Tag Archives: Robert Ryan

Trail Street

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 1, 2015

Trail Street—Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, George “Gabby” Hayes, Anne Jeffreys, Madge Meredith, Steve Brodie, Billy House (1947; Dir: Ray Enright)

TrailStPosterTrailStArgen

The Trail Street of the title is the main street of Liberal, Kansas, a reference to the route of the cattle drives from Texas.  Here, the trail-driving cattlemen are the bad guys, pitted against the good but defenseless farmers.

On  the side the farmers is sympathetic local banker (!) Alan Harper (Robert Ryan), who is running out of money to finance them and who is romantically interested in Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith).  Susan, who wants to movie to the big city, can’t decide between the obviously decent Harper and Logan Maury (Steve Brodie), saloon owner on the side of the cattlemen, who is trying to buy up the farmers’ land as they leave one by one.  Maury is wealthy and offers to take Susan to Chicago.  Saloon girl Ruby (Anne Jeffreys) grew up with Harper but ran away to her present life and sees Maury as hers.

TrailStMadgeRyan

Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith) is romanced by decent banker Alan Harper (Robert Ryan).

Amid the gathering chaos, local character Billy Burns (Gabby Hayes) persuades the mayor to send for Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott).  Masterson quickly sizes up the situation and sides with Harper against Maury and the sleazy saloon operator Carmody (Billy House is excellent in the duplicitous role).  While Susan dithers, Harper is framed for the murder of a farmer he was trying to help, and he discovers the farmer had a new type of winter wheat that will make the Kansas prairies fertile fields for wheat production.  As Maury tries to bust the actual murderer out of jail, a battle breaks out, with the departing farmers pitching in against the cowboys and Maury.  Ruby burns the deeds of the farmers that Maury had acquired, and he shoots her in the back, causing his own men to turn on him.  Susan (not terribly convincingly) comes to her senses about Alan.  Bat Masterson leaves for New York to become a “journalist.”  (The real Bat Masterson became sports editor for the Morning Telegraph in New York.)

TrailStRyanMadgeScott2

Recently-deputized Alan Harper (Robert Ryan), Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott) and even the indecisive Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith) prepare to defend the jail.

This was made about the time that Randolph Scott was turning his career to making only westerns, and this was not his best work.  At this stage he sometimes adopted a relentlessly cheerful demeanor, notwithstanding what was going on around him, and the result was (a) a kind of dissonance, and (b) a sense that, whatever the problems, they weren’t all that serious, even if slaughter and mayhem were taking place.  Scott would be better in future westerns, especially those made a decade later with Budd Boetticher.  Another weakness, common in Randolph Scott westerns, is an insipid female lead, both in the writing and in performance.  Bad girl Anne Jeffreys is much more interesting than indecisive good girl Madge Meredith.  And a third problem is that Gabby Hayes’ brand of toothless, aw-shucks performance must have been much more attractive 70 years ago than it seems now.  As toothless sidekicks go, Walter Brennan was a much better actor.  Steve Brodie’s bad guy Logan Maury suffers from an inconsistent mustache, among other things.

In black and white, at 84 minutes.  Randolph Scott (Frontier Marshal, Trail Street) joins Joel McCrea (Wichita, The Gunfight at Dodge City) as actors who have portrayed both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson on film.  Some posters for the movie show Scott using two guns (as he did in Canadian Pacific), but he wears only one in the film.  He was better with one.  The German title was much more fun:  Die Totesreiter von Kansas (Death Rider of Kansas).

TrailStDyingRuby

The dying Ruby (Anne Jeffreys), having taken one for the team, makes a graceful exit, surrounded by Susan Pritchard (Madge Meredith), Bat Masterson (Randolph Scott) and Alan Harper (Robert Ryan).

Randolph Scott, Gabby Hayes and Steve Brodie had starred the previous year in Badman’s Territory.  Four of these actors, Scott, Ryan, Jeffreys and Hayes would appear together the next year in director Enright’s slightly better Return of the Bad Men.  This time Ryan would be a bad guy (the Sundance Kid), Gabby Hayes would be a wildly improbable bank president and Anne Jeffreys still wouldn’t get the guy despite being more interesting than the ostensible female lead.  Ray Enright, who had directed movies since the 1920s including the 1942 version of The Spoilers with Randolph Scott and emerging star John Wayne, directed several of Scott’s westerns of the late 1940s (Albuquerque, Coroner Creek), as well as Errol Flynn and Alexis Smith in Montana (1950).

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Return of the Bad Men

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 9, 2015

Return of the Bad Men—Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, George “Gabby” Hayes, Jacqueline White, Anne Jeffreys (1948; Dir: Ray Enright)

RetBadMenPosterRetBadMenPoster2

Indian Territory Marshal Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott) is retiring as a lawman to marry Madge Allen (Jacqueline White), the young and attractive widow of another lawman.  Early in the movie is the 1889 Oklahoma land rush, and the hasty settlement of the town of Guthrie.  The local military authority persuades Cordell to accept a temporary appointment as marshal, just in time for a gang of all the known outlaw names of the old west to start a crime spree (Youngers [out of commission since 1876], Daltons, the Arkansas Kid, Billy the Kid—who was long dead by 1889—and especially the Sundance Kid [Robert Ryan]).  They’re led by Bill Doolin (Robert Armstrong), whose niece Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys) decides to go straight and joins Cordell as his assistant.

