Tag Archives: Lawman and Community

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)


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.


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.


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 …


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.


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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The Last Posse

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 2, 2015

The Last Posse—Broderick Crawford, John Derek, Charles Bickford, Skip Homeier, Henry Hull, Wanda Hendrix (1953; Dir: Alfred L. Werker)


Aging, heavyset Broderick Crawford would seem to make an unlikely leading man, but he was the lead in two “last” westerns in 1953:  The Last Posse and Last of the Comanches.  He’d won the Best Actor Oscar for playing Willie Stark in All the King’s Men (1949) and was moving more into television work, where he would make his mark in Highway Patrol.  And he still had a few westerns left in his career.

This one takes place in Roswell, New Mexico, where the sheriff is hard-drinking John Frazier (Broderick Crawford), who once played a significant role in cleaning up the town.  Now it’s mostly peaceful, but not as peaceful as it may seem.  The posse of the title rides back into town at the start of the film, weary and with Frazier seemingly wounded, but without prisoners or stolen money.  Most of the story is told in flashbacks.


Sheriff John Frazier (Broderick Crawford) gives a whiskey drummer (Henry Hull) some backstory on Sampson Drune.

The three Romers, rancher Will (Todd Mitchell) and his sons George (Guy Wilkerson) and Art (Skip Homeier) have been unfairly treated by bigger rancher Sampson Drune (Charles Bickford at his most cantankerous).   When they seek redress, they get into a fight with Drune’s adopted son Jed Clayton (John Derek).  Drune concludes a big cattle sale for $205,000 and attempts to deposit the money in the local bank, when it is stolen by the Romers, who take off into the desert with it.  Drune and Clayton head the posse chasing them, which includes the most prominent of the local citizens—the banker and the store owner among them.  Frazier is given an out, but he joins them, too.  He knows, as Jed does not, that Drune killed Jed’s father, and Frazier suspects that Drune has something similar in mind for the Romers, who also know what he’s done.

During the pursuit in the desert, Drune and Clayton get ahead of the rest of the posse, but Frazier knows the desert well and cuts them off.  Drune knocks Frazier off his horse, but Frazier nevertheless reaches the Romers first as they seek refuge in some rocks.  As they try to get away, George Romer falls to his death, and Will and Art surrender to Frazier.


The two remaining Romers surrender to Sheriff Frazier (Broderick Crawford).

[Spoilers follow.]  As Frazier takes custody of the two arrested Romers, the rest of the posse rides up.  Sampson Drune guns down both Romers, and gets Frazier at least twice as well, as Frazier tries to tell Clayton the truth about Drune.  Clayton reflexively kills Drune.  By the time the posse arrives back in Roswell, Frazier is in very bad shape.  Posse members have agreed to tell a story that has all Romers and Drune being killed in a shootout in the desert.  Clayton will inherit the large Drune ranch, and the others will split up the $205,000, after claiming it was lost in the desert.

As the judge starts an inquest that evening, things proceed as planned, except that Frazier struggles into his clothes and with great difficulty takes a seat at the proceeding.  His presence convinces Clayton to tell the truth to the judge about what happened.  At the end Clayton re-unites with girlfriend Deborah (Wanda Hendrix), and it is discovered that Frazier had died of his wounds about the time he sat down.  They didn’t need to tell the truth after all, leaving the town’s leading citizens to wallow in their own collective hypocrisy.


John Frazier (Broderick Crawford) and Jed Clayton (John Derek) confer.

Crawford makes an effective sheriff here, the most honest character in the movie although he is either drunk, hung over or badly injured for much of the film.  He does some strenuous riding in the desert, down steep slopes and falling off his horse at least three times, where it is apparent that it is a skinnier stunt double doing the riding and falling.  Skip Homeier does his usual “kid with a gun” sort of performance (The Gunfighter, Ten Wanted Men, Dawn at Socorro, The Tall T, Comanche Station) in a limited role.  He was never a leading character in them, but he managed to be in a surprising number of good westerns.  Charles Bickford is unpleasant (as he could be in real life, apparently; see The Big Country), spiteful and unscrupulous the entire movie.  John Derek does not seem to be much of an actor, and will soon move into photography and become better known for his series of wives than for his acting career.  Wanda Hendrix’s character is extraneous.  The fussy Henry Hull is a whiskey drummer to whom Frazier tells key parts of his story.

