Tag Archives: Anthony Quinn

Man from Del Rio

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 27, 2015

Man From Del Rio—Anthony Quinn, Katy Jurado, Peter Whitney, Guinn Williams (1956; Dir: Harry Horner)

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Anthony Quinn played the lead in a couple of small but good westerns in the mid-1950s.  One was The Ride Back (1957), with William Conrad; and this was the other.  It clearly had a small budget and a director otherwise known principally for television work, but it was good.

It presents an unusual social twist on a traditional western gunfighter story, this time with a Hispanic slant.  As the movie opens, gunman Dan Ritchy rides up to a saloon in the town of Mesa, a quieter version of Hays City, Ellsworth and Dodge City on the cattle trails north from Texas to the railroads in Kansas.  He encounters a down-at-the-heels cowboy, who stops him and asks if he remembers Del Rio five years ago, where he killed three men.  A fourth was with them:  Dave Robles (Anthony Quinn), who says that it has taken him five years to learn how to use a gun.  He’s wounded in the exchange, but Ritchy is dead.

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Dave Robles (Anthony Quinn) apparently owns the town after taking down Dan Ritchy.

The cantankerous local doctor, Doc Adams (Douglas Fowley), whose sign advertises that he is also the dentist, undertaker and veterinarian, patches Robles up, and Robles meets the doc’s housekeeper and medical assistant Estella (Katy Jurado).  Back at the saloon, the proprietor Ed Bannister (Peter Whitney) chats Robles up.  He claims to have been a gunman when he was younger, and he apparently invites gunmen to town (as he did Ritchy) in the hopes of finding one that will buy into his vision of the town as a more vigorous trail town.

As Robles tries to get to know Estella better, she’s having none of him.  Three more of Bannister’s potential gunmen come to town, and they tie up the sheriff in a tree to use for target practice.  When they want to make off with Estella, Robles shoots it out with them and wins.  (If one of the three looks familiar, that’s because it’s Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, in an uncredited role.)  Impressed, the local town fathers offer him the job of sheriff at $100 a month and lodging, along with new clothes.

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Dave Robles (Anthony Quinn) has reason to be wary, even after he is made sheriff of Mesa.  And Estella (Katy Jurado) tries to dissuade Robles from a showdown with Bannister.

But the job and situation are not as good as Robles thought.  Social acceptance does not come with the job, and when he attends a dance, neither Estella nor any of the other respectable women in town will dance with him—apparently because he is Latino and a gunman.  When Ed Bannister renews his offer because Robles is drinking heavily and feeling ostracized by the community, the two get into a fight.  Robles wins, but he breaks the wrist on his gun hand.  Notwithstanding that, he is successful at running out a young gunman who thinks he can go along with Bannister’s plan.  And he gives Bannister until noon the next day to leave town.

The town drunk Breezy (Whit Bissell) tells Bannister what he has overheard at the doc’s office (he was sneaking the doc’s booze) about Robles’ wrist, however, and Bannister now thinks he can take Robles.  As Robles goes to meet Bannister, Estella begs him to leave town instead (shades of Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper in High Noon, with the same result).  Robles walks purposefully toward Bannister in the street, taking off the wrapping on his wrist, although we know he can’t move his fingers.  Bannister braces to meet him, and …

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Dave Robles (Anthony Quinn) marches to his apparent end against Ed Bannister (Peter Whitney, left).

Well, watch it and see. The result is both consistent with Robles’ character as we have come to know it, and with his medical situation.  Although it’s not a long movie at all, it takes its time as Robles develops from the penniless, good-with-a-gun near-alcoholic he was at the start to whatever he may be at the end.  Like The Ride Back, this is largely a character study, and it’s good, if not quite as good as The Ride Back.  Both Anthony Quinn and Katy Jurado were very good actors, and they carry this film, although Estella’s transition to being fond of Robles is sudden and not entirely persuasive.

For Anthony Quinn as a quasi-villain in bigger westerns, see Last Train from Gun Hill (1959) and Warlock (also 1959), where he brings a dimension of humanity to what would otherwise be standard bad-guy roles.  Katy Jurado is remembered mostly for her excellent performance in High Noon, but she’s also good in The Badlanders (1958), with Alan Ladd.  Peter Whitney has another role as a bad guy in Domino Kid (1957), with Rory Calhoun.

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Filmed In black and white at Gene Autry’s Melody Ranch in Placerita Canyon in southern California (destroyed by fire in 1962), at 82 minutes.

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Buffalo Bill (1944)

Nicholas Chennault ~ July 29, 2014

Buffalo Bill—Joel McCrea, Maureen O’Hara, Anthony Quinn, Thomas Mitchell, Linda Darnell, Moroni Olson (1944; Dir: William Wellman)

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Director William Wellman directed some very good westerns, such as The Ox-Bow Incident, Yellow Sky and Westward the Women, but this isn’t one of his very best.  It has an interesting cast, but the story suffers from lack of a strong and cohesive story arc, as is often the case with biopics.   And, as with many historically-based movies in the 1940s, it takes numerous liberties with the real history involved.