It’s all very counter-historical, and somewhat formulaic.  Gabby Hayes as a toothless bank president?  That’s neither formulaic nor believable.  Things work out as you’d expect.  There’s supposed to be some sexual tension with Cordell and Cheyenne, and some competition between Madge and Cheyenne, but since Randolph Scott’s in his ultra-straight mode you know how that’s going to work out, too.   Cheyenne’s more interesting than Madge, though, and it makes you wonder about Cordell’s judgment.  Note also that the actress playing Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys) gets higher billing than the one playing Madge (Jacqueline White).  There is a good performance by Robert Ryan as a hard, ruthless Sundance Kid.

RetBadMenScottJeffreysRetBadMenRyan

Two legs of a romantic triangle:  Production stills of Marshal Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott) captured by Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys).  And Robert Ryan as the Sundance Kid.

The “return” of the title is an apparent reference to a successful film Scott and Hayes had made two years earlier, also about a law officer in Oklahoma territory:  Badman’s Territory (1946).  This is not really a sequel in any meaningful sense, except that it also includes a variety of unrelated and implausibly-gathered outlaws.

For another western in which Randolph Scott works things out with a woman (Angela Lansbury) unalterably opposed to his being a lawman, see A Lawless Street.  One recurring lesson seems to be to watch out for the attractive young widows and daughters of deceased lawmen—they tend to want you to leave the profession. (See The Tin Star, for example.)

Note: This is at least the third movie in which Randolph Scott’s character is named Vance, along with Virginia City and Western Union, which are both better than this is.

RetBadMenWide

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

North West Mounted Police

Nicholas Chennault ~ June 27, 2014

North West Mounted Police—Gary Cooper, Robert Preston, Madeleine Carroll, Paulette Goddard, Preston Foster, Lynne Overman, George Bancroft, Montagu Love, Akim Tamiroff, Robert Ryan, Lon Chaney, Jr., Wallace Reid, Jr. (1940; Dir: Cecil B. DeMille)

NWMPPosterNWMPPoster3

This is a typical Cecil DeMille production for its time, with a large cast and shot in Technicolor at a time (1940) when that was still rare for westerns. Gary Cooper stars in the second of his three DeMille westerns. The first was The Plainsman (1936), and the third would be Unconquered (1947), set in colonial times. Cooper was a big star, and, although he initially made much of his reputation in westerns, he only made a handful of them in the 1940s. (See The Westerner, 1940, and the western comedy Along Came Jones, 1945.)

It is 1885, and the Second Riel Rebellion is brewing among the mixed-ancestry Metís (pronounced “meet-us” in this movie) people of Saskatchewan in Canada. Louis Riel (Francis McDonald) is retrieved from Montana, where he has been teaching school, by Dan Duroc (Akim Tamiroff) and Jacques Corbeau (George Bancroft, who had played the good-hearted sheriff in Stagecoach the previous year).  Riel has reservations about any association with the rough Corbeau, who has a history of running liquor and guns to the Indians, but Duroc persuades him to go along because Corbeau has a gatling gun which will equalize things with the Queen’s forces.

NWMPGoddPrest

Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston) and the fiery Louvette (Paulette Goddard).

Two red-coated Mounties, Sgt. Jim Brett (Preston Foster) and Ronnie Logan (Robert Preston) discover in Batoche, the Metís capital, that the rebellion has reached dangerous proportions, with Big Bear’s Crees on the verge of joining the Metís. Romantic interests are established for both of them, Logan with Metís maiden Louvette Corbeau (daughter of Jacques Corbeau, played by Paulette Goddard as kind of a dark-skinned, blue-eyed Gypsy) and Brett with Logan’s sister April Logan (Madeleine Carroll), a selfless nurse among the Metís in Batoche.  She doesn’t seem convinced that Brett’s for her.

Into this cauldron of brewing rebellion and budding romance rides a Texas Ranger, Dusty Rivers (Gary Cooper), who is looking to arrest Corbeau for a murder in Texas.  He is received dubiously at Fort Carlton, especially by Sgt. Brett, when he develops an immediate attraction to April Logan. Brett goes off to persuade Big Bear to remain allied to the Queen, but when Corbeau promises to bring him red coats covered with blood, Big Bear gives him three days to do that before he will join the rebellion.

NWMPFostCoopInd

Sgt. Brett (Preston Foster) negotiates with the Crees for Rivers (Gary Cooper) and a Scottish scout (Lynne Overman).

Ronnie Logan and another Mountie are sent off to remote guard duty at Duck Lake.  When April hears of the seriousness of the rebellion, she sends Louvette Corbeau to warn Ronnie.  Instead of warning him, she lures him into a situation where she can take him prisoner.  In his absence, a column of Mounties are mostly massacred at Duck Lake, including the commander (played by Montagu Love).  His dying command to Brett is that he get Ronnie and make him pay for his desertion.