This was produced by Harry Joe Brown, experienced with westerns and now remembered principally for his work with Randolph Scott and Budd Boetticher.  In black and white, with a lot of plot for 73 minutes.

For Broderick Crawford in another western role, see him as bad guy Vinnie Harold, challenging Glenn Ford in The Fastest Gun Alive (1956).   Director Alfred Werker also made At Gunpoint (1955), with Fred MacMurray.

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Tension at Table Rock

Nicholas Chennault ~ August 15, 2014

Tension at Table Rock—Richard Egan, Dorothy Malone, Cameron Mitchell, Angie Dickinson, Royal Dano, DeForest Kelley, Billy Chapin, John Dehner, Edward Andrews (1956; Dir: Charles Marquis Warren)


This is basically a bad-guy-goes-straight western, with overtones of the search for family and 1950s lawman-and-community tension.  Deep-voiced Richard Egan (his voice is reminiscent of Clint Walker’s) was never a big star, but he does well as the lead in this small western with an excellent and well-chosen supporting cast.  And it has an unusual and effective poster.

Wes Tancred (Richard Egan) has followed outlaw leader Sam Murdock (Paul Richards) since they both rode with Quantrill during the Civil War.  But when Murdock gratuitously kills a wounded gang member while fleeing a posse, Tancred decides to pull out.  Murdock’s girlfriend (a young Angie Dickinson in a very brief role) has a thing for Tancred and pours oil on the distrust between the two as Tancred tries to leave.  They shoot it out just as the posse arrives, and the girl tells them Tancred shot Murdock in the back.  However, he receives a complete pardon and even the reward for Murdock, which he spurns.


Tancred (Richard Egan) and Murdock’s girl (a young Angie Dickinson).

Now wherever he goes he hears “The Ballad of Wes Tancred,” referring to him as a cowardly backshooter.  He keeps moving and is at a stagecoach outpost when three robbers try to take a stage.  The caretaker tries to break it up and is killed, but Tancred, now going by the name John Bailey, gets the three and agrees to take the caretaker’s young son Jody (Billy Chapin) to his uncle, the sheriff in Table Rock.

The tension in Table Rock is because a herd from Texas is about to arrive, and the sheriff (Cameron Mitchell) is nervous about his ability to control the cowhands.  He was badly beaten and physically and psychologically scarred in an earlier incident, and has lost his confidence.  Tancred/Bailey understands because he has his own scars.  He helps Jody get a job with the local newspaper editor Harry Jameson (Royal Dano), who is vocal about keeping law and order.  Kirk (Edward Andrews), owner of the biggest saloon, welcomes the cowhands, whatever it takes.  The sheriff’s wife is loyal to him but shows signs of being attracted to Tancred/Bailey.

When big rancher Hampton (John Dehner) brings in his herd with fifty trail hands, he drives it across the land of a local farmer, destroying fences and crops (for which he is willing to pay, but he gives no choice).  The hands are mostly just barely under control, but that night one of them shoots the farmer and puts a gun in the farmer’s hand to make it look like self-defense.  The sheriff and Tancred/Bailey are witnesses, though.  In court the next day, the sheriff tries to back out, but Tancred/Bailey testifies straight, including his real name.  It’s a turning point for both Tancred and the sheriff.  Hampton threatens to come back the next day and get his man, and Kirk arranges for a gunfighter to take out the sheriff.


Tancred (Richard Egan) is attracted to the sheriff’s wife (Dorothy Malone); bad guys abound.

Gunfighter Jim Breck (DeForest Kelley) arrives the next day and turns out to be an old friend of Tancred.  Tancred asks him not to call out the sheriff, and it looks like he might accede.  But Kirk’s $2000 is too much for Breck, and Tancred and Breck have a classic showdown in the street.  Tancred wins, and Kirk is about to shoot him in the back when the sheriff takes down Kirk.  When Hampton and his fifty men ride in, they face the sheriff and Tancred—and the town’s populace with guns from the windows.  And Tancred leaves town so as not to threaten the sheriff’s marriage.