The movie starts in 1877, with young Bill Cody (Joel McCrea) hunting buffaloes and rescuing a wagon of dignitaries and Sgt. Chips McGraw (Edgar Buchanan in heavy makeup, playing much older than he really was) from attacking Cheyennes with his excellent shooting.  Among those rescued are Senator Frederici (Moroni Olson) and his nubile daughter Louisa (Maureen O’Hara), with whom Cody is immediately taken, and writer Ned Buntline (Thomas Mitchell).  Cody is sympathetic to the Cheyennes and has friends among them, including chief’s son Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and school teacher Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell in a strange role).

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Stills of supposed Cheyennes Yellow Hand (Anthony Quinn) and Dawn Starlight (Linda Darnell).

When railroad interests try to force the Cheyennes off part of their land, Dawn Starlight tells Yellow Hand to take the senator as a hostage.  Cody rescues him, but the Cheyennes forge an alliance with the Sioux for a new war.  Cody and Louisa marry, and Cody scouts for the Fifth Cavalry against the Cheyennes (and against Louisa’s objections).  The advance scouts for the cavalry and the Cheyennes meet at War Bonnet Gorge, and in order to give the rest of the column time to come up for support, Cody takes on his blood brother Yellow Hand in single combat.  Cody wins, and Dawn Starlight is killed in the resulting battle as well.

Cody scouts for the Russian Grand Duke Alexis on a buffalo hunt, taking Louisa along.  Louisa tells him she’s pregnant, and they head for home.  The baby arrives before they get there, and Louisa bears a son named for Kit Carson with the help of an aged Cheyenne woman.  However, she won’t stay out west and takes their son to Ohio, where he can have the benefits of civilization and be kept safe.

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Cody goes to Washington, D.C. with Buntline to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for War Bonnet Gorge, only to receive word that Kit is dying of diptheria in Ohio.  He arrives just after Kit’s death, and leaves again.  In his bitterness, he takes on the venal railroad interests, and in turn is vilified with his role in the recent war questioned.  Alone and penniless in New York, he takes a job in a sideshow as a sharpshooter; Louisa shows up and demonstrates her faith in his marksmanship.  And Buntline conceives the idea for a Wild West show, giving rise to a montage in which Cody’s show performs before European monarchs and Cody ages decades in a few minutes, before riding off into a figurative Technicolor sunset with Louisa.

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Joel McCrea looks very good in long hair and goatee as Bill Cody, although he does not seem as outgoing and flamboyant as the real showman Cody was.  Even as a lowly scout and buffalo hunter in 1877, we are to believe that Cody wore outrageous pants.  Some of his actions with Indians, such as greeting them with “How!”, are jarring now, but were maybe less so when this was made.  He is depicted as having strong sympathies with the Indians and speaks up for them, although he always fights with the cavalry.

Red-haired Maureen O’Hara is appropriately fiery as Louisa Frederici Cody, although she seems inherently unreasonable in some of her attitudes.  Thomas Mitchell as Ned Buntline is much the same as he was as Doc Boone (in Stagecoach), as Plato Beck (Silver River) or a number of other heavy-drinking, classically-educated populist characters he played in westerns over the years. Anthony Quinn is good as Yellow Hand, but he stands out against other actors who are more clearly Indians.  Linda Darnell is a curious and unnecessary (but beautiful) character, an Indian school teacher in supposedly traditional Cheyenne dress—a carrier of civilization who has not herself fully partaken of various of its benefits.

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With teacher Dawn Starlight.

The supposed chronology of the movie doesn’t work well.   Although the movie is said to start in 1877 and a year or two passes before we hear of Crook’s defeat (actually more of a draw) at the Rosebud and Custer’s defeat on the Little Big Horn, those battles took place in 1876.  Cody did take on and kill Yellow Hand, but their relationship is exaggerated here.  Louisa Frederici’s father was not a senator, and they were married in the mid-1860s, not the late 1870s.  The Codys’ separation did take place, but they were estranged for most of their married life and never really got back together.  Cody started his first theatrical endeavors without Buntline in 1872, well before 1877, and briefly came back to the frontier after Custer’s defeat.  His manager/partner in the Wild West show was Nate Salisbury, not Ned Buntline.  He did have financial ups and downs with his shows, and he did love children as the movie shows.  At the turn of the 20th century, he may well have been the most recognizable celebrity on earth.  William Tecumseh Sherman is here claimed to have made the comment that the only good Indian is a dead Indian, but another general, Philip Sheridan, was supposedly the originator of that famous phrase.  As you might guess, there are other contenders for that honor, as well.

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Director William Wellman, star Joel McCrea and editor James B. Clark on the set.

Cody’s Medal of Honor was awarded in 1872, for service as a civilian scout to the 3rd Cavalry, displaying “gallantry in action” at Loupe Forke, Platte River, Nebraska, not for Warbonnet Gorge.  After Cody’s death in 1917, Congress revised the standards for receiving the Medal and removed from the rolls 911 given to civilians and others that would not be awarded by the new standards.  Among those removed was Cody’s.