While Sgt. Brett takes command of the few surviving Mounties left at Fort Carlton, heading on an apparent suicide mission to Big Bear, Rivers helps April flee the burning fort and heads for Batoche, where he distracts the defenders by cutting their canoes loose and destroying the gatling gun.  He helps Ronnie escape the clutches of Louvette, only to see him cut down by an Indian assassin hired by Louvette to get Rivers.

NWMPPrestLoose2NWMPCoopCarroll

Rivers liberates Ronnie Logan from his scheming captor Louvette;  River woos nurse April Logan (Madeleine Carroll).

At Big Bear’s camp, Brett is improbably successful at retrieving the Crees’ loyalty and the rebellion seems to be over, with Duroc dead and Riel and Corbeau captured.  A Mountie tribunal is on the verge of convicting Ronnie of desertion, until Rivers comes in and attributes to Ronnie his own efforts in destroying the gatling gun at Batoche, saving Ronnie’s reputation.  At the end, he abducts Corbeau to take him back to Texas, but as he leaves with his prisoner, Brett and April find him and announce that April is marrying Brett.  But Brett allows Rivers to take Corbeau and leaves Rivers’ version of Ronnie’s heroism to stand even though he suspects otherwise.

Joel McCrea had starred for DeMille in Union Pacific in 1939 and was the first choice to play Rivers.  But he dropped out to do Alfred Hitcock’s Foreign Correspondent and was about to be cast in two Preston Sturges films (all included in the best work of his career), so the role went to Gary Cooper.  English actress Madeleine Carroll had made her reputation working with Alfred Hitchcock as the first of his cool blondes (The 39 Steps, Secret Agent) and in costume dramas (Prisoner of Zenda, Lloyd’s of London).  By 1938 she was said to be the highest-paid actress in Hollywood.   After her sister Marguerite was killed in a London bombing raid, she spent the rest of the war as a field nurse and in other war efforts.   She became a U.S. citizen in 1943, but her career never revived after the war.  At this stage of his career, Robert Preston often played the friend or brother who went bad (Union Pacific, Blood on the Moon, Whispering Smith), and his character usually died because of that.  Several young actors, including Robert Ryan, Lon Chaney, Jr., Regis Toomey, Rod Cameron and Wallace Reid, Jr. (son of a silent star who died of drug addiction) play young Mounties or Indians.

NWMPDeMille

DeMille directs Carroll and Cooper as they flee Fort Carlton in a canoe.

One of the screenwriters here is Alan LeMay, author of the novel The Searchers was based on.  But the dialogue is clunky, and Cooper’s, in particular, is excessively of the aw-shucks homespun variety.  Between that and his character’s too-precious name, it’s not one of his more successful performances.  He could play frontier characters naturally and was doing so convincingly at this time in his career (playing western in The Westerner the same year, and playing Appalachian backwoods in Sergeant York, for which he won the Best Actor Oscar the following year), but it doesn’t work well here.  Neither the abrupt end of the rebellion nor the abrupt change of heart by April Logan are entirely convincing, either.  After the opening scene, Riel largely disappears, and we never discover why he’s essential to the rebellion.  He certainly has little charisma as depicted here.

This is one of the fifty movies listed in The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (and How They Got That Way) by Harry Medved and Randy Lowell (1978).  It’s not that epically bad, but is it worth watching? It is if you are interested in either Cooper or DeMille, not to mention the beautiful Carroll.  For another (and better) story of an American gone north, see Gunless (2010).  For another story of Mounties and Indians, see Raoul Walsh’s Saskatchewan with Alan Ladd (1954).  If you’re interested in the background of Canada’s Second Riel Rebellion, see Strange Empire by Joseph Kinsey Howard (first published in 1952).

NWMPFrenNWMPBelg

In color, at 126 minutes.  Shot principally around Big Bear Lake in California, San Bernardino National Forest.  The movie won an Oscar for Best Editing.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

The Tall Men

Nicholas Chennault ~ May 28, 2014

The Tall Men—Clark Gable, Jane Russell, Robert Ryan, Cameron Mitchell, Juan Garcia, Emile Meyer (1955; Dir:  Raoul Walsh)

TallMenPosterTallMenFren

Title card:  “Montana Territory – 1866.  They came from the South, headed for the goldfields…  Ben and Clint Allison, lonely and desperate men. Riding away from a heartbreak memory of Gettysburg.  Looking for a new life.  A story of tall men – and long shadows.”

Brothers Ben (Clark Gable) and Clint Allison (Cameron Mitchell), Texans and Confederate veterans, find themselves in Mineral City, Montana, in 1866 during a blizzard.  Ben, who is often referred to as “Colonel” throughout the movie, rode with Quantrill during the war, and the brothers have not found their way home, nor have they found a purpose or much money.  They see Nathan Stark (Robert Ryan) with $20,000 and try to rob him.  In return, he makes a counter-proposal.  He wants to buy cattle in Texas at $3 to $4 a head and drive them to Mineral City, where he can get $50 a head for them.  They decide to join Stark in that enterprise.