It sounds like a standard western tale from the 1950s, but the execution of it is better than average, even though it was from bargain studio RKO.  Egan, Mitchell, Chapin, Dano, Dehner, Kelley and Edwards are all good; Dorothy Malone is also good but is largely wasted in a small part here.  Kelley was in several westerns about this time, usually as some form of bad guy (The Law and Jake Wade, Warlock), as he bounced back and forth between movies and television before finding his greatest fame in Star Trek.  The development of the moral crises of Tancred and the sheriff is nicely done.  The story is slightly understated but mostly convincing.  This is better than you’d expect from the relative lack of star power and low budget.


Charles Marquis Warren was a screenwriter, director and producer who made ten low-profile westerns as a director in the 1950s.  His best were probably this and Trooper Hook (1957), with Joel McCrea.  He even directed Charro!, Elvis Presley’s western in 1969.  The screenwriter here was Winston Miller, based on a story by western writer Frank Gruber, with music by Dimitri Tiomkin.  In color, at 93 minutes.

For a similarly good story about a man on the run who rides into town under an assumed name and comes to the aid of a beleaguered sheriff, see Face of a Fugitive, with Fred MacMurray (1959).

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Good Day for a Hanging

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 26, 2014

Good Day for a Hanging—Fred MacMurray, Robert Vaughn, Maggie Hayes, Joan Blackman, James Drury, Emile Meyer (1959: Dir:  Nathan Juran)


It’s been more than twenty years since Ben Cutler (Fred MacMurray) wore a lawman’s badge.  He’s now a widower in Springdale, in small-town rural Nebraska, with an almost grown daughter (Joan Blackman), and engaged to Ruth Granger (Maggie Hayes), a widow with a growing son.  When the town bank is robbed, Ben drops one of the bandits with half the loot and joins the posse chasing them out of town.

As the bandits take brief refuge in some rocks, they return fire on the posse, killing aging Marshal Hiram Cain (Emile Meyer, the range baron in Shane).  When Ben sees Cain fall, he gets another of the bandits while the rest make their escape.  The posse takes young Eddie Campbell back to town with a head wound that doesn’t seem to be too serious.  He’s a local boy with a slick lawyer, and Ben’s daughter Laurie is increasingly infatuated with him, even though the young local doctor (James Drury) is also trying to get her attention.


Cutler (Fred MacMurray) and Hiram Cain (Emile Meyer), the dead marshal.

When the town asks him to take Cain’s place as marshal, he does.  Campbell has a good lawyer with political ambitions, obviously paid for by the outlaws using the bank loot.  During the trial, Campbell’s lawyer manages to shake most testimony about seeing Cain get shot, but not Ben’s.  Campbell is convicted and sentenced to hang based largely on Ben’s testimony as a witness of the event.

Most locals feel the sentence is too harsh, but Ben feels obligated to carry it out.  As the hanging approaches, Laurie is caught smuggling a derringer to Campbell.  Public opinion, and that of his own daughter and fiancée, turn against Ben.  The only ones who still believe in him are Maggie’s young son Mitch and Cain’s elderly widow.  The town council gets a petition for clemency for Campbell and asks Ben to take it to the governor, who knows him.  While he’s gone, his deputies get drunk and Campbell’s confederates manage to spring him from jail, wounding the doctor.


Cutler’s daughter is infatuated with young Campbell.

As Ben returns to town with the governor’s commutation of Campbell’s sentence, he gives back the badge, feeling he no longer has public support.  He steps into the middle of a shootout, as the outlaws try to get out of town.  He gets two of them, but Campbell takes refuge in the adjacent livery stable.  During the extended gunfight, Laurie warns Ben as Campbell steps out behind him.   Campbell is wounded but makes a break for it and returns fire on Ben.  Ben finally gets him, symbolically enough, on the platform of the gallows on which he was to hang.

The town council wants him to take back the badge, and with a minimum of discussion he does.  All is forgiven, apparently, and Ben’s daughter and fiancée come back to him.


Cutler takes the badge.