This was a large-budget production in its time, with an excellent cast.  As a whole, elements of the film don’t work all that well; the weakness is largely in the structure and story.  Shot in color at various locations in Arizona, Utah and Montana, at 90 minutes.  For another interesting view of the Cody marriage (with a young Anthony Quinn as another Cheyenne warrior), see Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman (1936).  In They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Anthony Quinn was Crazy Horse and got to kill Custer and make off with the 7th Cavalry’s banner.  For a revisionist look at Cody as a showman and the supposed history of the West, see Robert Altman’s Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976), with Paul Newman as Buffalo Bill.

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McCrea as Buffao Bill, with Maureen O’Hara; the real W.F. Cody in theatrical gear, ca. 1875.

As an historical artifact, the real Cody made a film with footage of from his show in 1908 near the end of his career.  Four minutes of the footage can be seen at http://moviessilently.com/2013/10/19/silent-movie-time-capsule-105-years-ago-buffalo-bill-cody-appeared-in-a-movie/

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Warlock

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 2, 2014

Warlock—Henry Fonda, Richard Widmark, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, DeForest Kelley, Tom Drake, Frank Gorshin (1959; Dir:  Edward Dmytryk)

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This excellent psychological western feels overstuffed, with a little too much plot and more good actors than it quite knows what to do with. It has two competing town tamers, one legitimate and the other less so, a Doc Holliday-character with a spotted history, a scarlet woman (often really dressed in scarlet), a wealthy if inexperienced young mining heiress, and a Clanton-esque gang of cowboy-outlaws, all coming together in one town where the law is not working.

Warlock is a mining and ranching town in Utah, but so remote that the county sheriff seldom makes an appearance.  There is a town marshal of sorts, but the opening scene shows him getting run out of town by Abe McQuown (McEwen?  McCune?  Played by Tom Drake), head of the San Pablo ranching crowd.  He’s presumably a rancher, but of the Ike Clanton sort—given to various forms of crime (rustling, stage robbery) and intimidation of the town.  His men, including Johnny Gannon (Richard Widmark), his brother Billy (Frank Gorshin, uncredited) and Curley Burne (DeForest Kelley), appear to be a bunch of thugs and back-shooters.

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The local citizens send for gunman Clay Blaisdell (Henry Fonda) from Fort James, a sort of marshal-for-hire.  He brings with him Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn), a gambler-gunman with a clubfoot, who sets up his own saloon-casino (calling it “The French Palace,” a sign they have brought with them) and who keeps off the backshooters.  Blaisdell has pleasant manners but few illusions about the cycle of civic support and distaste he can expect.  “I’m a simple man, handy with Colts,” of which he has a gold-handled pair that he only uses for Sunday best.  He gets paid a lot for his skills ($400 a month), but he expects his sojourn in Warlock will be brief.  The citizenry will soon have second thoughts about the gunman they have brought in to impose law in their town.  Blaisdell wastes no time in confronting the San Pablo gang, which he initially does effectively but without bloodshed.

Johnny Gannon appears to be having second thoughts about his participation in the San Pablo gang as well.  Lily Dollar (Dorothy Malone), a former saloon girl with a past relationship with Morgan, shows up.  She was bringing a brother of Ben Nicholson, whom Blaisdell had once killed.  She seems to be trying to get back at Morgan, and thinks killing Blaisdell may be the quickest way to do that.  However, the brother is killed by Tom Morgan with a rifle during an attempted stage holdup by the San Pablo gang.  Two of the San Pablo men (including brother Billy Gannon) are arrested and Blaisdell saves them from being lynched.  They are ultimately let go in a legal proceeding in the county seat, Bright City, by a jury intimidated by McQuown.  The distant sheriff visits, doesn’t like Blaisdell’s presence, and points out to the crowd that none of them will take the deputy sheriff’s job.  But Johnny Gannon does, which sets his new authority in potential opposition to Blaisdell’s.

Meanwhile, Blaisdell quickly develops a relationship with young mining heiress Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels) and begins to think about marrying her and putting down roots.  Johnny Gannon forms a relationship with Lily Dollar.  Tom Morgan would prefer that neither of these happen; he wants Blaisdell to think of moving on to the next town, Porfiry City. 

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Blaisdell to new deputy sheriff Johnny Gannon:  “I remember when I first killed a man. It was clear and had to be done.  Well, I went home afterward and puked my insides out.  I remember how clear it was.  Afterwards, nothing was ever clear again.  Except for one thing.  That’s to hold strictly to the rules.  It’s only the rules that matter.  Hold onto ’em like you were walking on eggs.  So you know yourself you’ve played it as fair and as best you could.  But there are things to watch for … in yourself.  Don’t be too fast.  When there are people after you, you know it and you worry it.  Then you think, ‘If I don’t get drawn first and then kill first–.’  You know what I mean?”

Blaisdell has posted the San Pablo gang, meaning that they can’t enter town without an armed confrontation with Blaisdell.  Brother Billy Gannon and another come into town in defiance of that posting.  Gannon tells Billy, “I ain’t backin’ him, because you’re my brother, and I ain’t backin’ you, because you’re wrong.”  Blaisdell, with a slight deference to Gannon, tries not to kill Billy but is left with no choice.  Gannon, thinking to avoid further such bloodshed, goes to the San Pablo ranch to dissuade them from coming to town.  They beat him up, and Abe McQuown puts a knife through his right (gun) hand. 