The three ride south toward Texas and find themselves in Colorado Territory during another blizzard.  They encounter a starving migrant group including Nella Turner (Jane Russell), share a meal and keep moving.  They find Sioux sign a bit later; Stark and Clint keep moving toward Bent’s trading post; Ben goes back to warn the migrants.  The Sioux find them first, and the only survivor is Nella.  Ben and Nella wait out the storm in a cabin and trade stories.  Ben’s dream is to start his own ranch on “Prairie Dog Creek” in Texas.  Nella has grown up on a hardscrabble ranch and wants no more of that life, although the two are attracted to each other.  Eventually they make it to San Antonio, Texas, where they are reunited with Stake and Clint.

TallMenCabin

Ben (Clark Gable) and Nella (Jane Russell) waiting out the blizzard.

Ben as the trail boss hires former Confederates and mostly vaqueros headed by Luis (Juan Garcia) to drive 5000 cattle the 1500 miles to Montana.  Nella hooks up with Stark, who promises her half of the Montana Territory.  Stark brings her along on the trail drive over Ben’s objections, so she’s a continuing source of tension between the two.  As they approach Kansas, Jayhawkers demand $1 per head to allow the herd to pass, and Stark is inclined to pay it.  Ben isn’t, and the drovers shoot it out with the Jayhawkers with no casualties to themselves.

TallMenGrp3

Clint (Cameron Mitchell), Ben (Clark Gable) and Stark (Robert Ryan) face Jayhawkers at the Kansas border.

As they move on toward Wyoming, there are increasing signs of Indian trouble.  It is the middle of Red Cloud’s War, and the army in Wyoming Territory won’t let the herd keep going up the Bozeman Trail to the Montana mining towns.  Stark is inclined to turn the herd back to Abilene and sell it there; Ben wants to push ahead notwithstanding Red Cloud’s Sioux.  As usual, Ben wins.  Meanwhile, Clint is drinking more and there is bad blood between Clint and Stark.  During one confrontation, Stark demonstrates that he is better with a gun than Clint.  While riding point, Clint is killed by Indians, and Ben finds his arrow-filled body tied to a tree.

Ben and Stark find their way blocked by the hostile Sioux.  In a stirring sequence, Ben and his men stampede the herd through the Indians, and they soon find themselves outside of Mineral City.  Stark goes in to sell the cattle, and Ben follows with the herd.  At Stark’s office in the back room of a saloon, Stark divides up the money and then invites the local vigilance committee to take and hang Ben.  Ben reciprocates with the support of his more numerous vaqueros, and makes good his exit with his share of the money and Stark’s reluctant admiration.  Obviously the two never trusted each other, although they worked together on the long ride from Montana to Texas and the drive back north.

TallMenVigilantes

Ben finds himself in a stand-off with Stark’s vigilantes in Mineral City.

Nathan Stark to the vigilantes:  “There goes the only man I ever respected.  He’s what every boy thinks he’s going to be when he grows up and wishes he had been when he’s an old man.”

As Ben arrives back at the camp preparing to head back to Texas, he finds Nella there.  She has decided Texas ranching with Ben is more to her taste than half of Montana Territory with Stark.

Clark Gable turns in a strong performance as trail boss Ben Allison.  Robert Ryan’s Nathan Stark is written to be stiff and not very sympathetic, although he is presumably one of the tall men of the title.  His final comment on Ben Allison (above) seems heavy-handed and unnecessary.  Jane Russell is not a very good actress, and the time given to development of her character during the movie slows things down.  Her recurrent singing quickly becomes tiresome.  The part needed either to be smaller or to have a better actress.  Russell does not manage to be interesting even during the obligatory bathing-in-the-river scene.

TallMenGermWide

This is not one of director Raoul Walsh’s better westerns, but there are some good touches.  For example, the lowering of wagons down cliffs reminds us of a similar scene from Walsh’s The Big Trail twenty-five years earlier.  The stampede-through-the-Indians scene is stirring.  This cattle drive western is obviously reminiscent of Howard HawksRed River, and interestingly Hawks’ younger brother William is a producer on this film.  The screenwriters are Sidney Boehm and the veteran Frank Nugent (who often worked with John Ford), and the writing is mostly unremarkable.  The excellent music is by Victor Young (Wells Fargo [1937], North West Mounted Police [1940], Rio Grande [1950], Johnny Guitar [1954] and most memorably Shane [1953]), who died the next year at the age of 56.  It was shot in color around Durango, Mexico, which is why some of the trail drive scenes look more like desert than they should for the northern plains.

Although Gable is quite watchable in this, none of his westerns turn out to be all that memorable.  He didn’t appear in westerns until the 1950s, when they were more respectable than they had been earlier in his career.  He was a mountain man in the poorly edited Across the Wide Missouri (1951), and Lone Star (1952) was better.  A King and Four Queens (1957), also directed by Walsh toward the end of his career, is at best undistinguished and not much seen these days.