Obviously, this is one of those westerns from the 1950s, like High Noon and The Tin Star, that is concerned with the relationship between the town and its lawman.  The story is told well enough that the viewer is not entirely sure of the degree of Campbell’s guilt until the end; it all depends on how much you trust Fred MacMurray.  This is, after all, the solid and dependable father-figure Fred MacMurray–not the weaselly one from Double Indemnity or the unrepentant outlaw from The MoonlighterThe end is abrupt and not entirely convincing; it feels like more reconciliation is necessary among several characters and with the town in general.  This is similar in many ways to MacMurray’s At Gunpoint, in which he is not a lawman but a shopkeeper unskilled with guns who manages to get an outlaw during a robbery.  But the town doesn’t like the results of that, either.  It also has similarties in theme to The Fastest Gun Alive.

The resolution may be abrupt, but this is a watchable western.  The fiancée Ruth never comes alive, and the daughter Laurie seems impenetrably stupid for much of the movie.  But MacMurray as Ben always seems reasonable and right.  In color.  Short, at just 85 minutes.

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At Gunpoint

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 3, 2014

At Gunpoint—Fred MacMurray, Dorothy Malone, Walter Brennan, Skip Homeier, Tommy Rettig (1955; Dir:  Alfred L. Werker)


A variation on the High Noon theme, which was made two or three years earlier than this movie.  Peace-loving storekeeper Jack Wright (Fred MacMurray) kills the leader of an outlaw gang by a stroke of luck while they’re trying to rob the local bank.  Hailed as a hero, Wright realizes deep down that he’s a coward, and, more obviously, he’s not really any good with a gun.  When the surviving gunmen return to town, thirsting for revenge, the townsfolk expect Wright to singlehandedly stand up to the villains. When he asks for help, his neighbors turn their backs on him, ordering him to get out of town to avoid further trouble. Only the doctor (Walter Brennan) and Wright’s wife (Dorothy Malone) remain loyal.  Ultimately, Wright finds that he may not be as cowardly as he had thought.  After Wright gives a stirring speech in a saloon, the townspeople do come to his aid and the gang is captured. 

This is different from High Noon in that the man in danger has not deliberately taken that risk—he’s not a marshal or sheriff—and because eventually the town does stick up for him.  Kind of talky.  Good performance by MacMurray; his son is played by Tommy Rettig, who went on to star in Delmer Daves’ The Last Wagon and in television’s Lassie.  The crusty but beloved town doctor (Walter Brennan) is essentially the same character as John McIntire in The Tin Star.


This is one of those 1950s westerns dwelling on the interaction between a town and its sheriff, the nature of community and the kind of support a sheriff should expect from those he protects.  The most famous is High Noon, but see also The Tin Star, Warlock and Rio Bravo, as well as the later Lawman.  This also bears some resemblance to The Fastest Gun Alive a couple of years later; the difference is that Glenn Ford in Fastest Gun is good with a gun but doesn’t want to use it.  The cowardly townspeople were becoming a cliché by the time this movie was made.  Another comparison might be with 1967’s Hombre, in which Paul Newman has been rejected by others for living as an Apache.  He clearly owes them nothing, but nevertheless comes to their aid against his own inclinations simply because he is the one best suited to do so.   In color, at 81 minutes.

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The Fastest Gun Alive

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 21, 2014

The Fastest Gun Alive—Glenn Ford, Broderick Crawford, John Dehner, Jeanne Crain, Russ Tamblyn, John Dehner, Noah Beery, Jr., Leif Erickson (1956; Dir:  Russell Rouse)


Heavy-set Broderick Crawford as a quick-draw bad guy named Vinnie?  A psychological western with lots of angst, kind of 1950s Freudian.  It is also a variation on the theme of how somebody quick with a gun draws others who want to test themselves against him (e.g., The Gunfighter).  

Storekeeper George Kelby/Temple (Glenn Ford) has father issues with his now-deceased lawman father, who was good with a gun until he was killed.  Bad guy Vinnie’s insecurities are fueled by having been abandoned by his wife.  Kelby/Temple is great with a gun and occasionally needs to show off his skills, but he has never shot a person and is afraid to do so.  Vinnie, having robbed the bank in a neighboring town with his gang (John Dehner, Noah Beery, Jr.), is making his escape when he hears about Kelby’s skill.  Fancying himself to be fast with a gun, Vinnie tries to force Kelby into a test showdown, or he’ll burn down the town.