When the gang comes in force, Lily begs Blaisdell to help Gannon.  He’s willing, but Gannon insists that it’s his duty alone.  He tries to help anyway, but Tom Morgan holds him out with a gun, revealing the truth about the Nicholson brothers and their deaths.  When Gannon confronts the gang, one of them, Curly, unexpectedly keeps off the backshooters and the wounded Gannon is even more unexpectedly successful with the help of a few of the townsfolk.  But he’s not done.

Tom Morgan doesn’t like the way things have gone, with Gannon having become the local hero, and has been drinking heavily.  He tries to push Gannon into a shootout.  Blaisdell intervenes now, locking Gannon in one of his own cells and killing Morgan, going slightly crazy.  Gannon then orders Blaisdell out of town, and Blaisdell says he won’t go, setting up yet another confrontation the next morning.

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As Blaisdell walks down the street the next morning, he’s wearing the gold-handled Colts.  Gannon’s wounded hand doesn’t work very well, and Blaisdell outdraws him easily with his right hand.  Then he throws the gun in the dirt.  He outdraws him again with his left hand, and throws that Colt in the dirt, too.  He gets on his horse and rides out of town, seemingly leaving Jessie behind.

This is black-listed director Edward Dmytryk’s best western, and it put him back in the directing mainstream.  Richard Widmark has top billing, but Henry Fonda has the dominant character.  Anthony Quinn is excellent, and so is Dorothy Malone.  Tom Drake and DeForest Kelley are both very good in smaller roles.  Dolores Michaels is adequate but mostly forgettable.  Based on a very good novel by Oakley Hall, the story brings with it echoes of the Wyatt Earp story and of Fonda as mentor to an inexperienced lawman, as in Anthony Mann’s The Tin Star two years previously.  It has a memorably articulate screenplay by Robert Alan Aurthur.  Leigh Harline, who had won Academy Awards for Pinocchio (1940) and done the music for Broken Lance, among many others, provided an excellent score.  Shot in color around Moab, Utah, and on the 20th Century Fox lot.

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This is another of those 1950s westerns that makes a point about about how townspeople are uneasy with those they hire to enforce the law and with the violence used to do it (e.g., High Noon, The Tin Star).  But it has a lot of other things going on, too.  It moves right along and could probably have been a bit longer, to wrap up some of the plot’s loose ends.

Dorothy Malone was in several good westerns, from Colorado Territory to Quantez to The Last Sunset.  DeForest Kelly showed up as a gang member in other films, like The Law and Jake Wade and Tension at Table Rock, and this is one of his best.  Richard Widmark and Henry Fonda were at the peaks of their careers in westerns, although they would continue to make more through the 1960s, with Fonda moving into a couple of memorable spaghetti westerns (Once Upon a Time in the West, My Name is Nobody) around 1970.  Anthony Quinn, who was always good in westerns (The Ride Back, Man from Del Rio, Last Train from Gun Hill), did not make many more, moving more into ethnic roles in big movies (The Guns of Navarone, Zorba the Greek, Lawrence of Arabia).  Silent film star Richard Arlen has a small supporting role.

 

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Last Train from Gun Hill

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 19, 2013

Last Train From Gun Hill—Kirk Douglas, Anthony Quinn, Carolyn Jones, Earl Holliman, Brad Dexter, John Anderson (1959; Dir:  John Sturges)

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Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas) is the town marshal in Pauley, married to a Cherokee woman.  His wife is raped and murdered by a couple of young men passing through, and Morgan recovers their horses.  He recognizes the saddle on one as belonging to an old friend in Gun Hill, cattle baron Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn).  It was his son Rick (Earl Holliman) who was using his saddle and committed the crime. 

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Old friends Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn) and Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas) talk about painful things.

On his way to Gun Hill on the train, Morgan meets Linda (Carolyn Jones), a saloon girl and Belden mistress recently emerged from the hospital after a beating from Belden pere and now returning to Gun Hill.  Gun Hill is a corrupt place, completely controlled by Belden.  Morgan confronts Belden, who denies any participation by his son in the death of Morgan’s wife.  But Morgan captures Rick and holes up in the Harper House hotel, where he is besieged by Beldon’s men. 

With some help from Linda, Morgan gets out to try to make it with Rick to the last train out of Gun Hill at 9:20 p.m.  At the last minute, Rick’s partner in crime, Lee Smithers (Brian Hutton), tries to shoot it out with Morgan and kills Rick instead.  Morgan gets Smithers and now has nobody to haul back to Pauley.  He and Belden shoot it out, at Belden’s insistence. 

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With the town against him, Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas) holds Rick Belden (Earl Holliman) prisoner.