Based on a novel by Clay Fisher, this is obviously also based on the real-life trail drive of Nelson Story from Texas to Montana in 1866, during Red Cloud’s War.  The real Nelson Story seems to have been more admirable than Nathan Stark, although he had his hard edges, too.  There are some historical anomalies.  If Ben and Clint Allison rode with Quantrill, for example, they never came anywhere close to Gettysburg during the war, although they refer to it.  Presumably the town of Mineral City is standing in for the western Montana mining towns of Virginia City and Bannack, which were about the only parts of Montana inhabited in 1866.  Those towns had memorable vigilantes, too.  The story of a trail drive from Texas to Montana has been depicted much better and with much more complexity in Lonesome Dove, of course.H

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Best of the Badmen

Nicholas Chennault ~ April 28, 2014

Best of the Badmen—Robert Ryan, Robert Preston, Claire Trevor, Walter Brennan, Jack Beutel, Bruce Cabot, Robert Wilke, Tom Tyler (1951; Dir:  William D. Russell)

BestBadmenPosterBestBadmenBelg

The late 1940s and early 1950s had a lot of titles with some version of the word “badman” in them. This has a good cast, but a muddled story.  Robert Ryan is Jeff Clanton, a native-Missourian major in the Union army as the Civil War is ending.  He ends up capturing and administering the oath of allegiance to the remains of Quantrill’s band, including various Youngers and Jameses, before he himself is mustered out.  A detective agency owner, Matthew Fowler (Robert Preston at his most weaselly, a pseudo-Pinkerton), objects and gets a mob together.  Clanton shoots one of Fowler’s men as the mob threatens the now-disarmed Confederates, and they take off. 

Clanton is convicted of murder by a kangaroo court but is sprung before his scheduled hanging by Lily (Claire Trevor), Fowler’s estranged wife.  After a lengthy escape he is reunited with the Confederates in Quinto, Indian Territory, and he leads them on raids against Fowler-protected banks and trains.  Lily also shows up in Quinto, and Curley Ringo finds out her identity. 

BestBadmenTrevorRyan

Lily (Claire Trevor) offers to help Jeff Clanton (Robert Ryan) get out of jail.

Cole Younger (Bruce Cabot), rather than Jesse James (Lawrence Tierney), seems the dominant personality in the group; gradually they become more violent than Clanton is comfortable with.  He determines that a final train robbery will be his last; Lily is shot during it, and he, Bob Younger (Jack Beutel, notable mostly for his role ten years earlier as Billy the Kid in The Outlaw) and Doc Butcher (Walter Brennan) make their escape from Quinto. 

However, Lily is captured by Fowler’s men and is used as bait to trap Clanton.  Clanton engineers a raid on Fowler’s headquarters during which Fowler is shot by one of his own men.  Lily and Clanton presumably live happily ever after.  It is never clear why Lily and Fowler are so much at odds, why she would spring Clanton in the first place and why the otherwise upright Clanton can so easily make off with another man’s wife.  Ryan is good, as always; Claire Trevor isn’t given much to work with.  Walter Brennan is the best character in the film. 

BestBadmenShirtless Still of Robert Ryan as Clanton.

In color.  The supposed Missouri and Oklahoma locations look a lot like southern California and southern Utah.  Not long at less than 90 minutes.  From some reason, the posters seem to emphasize a shirtless image of Ryan; he looks to be in good shape.  Later in his career, Ryan would play another Clanton:  Ike Clanton, nemesis of Wyatt Earp, in Hour of the Gun (1966).  It is tempting to see this as a sequel of sorts to Badman’s Territory (1946), a Randolph Scott movie that also featured the James gang in Quinto, and Lawrence Tierney as Jesse James.  Neither is very historical.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

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)

ProudOnesPosterProudOnesSpan

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.” 

ProudOnesRyanMiddleton

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.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Day of the Outlaw

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 10, 2013

The Day of the Outlaw—Robert Ryan, Burl Ives, Tina Louis, Venetia Stevenson, David Nelson, Alan Marshall, Nehemiah Persoff, Elisha Cook, Jr. (1959; Dir:  Andre de Toth)

DayOutlawPosterColorDayOutlawGerm

Apparently a low-budget, late black and white western filmed in 1959.  The cast features good actors (Robert Ryan, Burl Ives) who were not big stars.  A decade before The Wild Bunch, Ryan was already aging and craggy-faced. 

It is winter in the remote town of Bitters, Wyoming, where a range war is about to break out between recently-arrived farmers who want to fence the range and long-term stockmen who built the town.  Representing the stockmen is Blaise Starrett (Robert Ryan), who’s been conducting a year-long affair with Helen Crane (Tina Louise), wife of Hal Crane (Alan Marshall), a leader of the farmers.  Starrett makes the same arguments as Ryker, the long-time rancher in Shane, about having cleared the country of Indians, outlaws and gunfighters, only to have clueless easterners and farmers move in thinking to take advantage of his years of danger and work without making any contribution themselves.  This speech is one of the movie’s longest.  After watching Shane, we can see that Starrett seems to be on the losing side of history, and morally he’s in the wrong because of his affair with Helen Crane, who has decided (mostly) to stay with her husband.  The connection with Helen seems to fuel the animosity between Starrett and Crane, but there’d be enough reason for it even without that.