Kelby/Temple (Glenn Ford), wondering if he can do it.

There is much anguish as Kelby and other townsfolk take refuge in the church and debate whether he has to take up Vinnie’s challenge and save the town.  His wife (Jeanne Crain) doesn’t want him to do it.  One townsman (Leif Erickson) reluctantly volunteers to impersonate George to save the town.  Finally Kelby steps up, as we knew he eventually would have to.  But he doesn’t like it.  “Don’t say a word, Lou…because a word is about all it would take.”  George walks out into the dusty street ….

Cut to the posse pursuing Vinnie et al., finally arriving in town.  They find only graves in the churchyard, including one for Vinnie and one for George Temple.  He has been buried with his gun.  Only the living storekeeper George Kelby remains.

FastestGunShowdownShowdown time.

Theoretically, all of the anguish is resolved at the end of the movie, but it seems like the need to demonstrate his skills will come back, even though his father’s gun is now buried and gone with Vinnie.  This has a good supporting cast, including Noah Beery, Jr. and John Dehner as the other two members of Vinnie’s gang.  There are a lot of 1950’s “gunman and the community” issues, with a lot of ambivalence among townsmen about how to deal with Vinnie, the role they want Kelby/Temple to play, and how they feel about him.  In black and white, at 89 minutes.

Glenn Ford was at the peak of his career in westerns, although he always played roles other than westerns, too (Teahouse of the August Moon, Don’t Go Near the Water).  This was about the time that he made 3:10 to Yuma, Jubal and Cowboy with director Delmer Daves and The Sheepman.  For a similar theme with Fred MacMurray, see At Gunpoint.

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The Proud Ones

Nicholas Chennault ~ March 10, 2014

The Proud Ones—Robert Ryan, Jeffrey Hunter, Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan, Robert Middleton, Arthur O’Connell, Rodolfo Acosta (1956; Dir:  Robert D. Webb)


The title apparently refers to aging town marshal Cass Silver (Robert Ryan) and young Thad Anderson (Jeffrey Hunter) in Flat Rock, Kansas, a cow town.  Early in the movie, Cass has a run-in with a dealer in a saloon run by Honest John Barrett (Robert Middleton, good here in his slimy mode), with whom he has a long and none-too-cordial history.  Silver, Barrett and Sally (Virginia Mayo) all knew each other in Keystone, where Silver was previously marshal.  A bullet creases Cass’s head and leaves him with impaired vision, and maybe dizziness, when he looks down.  Thad Anderson, just in with a trail herd from Texas, saves Silver from another gunman in the incident but takes a bullet in the leg. 

Cass spends the rest of the movie trying to evade assassins sent by Barrett, while he’s having recurring vision problems (and they’re getting worse).  Cass killed Thad’s father in Keystone, and Thad seems to be looking for revenge.  But he spends most of the movie getting wiser, both about what happened with his father and about Cass.  Cass hires him as a deputy and educates him in various ways:  “Your first lesson comes now.  At night, always walk in the shadows—you can see better.  In the daytime, walk away from the sun–you’ll live longer.” 


Barrett’s public relations campaign with the locals seems to be working; the townspeople are increasingly uncomfortable with Cass and his skill with a gun.  Barrett spreads stories about Cass shooting unarmed men, including Thad’s father.  Cass in turn doesn’t know who he can really depend on, if anyone, since his deputy has a long-term grudge against him that he’s never hidden.  When the chips are down, though, Thad joins with Cass.  In the final shootout with Barrett’s men, Cass and Thad prevail and bond further.  Cass goes off to Kansas City for medical attention and to marry Sally. 

A good B-movie cast.  Virginia Mayo is a local businesswoman and Silver’s long-time romantic interest, but she has little to do here except express concern.  Walter Brennan is the jailor-deputy Jake, Arthur O’Connell is a nervous Silver deputy, and Rodolfo Acosta is Chico, a Barrett gunslinger trying to kill Cass.  In color, with cinematography by Lucien Ballard.  Lots of whistling on the effective soundtrack music by Lionel Newman. 