The bones of the plot may sound fairly pedestrian, but it’s better than that.  It’s a well-put-together John Sturges western from the end of his early period.  Douglas gives a good performance; he’s obviously in good shape from the way he’s able to carry a supposedly unconscious Earl Holliman (not a small person) over his shoulder for an extended period on screen without showing any strain or becoming lopsided.  His anguish at the death of his wife is believable, as is his determination to uphold the law and not take it into his own hands—one of the two central conflicts of the movie.  Anthony Quinn is very good, too, in a character reminiscent of the one he plays in WarlockJones and Holliman are good in different ways, in limited parts.  Reminiscent of the plot in 3:10 to Yuma in terms of trying to catch a train against armed resistance.  In color.  Music by Dimitri Tiomkin, cinematography by Charles Lang, Jr.  The screenwriter was said to have been the blacklisted Dalton Trumbo.

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An Al Hirschfeld caricature, 1959.

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Great Performances in Westerns, Part 6

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 9, 2013

Robert Mitchum as Clint Tollinger in Man With the Gun

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Clint Tollinger comes into the town of Sheridan looking for a new horse shoe and his ex-wife.  Because of his reputation as a town tamer, Tollinger is recruited to clean up Sheridan, especially in resisting the forces of local cattle baron Dave Holman.  He’s up to the task, but the townfolk don’t always like his approach or the results.  In his middle period as an actor,  Mitchum has a noir feel to him in this role.  His earlier westerns (such as Blood on the Moon and Pursued) generally work better than his later ones (The Wonderful Country), although he’s not bad as the alcoholic sheriff J.P. Harrah in El Dorado.  For a superb non-western performance, catch him in one of the quintessential noir movies, Out of the Past.  He was also very good at playing bad guys, as he did in the original Cape Fear, The Night of the Hunter and Five Card Stud.  Even when he was a good guy, he seemed on the verge of becoming a bad guy, and that possibility added an edge to his performances.

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Kirk Douglas as Matt Morgan in Last Train to Gun Hill

Kirk Douglas was in a surprising number of westerns, and he’s fairly good in many of them, although he tends to seem both urban and egocentric.  He was one of the biggest stars of his time, and Last Train from Gun Hill, directed by John Sturges, is one of his best westerns.   Matt Morgan is a sheriff married to an Indian wife.  She is raped and murdered by two young men, one of them the son of Morgan’s old friend Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn).  The core of the movie follows Morgan on his expedition to Gun Hill to retrieve the evildoers, and his resulting battles with Belden, with a variety of gunmen and with his own drive for vengeance.  Quinn is excellent here, too, and Carolyn Jones is good.  If you like Douglas’ style in this one, try him in The Big Sky, as Doc Holliday in Gunfight at the OK Corral and with John Wayne in The War Wagon.

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Anthony Quinn as Bob Kallen in The Ride Back

Anthony Quinn was in a surprising number of westerns from his early days in the movies, usually in small roles where he is an Indian, a villain or both (see The Plainsman, Union Pacific and The Ox-Bow Incident, for example).  During the 1950s he was more often a supporting character, and was always interesting.  Look for him, for example, as magnetic and multi-dimensional bad guys in Last Train from Gun Hill and Warlock (both from 1959).  He was also one of the leads in two smaller westerns:  The Ride Back and Man from Del Rio.  The Ride Back is really a two-man film, with Quinn and William Conrad, and they’re both excellent.  Quinn’s Bob Kallen is, like Quinn himself, half-Mexican; a dangerous gunman, he’s wanted back in Texas for a shooting that may have been justified.  He’s better with people and with guns than Conrad’s Chris Hamish and is constantly calculating how to play that next, spending most of the short film on an edge but going along for the moment with Conrad’s deputy sheriff.  He could play ethnic convincingly, and his career of the 1960s blossomed in those roles.  Look for him in The Guns of Navarone, Zorba the Greek (perhaps his signature role of the 1960s), Lawrence of Arabia and in a mural on the side of a building in downtown Los Angeles.  He’s one of those actors like Lee Marvin, who was almost always worth watching no matter what he was in.

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Spencer Tracy as Major Robert Rogers in Northwest Passage and as John J. Macreedy in Bad Day at Black Rock

Spencer Tracy was one of the best actors of his time, beginning about 1935, and his performances wear pretty well.  He didn’t make many westerns, but in these unconventional two he was excellent.

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  • As Major Robert Rogers, he leads Rogers’ Rangers during the French and Indian War, in their arduous and perilous raid on the Abenaki village of St. Francis in eastern Canada.  He projects decisive leadership when things are going well, harder leadership when men have to be left behind, and harder yet on the return trip when provisions are low and his men are being hunted on all sides.  He finally almost cracks when his beleaguered men reach Fort Wentworth, only to find it abandoned and without the supplies he had been promising his emaciated men.  His is the performance that holds attention during the movie, notwithstanding the supposed leads of Robert Young and Walter Brennan.  This movie wasn’t often seen, since it only became available on DVD in December 2011.

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  • Tracy’s career was on its downhill side and he was struggling with alcoholism when he was cast as the lead in this John Sturges modern western with a noir feel.  One-armed John J. Macreedy is getting backed into corners as soon as he steps off the train in Black Rock, and he’s quietly up to the challenges he faces.  Almost always he faces them with an even temper, but he also has mostly believable physical confrontations with Ernest Borgnine and Robert Ryan.  By the end he has sorted out the local mystery and all the bad guys before he gets back on the train.  This may be one of the best films set in the modern west, and Tracy was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in it.