DayOutlawBaddies Bad guys show up.

After the movie’s extended set-up, Starrett is facing off with three farmers including Crane, when in comes an armed gang of outlaws and thugs led by former Union cavalry captain Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives).  They take over the small town and threaten everybody in it, especially the women.  Bruhn’s been wounded by the cavalry pursuing the gang and needs medical attention.  The outlaws are clearly a depraved bunch, barely held in check by their strong-willed captain (much like the Lee J. Cobb character in Man of the West, made about the same time).  The exception to this depravity may be young Gene (David Nelson), the gang’s newest recruit, who is not yet thoroughly corrupted and who is attracted to the youngest and blondest of the town’s four women (Venetia Stevenson).  There’s a tense scene where the women are forced to “dance” with the outlaws, with the threat of rape hanging over them.

 DayOutlawWomen

Trying–unsuccessfully–to help the women escape.

The gang is still pursued by cavalry and eventually forces Starrett to guide them out of Bitters through the mountains and snow.  He reluctantly does it to protect the women of people he doesn’t like, and that’s his redemption as a moral character, because he thinks he’ll probably die on the trip along with the outlaws.  In the process Bruhn dies of his wounds and the rest of the gang die one by one by various means on the grueling trek, even though Starrett doesn’t have a gun to shoot it out with them.  The only survivors are Starrett himself and Gene, whom Starrett gives a job on his ranch.  His role in keeping Gene from turning bad is also redeeming.

Echoes of Shane come from the name Starrett (also the name of the farming family that takes in Shane), the conflict between stockmen and farmers, townsman Elisha Cook, Jr. (a farmer in Shane), and a not entirely believable fight scene in which the aging, seemingly none-too-robust Starrett defeats the brutish Tex (Jack Lambert) from Bruhn’s gang.  Since Bruhn can’t allow that result to stand, two of his other men finish off Starrett, with this brutality seen only at a distance. 

DayOutlawIvesRyan

The leads Ryan and Ives are excellent and generally believable here; Starrett isn’t entirely good and Bruhn isn’t completely bad despite the scum he leads and his status as a military renegade.  There is a vague reference by Starrett to something Bruhn did during the Civil War, involving the Mormons in Utah.  For an unspoken rapport between the bad guy and the good guy, compare this to Boetticher classics The Tall T and Seven Men from Now.  To the extent the cattlemen-farmer dispute is resolved, it seems to come out on the opposite side of Shane—i.e., Starrett mostly wins, but in this one he’s a cattleman.  He still doesn’t chase off the farmers, though.

DayOutlawWinterTrek

A stark and adult western with some noir flavor, among the best and last work by one-eyed journeyman director Andre de Toth (Ramrod, Man in the Saddle, The Indian Fighter).  Usually he worked with bigger stars (Joel McCrea, Randolph Scott, Kirk Douglas) and was not terribly imaginative.  The film has a good script by Philip Yordan.  In structure, the first 30 minutes is the set-up of the town, characters and local dispute; the second 30 minutes is the introduction of the gang and the contest of wills with Starrett and Bruhn; and the final 30 minutes is the grueling and fatal trip over the mountains.  This excellent western rises above the usual formulas, even though some of them seem in play here.  One of two westerns featuring the Nelson brothers in 1959; the other is Rio Bravo, with David’s brother Ricky in a prominent role.  For Burl Ives in a similar role, see him facing off against Charles Bickford in the epic The Big Country, probably his best-known western.

The excellent black-and-white cinematography is by Russell Harlan, who did Four Faces West, Red River, Ramrod, The Last Hunt (another wintry western), Rio Bravo and To Kill a MockingbirdFilmed in Mount Bachelor, Oregon.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Great Performances in Westerns, Part 5

Nicholas Chennault ~ December 7, 2013

Richard Farnsworth as Bill Miner in The Grey Fox

richardfarnsworthG Fox 3

Richard Farnsworth as Bill Miner, and the real Bill Miner.

After a lifetime as a stuntman and extra, Farnsworth had an unusual resurgence as a leading man toward the end of his career, and this was one of his three best roles—perhaps the very best.  His understated style and low-key charm, with a soft voice, warmly reticent smile around a white moustache, and expressive blue eyes are his trademarks.  He was unexpectedly cast as the lead in this low-budget Canadian production from 1982.  He plays Bill Miner, a one-time stagecoach robber who has spent most of his adult life as a prisoner in California’s San Quentin prison and is now released into a more modern west he doesn’t quite understand.  We relate to his charm and apparent affection for people, however, as he tries to reshape his outlaw career into something more modern.  It’s a seldom-seen gem of a movie, and it all depends on Farnsworth.  He’s magnificent.  For his other great roles, see him as Matthew Cuthbert in the Canadian television miniseries Anne of Green Gables (1985) and as Alvin Straight, driving a yard tractor to visit his brother before his own death, in The Straight Story (1999).