ProudOnesShooting Shooting contest.

This is said to be a remake of the non-western Red Skies of Montana from four years earlier, also with Jeffrey Hunter.  It can also be seen as another 1950s western exploring the uneasy relationship between the townsfolk and the good-with-a-gun marshal they hire to defend them.  More explicitly, it can be seen as a variation on the Rio Bravo aspect of that theme, as emphasized by the presence of Walter Brennan as the jailer.  Better than average, but kind of talky.  If you like Robert Ryan here, watch him in Day of the Outlaw from about the same time and as a supporting character to Burt Lancaster in Lawman from the early 1970s.  This is one of Jeffrey Hunter’s better roles, although he was always limited as an actor.

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Man With the Gun

Nicholas Chennault ~ January 3, 2014

Man with the Gun—Robert Mitchum, Jan Sterling, John Lupton, Karen Sharpe, James Westerfield, Leo Gordon, Henry Hull, Ted de Corsia, Joe Barry, Claude Akins (1955; Dir:  Richard Wilson)


Robert Mitchum is Clint Tollinger, who is made marshal in the town of Sheridan in order to clean it up.  Sheridan is controlled and terrorized by Dade Holman (Joe Barry), the local land and cattle baron.  Tollinger specializes in quick taming of wild towns and is good with a gun, but the town becomes uncomfortable because of that, especially when some businesses suffer.  Tollinger is in town to see his estranged wife Nelly Bain (Jan Sterling), who is madam of a bunch of unusually attractive “dance-hall girls” (including a very young and uncredited Angie Dickinson as Kitty).  Impetuous young swain Jeff Castle (John Lupton) gets shot by Holman’s men, and his girl friend (Karen Sharpe) seems to be transferring her affections to Tollinger. 

Tollinger can take care of most of the trouble and politics thrown at him until the madam reveals the fate of their daughter.  Unbalanced emotionally by the news, Tollinger then burns down Holman’s saloon and shoots it out with its manager Frenchy Lescaux (Ted de Corsia) after goading Lescaux into the confrontation.  Holman develops a trap for Tollinger; in the final shootout, Tollinger wins but is shot when he defers to the swain at the last moment so he can look good for his girl.  Presumably Tollinger’s wound is not fatal, though. 


Tollinger (Robert Mitchum) rides into the town of Sheridan.

Kind of a western-noir, this compact movie is one of those westerns from the 1950s dealing with the uneasy relationship between a gun-slinging law enforcer and the townsmen he’s protecting (High Noon, The Tin Star, Warlock, Lawman, etc.).  It’s also a gunslinger coming to terms with his past (The Gunfighter, Lawman, The Shootist, etc.)  Mitchum is very good at playing a character who is quite competent but possibly more on the edge than anybody realizes, with unresolved fatherhood issues in this case.  The resolution of the movie doesn’t feel entirely satisfying. 


Facing down bad guys from the upper story of a barn.

Claude Akins, never a subtle bad guy, has a small role as Jim Reedy, one of Holman’s gunmen, who tries to get Tollinger with a gun hidden in his hat.  Henry Hull is the sheriff and Tollinger’s deputy in a colorful role verging on irritating.  James Westerfield is a supposed traveling drummer, who’s actually Holman’s lawyer; he’s a bit unctuous in the role.  Joe Barry, who plays Holman, isn’t seen until the film’s climax, and that works quite well.  Except for Mitchum, there’s not much star power here. 


Better than most westerns, this is worth watching, although not often seen any more.  Shot on a back lot in black and white; the town has an unusual hillside feel to it.  The cinematographer was Lee Garmes.  Music is by Alex North, who later did Spartacus and recycled some of the music from this in it.  Director Wilson, a protégé of Orson Welles, did a similar movie again with Yul Brynner in Invitation to a Gunfighter in 1964.  This one is better.

