skills.  Some villagers show up and ask Kallen if he wants them to kill the man taking him away.  For the moment, he says no.

As they camp the first night, Kallen’s girl catches up with them and tries unsuccessfully to liberate him.  He sends her home.  They see some drunken Apaches and the next day are attacked by them.  With only one horse, they take refuge in a house where they find two dead older women and a dead girl.  They bury them and encounter a twin sister of the dead girl, who witnessed the slaughter and is apparently mute.  Pursued by the Apaches, they take her along. 


Once back in the U.S., they are about a day from Scottville, with only a lame horse.  Kallen and Hamish have come to know a bit about each other.  Kallen thinks he has been unjustly accused in the shootings and won’t get a fair trial.  He is good with people; the mute girl much prefers him to Hamish.  It comes out that Hamish’s wife can’t have children and hates him, and he considers himself a failure.  That’s why he’s so adamant about bringing Kallen in—the accomplishment of that task will show that he can actually do something.  He could have been jealous of Kallen’s people skills, confidence and ability with a gun, but it seems that he comes to admire Kallen.

Less than a day from Scottville, the Apaches attack them again.  Hamish is wounded badly, and he gives Kallen both the key to his manacles and the gun before he collapses.  Kallen polishes off the remaining Apaches.  He takes advantage of Hamish’s weakened condition to take the horse and head back for Mexico.  But as Hamish lies delirious on the ground with the girl helpless to do anything for him, Kallen returns, helps Hamish onto the horse and the three of them move on toward Scottville.


Pondering whether they can get back at all.

This is a psychological western, a character study of both Kallen and Hamish, but especially of Hamish.  The movie is short, at less than 90 minutes, and it’s not long on plot.  But it is effective.  The shifting relationship of a captor and outlaw captive moving toward mutual respect might remind you of the original 3:10 to Yuma, made the same year.

Shot in black and white at a time when the transition was being made to color, the cinematography is effective, with lots of low shots that include clouded skies.  It didn’t have a large budget, and it didn’t make a lot of money, but it is good.  It got made because Conrad also played a role as producer.  The dialogue is fairly spare, and both Conrad and Quinn are very good.  This was a period when Quinn played several villains in westerns (Last Train from Gun Hill, Warlock), and he is excellent in all of them.  Kallen is written more flamboyantly than Hamish, and Kallen shows some of the outlaw’s attractiveness.  The credited director, Allen Miner, was ill during a significant amount of the shooting (ten days), and during that time the second unit director Oscar Rudolph took over, although he is not credited as director.


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