 CostnerDances2

Kevin Costner as Lt. John Dunbar in Dances With Wolves and as Charley Waite in Open Range

People are ambivalent about Costner as an actor, with some of his highest visibility coming in large-scale action turkeys like Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves; Waterworld, and The Postman.  (They’re surprisingly watchable, even when Costner is obviously miscast, as he was in Robin Hood.)  However, he seems to have an affinity for westerns, both as an actor and as a director, as demonstrated by these two films in which he performed both functions.  For his first western, see him as young scapegrace Jake in Silverado.  If you like him in these roles, look at his four baseball movies:  Bull Durham, Field of Dreams, For the Love of the Game and The Upside of Anger.  He’s a better actor than he is generally considered in the twilight of his film career.

  • In Dances With Wolves, he’s not only the lead as Lt. John Dunbar, Civil War hero and budding anthropologist, but he’s alone much of the time he’s on the screen.  And he’s the sole decent white man in the entire movie.  He won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director (unusual for a western), and he carries this lengthy movie as an actor. 

CostnerOpenRange1CostnerOpenRange2

  • In Open Range, he is again the director and also a lead as Charley Waite, but as Charley he gives more space to other leads (Robert Duvall, principally, and Annette Bening).  Charley is a more dour character—a cowboy with a backstory as a gunfighter, and Costner is excellent and persuasive.  His look is very authentic, too.  His achievements in these two movies as director and actor draw inevitable comparisons with Clint Eastwood.  He just hasn’t made as many westerns as Eastwood. 

GreeneDances

Graham Greene as Kicking Bird in Dances With Wolves

If Costner as Lt. Dunbar carries Dancing With Wolves as the only white man with whom we feel much sympathy, it is Canadian Oneida character actor Graham Greene who provides the human face of the Sioux/Lakota with whom Dunbar interacts throughout the movie.  (Rodney A. Grant provides a kind of younger, harder-nosed counterpoint to Greene.)  As the Lakota chief Kicking Bird, Greene approaches Dunbar as a human he doesn’t understand, and it enables Dunbar and Kicking Bird eventually to bridge the sizable linguistic and cultural gulf between them.  Greene’s understated but excellent performance emphasizes the Indians’ basic humanity.  For a brief performance with more humor, see Greene in Maverick and fleetingly in Gunless.

EastwoodWales1EastwoodUnforgiven1

Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales in The Outlaw Josey Wales and as William Munny in Unforgiven

Eastwood was his own director in both these movies, and that makes his achievement even more remarkable.  By now, at the end of his career, Eastwood is acknowledged as a masterful director.  Although the stories in both these movies are built around his character, he is generous in allowing others juicy parts as well.  Josey Wales is a quintessential Eastwood character, with his squint, his soft-spoken but hard-bitten way with words, and his ability to draw other characters to him sometimes against his own choice—not to mention his handy way with guns and with tobacco juice.  William Munny is even more hard-bitten, and at bottom may not be a very good person, as we see him forced more and more into an old life and the use of devastating old skills through the movie.  He is what Josey Wales might have become.  Together with his early work with Sergio Leone in the Dollar trilogy and Pale Rider, these roles and the rest of his career present the most impressive body of acting work in the genre since John Wayne.  And Wayne never wore the director’s hat as successfully as either Eastwood or Costner.

GeorgeWales2

Chief Dan George as Lone Watie in The Outlaw Josey Wales

Notable especially for its warm, understated humor and elegant humanity, Chief Dan George’s performance as aging Cherokee Lone Watie stands with Graham Greene in Dances With Wolves as the two best performances by Native Americans in westerns.  Time after time, George steals scenes from Eastwood’s Josey Wales.  On rewatching the film, George’s performance is one of the principal joys that one looks for.  He came to acting very late in his life and really has no comparably excellent parts in other films.  But look for him as Old Lodge Skins, Dustin Hoffman’s adoptive Cheyenne grandfather, in Little Big Man as well; he’s the best thing in that film, and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his work there.

 

James Stewart as Destry in Destry Rides Again, as Howard Kemp in The Naked Spur and as Ransom Stoddard in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

One of the best-known, most popular and most versatile actors of his time, Stewart also worked with a range of some of the best directors of his era.  In westerns, they included Anthony Mann and John Ford; in mysteries and thrillers, Alfred Hitchcock; in populist fare, Frank Capra.  He was kind of an American everyman, perhaps Henry Fonda’s only equal in that kind of role.