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Decision at Sundown

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 28, 2013

Decision At Sundown—Randolph Scott, Noah Beery, Jr., Karen Steele, John Carroll, Andrew Duggan (1957; Dir:  Budd Boetticher)


Unlike most of the other Ranown westerns of the late 1950s, this one takes place mostly in a town.  The opening shot is not a lone rider making his way through the distant rocks of Lone Pine.  And the normally solitary Randolph Scott character has a sidekick played by the amicable Noah Beery, Jr..  And it’s written by Charles Lang, not Burt Kennedy, who wrote the best of the Ranown westerns directed by Budd Boetticher.  There are stories, however, that Kennedy did most of the writing without being credited.

However, Bart Allison (Scott) is seeking vengeance for matters relating to the death of his wife, as is usual with Scott characters in Boetticher movies.  He’s after Tate Kimbrough (played slimily by John Carroll), the corrupt town boss of Sundown, who’s about to marry spunky and beautiful young Kate Summerton (Karen Steele, who was Mrs. Budd Boetticher).  Allison is a Civil War veteran who’s heard that a dalliance with Kimbrough while he was gone led to his wife’s suicide.  There are good side characters in this one:  Ruby James (Valerie French) is Kimbrough’s long-time living-above-the-saloon paramour who’s not entirely reconciled to the marriage; Doc John Storrow (John Archer) has his own questions about Kimbrough, as does local rancher Morley Chase (Ray Teal). 

DecisionSundownWedding Breaking up the wedding.

By speaking up at Kimbrough’s wedding, Allison and Sam immediately are hunted by Kimbrough’s minions, including his pet sheriff (Andrew Duggan).  The battle takes most of the movie, as Kimbrough’s men take out Sam and Allison kills the sheriff.  In the end, however, though Kimbrough is a moral leper, he doesn’t actually deserve Allison’s vengeance because Allison’s wife dallied with a number of men.  The resolution is interesting; Allison gets his revenge, but not the way he thought he would.  And he’s not happy about it.  He’s not as admirable a hero as most of the Scott-Boetticher characters.  This is yet another case where the hero played by Scott doesn’t get Karen Steele, who probably ends up with the doctor.

DecisionSundownScott In desperate straits.

This is an interesting variation on the cowardly townspeople theme, though.  (High Noon, At Gunpoint, The Tin Star, the original 3:10 to Yuma, etc.)  It’s not, perhaps, one of the very best of the Ranown westerns, but better than an average western nevertheless.

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3:10 to Yuma (the Original)

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 15, 2013

3:10 to Yuma—Glenn Ford, Van Heflin, Leora Dana, Felicia Farr, Richard Jaeckel, Robert Emhardt (1957; Dir:  Delmer Daves)

Dan Evans:  What’s the matter?
Mrs. Alice Evans:  Nothing. It seems terrible that something bad can happen and all anybody can do is stand by and watch.
Dan Evans:  Lots of things happen where all you can do is stand by and watch.


There’s an undercurrent of fatalistic courage in the Dan Evans character played by Van Heflin.  Dan struggles with his obligations the whole movie, but when it counts he doesn’t just stand by and watch.  The inevitable comparison is with the 2007 remake.  Well, this unpretentious 1957 original from a story by Elmore Leonard has much less action than the remake; it’s more a psychological study, with Glenn Ford’s excellent performance as ruthless but charming outlaw boss Ben Wade at its heart.  The plot holds together a little better, and the ending is simpler and makes a bit more sense, although there have always been those who don’t find this original ending believable, either.  For a western, there’s a lot of talk in this movie.

Van Heflin as Dan Evans is good, but he’s doing a version of his solid rancher character from Shane, the sort of role for which he is now mostly remembered.  This one is deeper and more complex, with more camera time for his character.  Evans is an Arizona rancher about to go under financially.  When a reward is offered to get captured outlaw chieftain and gunman Ben Wade on the 3:10 train to Yuma, where the infamous territorial prison is located, Evans takes the job as a way to address at least some of his difficulties.  Unexpectedly, a relationship of sorts develops.  Heflin’s stolid and beleagured Evans gives Ford’s Wade a worthy opponent to play against, as Evans’ courage develops while he’s faced with temptation.  Evans’ ambivalence is obvious the entire movie as he is forced to hear Wade’s Mephistophelean blandishments during a lengthy stretch in an upper hotel room (the bridal suite, in fact) in Contention.  As things turn out, Wade also has more ambivalence than he has showed most of the time. 