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Dean Martin as Dude (Borachon) in Rio Bravo

In movies he usually played some form of caricature of himself, but Dean Martin could actually act when given good material and direction as he was in his first movie, Rio Bravo.  As Dude, the now-alcoholic former deputy of Sheriff John T. Chance (John Wayne), Martin is convincing in his booziness and in his rehabilitation.  His barroom scene when he and Chance follow a killer into a bar where everybody thinks of him as a drunk is a classic.  You can see both desperation and calculation as he tries to figure out what to do.  He’s also pretty good in The Sons of Katie Elder (again with Wayne) and bearable in Bandolero! and Five Card Stud.

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Brad Pitt as Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James By the Coward Robert Ford

Jesse James has often been portrayed on film, including by his son Jesse Edward James at age 46 in the silent film Jesse James Under the Black Flag (1921) and by Tyrone Power (1939).  His historical charisma is elusive, and for some reason it’s harder to portray him than it is his brother Frank, who has been done well by Henry Fonda (twice) and Stacy Keach, among others.  Brad Pitt may be the best Jesse on film, in this beautifully-shot retelling of the Ron Hansen novel with the cumbersome title.  He’s charismatic, dangerous and a bit tired of it all at the end of his life, coolly playing with and pushing those around him.  This isn’t the best movie about Jesse and the James-Younger gang; that would be The Long Riders.  But Brad does make a better Jesse than the remote James Keach does in Walter Hill’s film.  This one is worth watching for the gorgeous cinematography and for Pitt’s performance in a notoriously difficult role.

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Robert Taylor as Buck Wyatt in Westward the Women

As an actor, Taylor was beautiful but not terribly expressive.  He could be a bit wooden sometimes, but this stoic quality is not always a detriment in westerns if the actor is well-directed in well-written material.  This underrated wagon train movie is really an ensemble effort, but Taylor’s wagonmaster Buck Wyatt is the dominant character.  He’s on screen most of the time, and he’s very good.  Taylor’s notable career in westerns begins with his performance as Billy the Kid (1941), mostly wearing his signature black, when he was more than ten years older than the Kid ever became.  Beginning in the late 1940s, he started to do more westerns:  Ambush and Devil’s Doorway (an early Anthony Mann western) are watchable.  In the 1950s his best westerns were with directors John Sturges and Robert Parrish:  The Law and Jake Wade and Saddle the Wind.

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Burl Ives in Day of the Outlaw

This wintry low-budget western noir is superbly cast in its two leading roles, and it wouldn’t work well otherwise.  Robert Ryan is head rancher Blaise Starrett, whose town is invaded by a band of military renegades led by Burl Ives as the dying Jack Bruhn.  It’s only his will and his leadership abilities that are keeping his lowlifes in line at all, and it’s a constant exercise in balancing what can be done with what basic decency requires even from a renegade.  Bruhn, whose past participation in some notable Civil War-era military mess in Utah is only alluded to and never much described, still has some kernel of that decency but can’t let it come to the fore lest his men rebel and tear him to shreds.  It’s always interesting to see what he’ll allow and what he won’t, what he can control and what he can’t, and what will happen if/when he dies.  The rotund Ives was best known in the 1950s as a singer of folk-type music, but he could also be very effective in Big Daddy-type roles (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof).  For his other western in such a role, see him in the large-scale The Big Country, for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  He also played a singing hotel desk clerk in Station West, with Dick Powell.

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Ben Foster as Charlie Prince in 3:10 to Yuma

Ben Foster was unknown to many moviegoers when he showed up as outlaw chieftain Ben Wade’s principal lieutenant Charlie Prince in this remake.  But he captured the screen as a bad guy trying to rescue his boss.  Partly it’s good production design with his costume, partly it’s written as a juicier role than in the original, but mostly it’s Foster’s compelling performance in one of the best westerns in recent decades.  Even though he’s a supporting character and not one of the principals, it’s no accident that it’s Foster’s Charlie Prince on some of the most prominent posters for this movie.  He tends to linger in the memory, and his performance is one of the reasons many rate the remake higher than the original.

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Jeff Bridges as Rooster Cogburn in True Grit

He’s a different kind of one-eyed marshal Rooster Cogburn than John Wayne was, symbolized by his wearing the patch on his right eye instead of the left, as Wayne did.  He is surrounded by a better ensemble of actors (Matt Damon, Hailee Steinfeld) than Wayne was and doesn’t have to carry the entire movie the same way.  However, he is still central to the story, and his Rooster Cogburn is fun to watch and quite believable, even if it can be hard to understand what he’s saying at times.  In a role created by the most iconic of western stars, Bridges stands up to Wayne’s performance by disappearing more into the part and coming up with a harder-edged Cogburn.  He didn’t win a Best Actor Oscar for this, but he was nominated.  You should watch both versions.

