Tribute To A Bad Man—James Cagney, Irene Papas, Don Dubbins, Stephen McNally, Lee Van Cleef, Vic Morrow, Royal Dano (1956; Dir: Robert Wise)
King Lear-like ranching baron Jeremy Rodock (James Cagney) is under siege on his Wyoming territory ranching empire, by horse thieves, a former partner (James Bell) and his own recently-hired shifty foreman McNulty (Stephen McNally). McNulty has designs on (and perhaps a history with) Rodock’s live-in Greek mistress Jocasta (Irene Pappas), a former dance hall girl from Cheyenne.
Under attack and wounded by horse thieves on his own range, Rodock is rescued by a young easterner Steve Millar (Don Dubbins) and promptly gives him a job. Rodock is obsessed with vengeance and his own brand of frontier justice, and young Miller becomes obsessed with Jocasta.
On one encounter with the thieves when they try to kill him, Rodock’s men shoot the former partner and hang the leader of the thieves. The partner’s son (Vic Morrow) takes up with Rodock’s crooked foreman and the rest of the thieves, but they, too, are caught. Rodock foregoes his usual vengeance, though, and Jocasta comes back to him. He doesn’t have Lear’s tragic end. His empire isn’t destroyed, he gets the woman back, and his enemies (except the partner’s embittered son) are dealt with. The young easterner goes off into the west.
One assumes the “bad man” of the title refers to Cagney’s Rodock, but it doesn’t really fit him. The original title was “Jeremy Rodock.” He’s more misguided than bad, and he’s not entirely wrong. Cagney’s eastern accent is a bit jarring, and the Greek Papas doesn’t particularly fit in a western. Don Dubbins is not very interesting as Rodock’s young protege. But it seems to work nevertheless. Lee Van Cleef is here, not as a bad guy but just one of Rodock’s wranglers (named Fat Jones), as is Royal Dano (Abe). A late Cagney film, this is the last of his three westerns (The Oklahoma Kid and Run for Cover are the other two).
Cagney was a great actor, but he was never as persuasive in a western as he was in a gangster film or even a musical. This does not have a dazzling script. It was a big budget movie filmed in Colorado in widescreen gorgeous color (by Robert Surtees), with a big-time director. Robert Wise didn’t do many westerns, but he did this and Blood on the Moon (1948), a western noir which is better. Music is by the Hungarian Miklos Rosza, who tended to do epics.
For Shakespearean overtones, compare it with Jubal, which came out the same year. This was originally cast with Spencer Tracy and Grace Kelly, but Tracy had problems with director Robert Wise and Kelly married Rainier of Monaco.