3.10 to Yuma 3

Outlaw chieftain Ben Wade (Glenn Ford) chats up barroom girl Emmy (Felicia Farr).

Leora Dana, as Evans’ wife Alice, seems realer than Gretchen Mol does in the remake, but she’s also given a meatier role than Mol.  It’s a little surprising how much of Wade’s interlude with a saloon girl Emmy (Felicia Farr) was in the original; it seems a little frank in its implications for a 1950s western.  Richard Jaeckel as Wade’s second in command Charley Price doesn’t have Ben Foster’s psychotic edge, but the role wasn’t written that way the first time around.  Missing from the remake is Henry Jones’s role as Alex Potter, the town drunk cum outlaw guard, replaced by Alan Tudyk as Doc Potter in a different kind of role.  Also not in this original:  the nastiness of the lender and his repulsive henchmen; the father-son developments between Dan and his oldest son; Dan’s disability and Civil War background; the morally-blinkered Pinkerton man killed by Wade on the trip to Contention; and the Indians and the railroad men who try to the keep the party from making it there.  In fact, the arduous segment from Evans’ ranch to Contention is not in the original.  Wade’s gang in Contention seems a little more human and less invincible, although Dan Evans still seems very overmatched. 


Wade (Glenn Ford) and his lieutenant Charley Prince (Richard Jaeckel).

In the end, Alice shows up in Contention to try (unsuccessfully) to talk Dan out of walking Wade to the train; and as Dan and Wade get to the train under attack from Wade’s gang, they just roll into an empty boxcar on the moving train.  Dan has earned Wade’s respect, and it’s Wade who suggests getting onto the train to get Dan out of an otherwise untenable situation.  He ends by saying that he’s broken out of Yuma before, and the feeling is that he’ll do it again.  That’s probably okay with Dan, who just sees his job as getting Wade to Yuma and is not concerned with what may happen after that.  He’s developed a little affection for Wade, too, if not any admiration for his moral character.


Wade (Glenn Ford) and Evans (Van Heflin) look to make a run for the 3:10 train to Yuma.

You can see this as another of those 1950s meditations on the uneasy relationship between the law enforcer and the town he protects, as with High Noon, The Tin Star, and Warlock, although the emphasis here is on the developing relationship between Evans and Wade.  Dan is one of those ordinary citizens who steps up, not a professional gunman or career law enforcement man.  There are obvious noir influences here.  This original version of the story is highly watchable and ought to be seen by any fan of the remake.  This could legitimately be placed on a list of great westerns, and probably would be if it weren’t eclipsed by the showier remake.  At 92 minutes, it’s also considerably shorter than the remake.  This is more about psychology (in a good way); the remake is more about action.  Glenn Ford dazzles in the juicier Ben Wade role.

In general Delmer Daves seems a workmanlike director who made some good westerns in the 1950s.  His work is usually worth seeking out.  But he has his champions as something more.  Bertrand Tavernier pointed out in Film Comment, “What first impresses the viewer is Daves’ attention to landscape, to nature, expressed in shots that intimately and sometimes inextricably mingle lyricism and realism.

“He actually insisted on personally supervising the kind of material many Hollywood filmmakers would leave to second-unit directors–extreme long shots, transitional moments filmed at dawn or twilight.”

In black and white; cinematographer Charles Lawton (not Laughton), Jr., also worked with Budd Boetticher during this period.  This would get some votes as the most beautifully shot black-and-white western ever made, if you watch it in high definition (either the Criterion Collection DVD or somewhere like TCM).  The Contention-Bisbee railroad connection figured again in Leonard’s story for Hombre.  The theme song is sung by Frankie Laine:  “Though you’ve got no reason to go there, and there ain’t a soul that you know there, when the 3:10 to Yuma whistles its sad refrain, take that train . . . . . .”

Note:  The hat Glenn Ford wears in this movie he wore for most of his westerns in the 1950s and 1960s, long past when it should have been retired.  He joins John Wayne and James Stewart as western stars with recurring hats.

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