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Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz in Django Unchained

The Vienna-born Waltz, in his second film with Quentin Tarantino, was reportedly reluctant to take on the role of the loquacious German-born, bounty-hunting dentist in Django Unchained.  He only did so upon being assured that his character would have no negatives—other than his profession of killing people, presumably.  His smooth brand of courtliness toward most people around him, including the newly-freed slave Django, provides a counterpoint to the hardness he displays in his profession, causing the viewer to constantly balance the two and wonder which will dominate in any situation.  He holds the screen well and less abrasively than other characters.  Coming into his own in Hollywood in middle age, he hasn’t been in other westerns.  But he played an excellent Nazi villain in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, and he won the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for both that role and this one.

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They Died With Their Boots On

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 26, 2013

They Died With Their Boots On—Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Arthur Kennedy, Sidney Greenstreet, Anthony Quinn, John Litel, George Grapewin, Hattie McDaniel, Jim Thorpe (1941; Dir: Raoul Walsh)

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From the heyday of the Flynn-de Havilland partnership comes this old-fashioned, adulatory and not-very-factual biopic of George Armstrong Custer, depicting both his Civil War service and his demise at the Little Bighorn.  In fact, it was their eighth film in seven years and their last film together.  Errol Flynn in a mullet is Custer; De Havilland is his wife Libby.  This was clearly a big budget production for its time, and it has a longer-than-average running time, too—140 minutes.  Flynn and De Havilland are watchable, but the plot neither makes much sense nor does it follow history very well. 

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Plebe Custer doesn’t get along with Ned Sharp at West Point.

The first half of the movie shows Custer at West Point, doing badly, making it into the Union army during the Civil War as a cavalry commander, wooing and marrying his wife Elizabeth Bacon, developing a headlong and heedless attacking style and then becoming an Indian fighter after the war.  In the later portion of his career, it shows him fighting on behalf of the Indians against those dishonest whites who would sell them alcohol, not slaughtering them in search of further military acclaim.  And, of course, in the end he dies with his entire Seventh Cavalry at the Little Bighorn.

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Taking a final leave of Libby before heading for the Little Bighorn.  And Custer still doesn’t get along with Ned Sharp.

The historical Custer was a relentless glory hound without much scruple.  This film captures his headstrong quality but makes him out to be much more admirable and somewhat smarter than he actually was.  Flynn was always watchable at this stage of his career, and de Havilland makes an admirable Libby.  A young Arthur Kennedy is Ned Sharp, an unscrupulous Civil War nemesis of Custer and a later an unscrupulous sutler whom Custer tricks into dying with the Seventh Cavalry.  A young Anthony Quinn is Crazy Horse, who was never captured by Custer as this movie depicts.  The plot points about Custer cleaning up Fort Lincoln and fighting a corrupt Indian agent-supply system are fiction.  Here Custer fights supposedly fictional reports of gold in the Black Hills; actually, Custer led the expedition that first found gold there, and he abetted the influx of whites to the area instead of resisting it.  The movie omits the massacre of peaceful Cheyennes that Custer carried out on the Washita.

DiedBootsLastStand2 At his last stand.

DiedBootsRealCusters The real Custers.

Worth watching for Flynn and de Havilland, and to get a sense of how Custer used to be seen 70 years ago after his widow had spent the 50 years after his death publicly tending the flame of his heroic memory.  (The real Libby died in 1933.)  The action is good.  Well made for its time.  Hattie McDaniel is what she usually was, a mammy-type domestic to young Libby—a stereotype that doesn’t play so well now.  George Grapewin is California Joe, a crusty and colorful civilian scout for Custer.  Sidney Greenstreet is Gen. Winfield Scott, who initially advances Custer’s career (although it seems unlikely the two ever really met and the elderly Scott played no active role in the Civil War).  An aging Jim Thorpe was said to have been an uncredited extra on this movie, and he claimed to have decked a belligerent (and typically drunk) Flynn.  Custer was as bad a student at West Point as this movie depicts, however.  The depiction of Indians is fairly sympathetic for 1941.  In colorful black and white.  Music by Max Steiner.

DiedBoots2StarsWalsh Walsh with his stars.

Raoul Walsh was a main-line director from 1913 into the 1960s, today remembered more for gangster movies (The Roaring Twenties, High Sierra, White Heat) than for westerns, although he made a number of those, too.  This one goes with his The Big Trail (1931, starring John Wayne in his first leading role) and Colorado Territory (1949, a remake of his High Sierra in an older western setting with Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo) as eminently watchable examples of his work in westerns.  One of his earliest films was a quasi-documentary The Life of General Villa (1912 and 1914, both now lost), starring Villa himself.  Walsh, who did some directing with Christy Cabanne, had a bit part playing Villa as a young man, although his career as an actor was largely over by 1915.  The Villa film was made when Walsh was only 19 and Villa was still regularly in the U.S. news in a positive way, two years before his attack on Columbus, New Mexico, provoked a punitive (and largely futile) expedition under Gen. Pershing.  The film has apparently been lost, and its making became the subject of a 2003 HBO film And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself.

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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)

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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.)

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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 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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Ride Back

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 7, 2013

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

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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. 

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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.

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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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The Ox-Bow Incident

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 1, 2013

The Ox-Bow Incident—Henry Fonda, Dana Andrews, Harry Morgan, Anthony Quinn, Frank Conroy, William Eythe, Jane Darwell (1943; Dir:  William Wellman)

This is one of those movies that is more admired than watched these days, much like Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s novel on which it is based.  But it’s an excellent character study and a searing indictment of mob justice.  It’s all the more remarkable when one considers that it predates the McCarthy era by a decade.  It can be taken as one of the excellent examples of social commentary from its period, along with such films as The Grapes of Wrath and Sullivan’s Travels.  It probably gets less respect than those because it’s a western, and it is less watched by western fans because it’s heavy on the social commentary—lots of talk and not so much action.

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The film’s action, such as it is, takes place in Nevada in 1885.  Gil Carter (Henry Fonda) and his partner Art Croft (an early appearance by Harry Morgan) are regular cowhands and small ranchers, making one of their infrequent stops in the small town of Bridger’s Wells one spring, when they with others hear of rustling and the murder of Larry Kincaid, a well-thought-of local rancher.  The sheriff isn’t readily available, so a posse is formed with his deputy under the leadership of Major Tetley (Frank Conroy), apparently a Confederate veteran of the Civil War.  Carter and Croft join the posse in part so they don’t become suspects themselves.  In pursuit of the supposed murderers, they encounter a stage carrying Carter’s less-than-faithful intended and her new San Francisco husband.

OxBowFondaMorgan2 Carter and Croft

In Ox-Bow Canyon, the posse catches fifty head of Kincaid’s cattle in the possession of three men, led by Donald Martin (a young Dana Andrews), who claims to be a new rancher from a nearby town.  Nobody knows him, though, and they don’t buy his story.  Martin says he bought the cattle from Kincaid but doesn’t have a bill of sale.  After hearing a little, the posse decides to string up the three of them.  There is an extended sequence while one of the three, a Mexican (a young Anthony Quinn), makes a break for it and is shot in the leg.  The third turns out to be a feeble-minded old man (Francis Ford, brother of the more famous director John Ford).  Seven of the posse, including Carter, Croft and Major Tetley’s cowardly son Gerald (William Eythe), have misgivings about the lynching and stand up against it, but to no effect.  Martin is given time to write a last letter to his wife, and the hanging is done. 

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Quinn, Andrews, Fonda, Conroy and Darwell:  A necktie party.

As the posse heads out, the sheriff unexpectedly turns up.  He says that Kincaid is not dead, and they caught the ones who shot him, meaning that those the posse lynched were innocent, just as they claimed.  From what the sheriff says, he intends to take action against those responsible for the hanging.  The chastened posse makes its way back to town, where Carter reads Martin’s last letter to them as they reflectively drink in a saloon.  The split between Tetley and his son has become irreparable, and the major shoots himself.  As the movie ends, Carter and Croft head off to deliver Martin’s letter to his widow.

That the film contains so many good performances must be attributed to William Wellman, the director.  Henry Fonda in particular is superb as Carter, and this performance ranks among his best.  But a number of new, young actors (Andrews, Morgan, Eythe, Quinn) are also very good in this film.  As Farnley, the hothead who continually incites the posse, screen villain Marc Lawrence is deliciously unlikable.  Henry Davenport, as Davies, the leader of opposition to hanging, is very good.  Jane Darwell as Ma Grier, the female member of the posse, has none of Ma Joad’s warmth.  Sparks (Leigh Whipper, uncredited) provides a bit of humanity as a black man tolerated on the posse who is one of the seven objectors and prays as the men are hanged.  His character later says that his brother was lynched, accounting for his sympathy with those hung.  

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Carter (Henry Fonda) in the aftermath of the hanging: Reading the letter to the wife.

One scene that stands out is Carter’s reading of the Martin letter to the other posse members in the bar, after they have returned to Bridger’s Wells.  As a dramatic moment, it ranks with Fonda’s Tom Joad soliloquy in The Grapes of Wrath, despite the fact that (a) the contents of the letter are never revealed in the novel, and (b) the letter doesn’t sound much like an 1880s rancher, but much more like a 1940s screenwriter (Lamar Trotti, in this case).  Fonda’s face is deliberately obscured by a hat brim for much of the reading, so his words are the focus.  This is one of Fonda’s best performances, although his character starts out fairly unlikable and is merely a witness for much of the movie.  In Fonda’s career, this film invites comparison not only with The Grapes of Wrath, but with the later 12 Angry Men.  Immediately after making this movie, Fonda enlisted in the U.S. Navy for the remainder of World War II.  Harry Morgan had a solid and long-lived career as a character actor, showing up as an unhelpful townsman in High Noon and as a quasi-comic mayor in Support Your Local Sheriff and Support Your Local Gunfighter.

It’s a fairly short movie at less than 75 minutes.  Even so, it’s hard to know what to make of the early subplot with Carter’s supposed fiancée.  Made with a small budget and not a commercial success upon its release, the film was nevertheless a Best Picture nominee in that year’s Academy Awards.   It lost to Casablanca, as it should have.

For westerns featuring lynchings, see The Moonlighter, Johnny Guitar, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, Hang ‘Em High and A Man Alone, among others.

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