James Stewart - destry rides again - & Marlene Dietrich

  • In his early career, Stewart didn’t make many westerns.  But in 1939 (the same year he did Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with Frank Capra), he starred as an offbeat kind of lawman in Destry Rides Again.  Played with warmth, gentleness and an often exaggerated version of his signature drawl, this was one of the most memorable westerns in a good year for the genre.  It has been remade more than once, but never as successfully as this original.  It must be admitted that Stewart is helped greatly by having Marlene Dietrich to play off.  With Smith in 1939 and with The Philadelphia Story coming the next year, you can’t even say Destry represents his best performance of this early phase of his career.  But Destry’s very memorable and bears rewatching more than 70 years later.  If you like this gentle Stewart approach, try 1950’s excellent Harvey, even if it isn’t a western.  Late in his career, Stewart again played a western mostly for laughs in The Cheyenne Social Club, with Henry Fonda as his costar.

StewartNakedSpur

  • After his return from World War II, Stewart remade his career in his work with Alfred Hitchcock (Rear Window, Vertigo, The Man Who Knew Too Much), Capra (It’s a Wonderful Life) and his westerns with Anthony Mann.  One of his best roles with Mann was the reluctant and psychologically-damaged bounty hunter Howard Kemp in The Naked Spur.  Mann heroes are never all good, and Kemp is perhaps the most overtly conflicted of all of them.  But he holds it together and begins a comeback in the course of this film.  All of Stewart’s five westerns with Mann are worth watching:  Winchester ’73, The Far Country, Bend of the River and The Man from Laramie in addition to this one.

StewartLibertyValance

  • Stewart made three movies with John Ford, and his most prominent role was as Ransom Stoddard, eastern lawyer out to remake the west in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.  There’s a lot of ambivalence in the film between his reliance on law and Tom Doniphan’s (John Wayne’s) more direct approach to the violence of Lee Marvin’s Liberty Valance.  Stoddard may be admirable in his way, but his approach wouldn’t have worked without Tom Doniphan’s, too, as the film shows.  Stewart seems miscast as Wyatt Earp in Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn, but the entire Earp interlude in that film is ill-conceived.  If you like Stewart in Liberty Valance in the late phase of his career, look for him in Two Rode Together, Shenandoah and How the West Was Won.

RideDevilWright

Jeffrey Wright as Daniel Holt in Ride With the Devil

He starts out as a minor supporting character in a large cast.  By the end of this underrated Civil War film, he is one of the two principal remaining characters.  Their parting, at the end of the movie, is one of its most wrenching scenes, and Wright carries more than half of its dramatic weight, much of it without words.  (There’s good direction and editing at work here, too.)  Wright’s character Daniel Holt is a freed slave who fights for the south as a Missouri bushwhacker out of loyalty to George Clyde (Simon Baker), the man who freed him.  The motivations of such a man would be hard for modern audiences to understand under any circumstances, and Holt starts out carefully and enigmatically in a group of men who are not entirely sympathetic to him.  His friendship with Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire) develops over the course of the film and becomes its strongest emotional current by the end.  Wright is a superb actor who has been seen principally in a variety of supporting and character roles.  Here he is excellent.

RyanDayOutlaw2

Robert Ryan as Blaise Starrett in Day of the Outlaw

Robert Ryan was an excellent and versatile actor, and he seldom played unalloyed good characters.  In Day of the Outlaw, he plays the improbably-named Blaise Starrett, the founder and largest rancher in the remote town of Bitters in wintry Wyoming.  Starrett is at odds with local farmers as the movie starts, and he’s having an affair with the wife of one of them.  A gang of outlaws led by ex-army officer Jack Bruhn (Burl Ives) moves in, interrupting the confrontation between Starrett and the farmers and replacing it with another.  Starrett doesn’t care for the few farmers and townspeople, but his sense of responsibility kicks in and he tries to figure out how best to try to protect them.  He’s the only one in town with the competence to do anything.  If you like him here, try The Proud Ones.  Later in his career he was principally a supporting character, as in The Wild Bunch, Lawman, and The Professionals.  For Ryan in bad guy roles, see him in The Naked Spur, Bad Day at Black Rock and Hour of the Gun, in which he played a more cerebral Ike Clanton than usually seen in the Wyatt Earp story.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Bad Day at Black Rock

Nicholas Chennault ~ November 2, 2013

Bad Day at Black Rock—Spencer Tracy, Robert Ryan, Anne Francis, Walter Brennan, Lee Marvin, John Ericson, Ernest Borgnine, Dean Jagger (1955; Dir:  John Sturges)

blackrockPosterBlackRockPosterFrench

Perhaps the best movie set in the modern west (but see Lone Star and No Country for Old Men), a claustrophobic noir-inflected story that takes place in a tiny town in the Arizona desert. 

black_rock_poster_t620

First Train Conductor:  [Looking at Black Rock] “Man, they look woebegone and far away.”

John J. Macreedy:  “Oh, I’ll only be here twenty-four hours.”

First Train Conductor:  “In a place like this, it could be a lifetime.”

The movie begins with an interesting opening shot of a train crossing the desert.  One-armed John J. Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off the train in Black Rock in 1945 in a dark suit, the first time the train’s actually stopped there in four years.  World War II is just over, but rationing and other strictures persist.  None of the town’s suspicious residents want him there, as he tries to locate a local Japanese farmer, Mr. Komoko. 

blackrockjj-macready The mysterious stranger arrives in town.

A couple of local cowboy-thugs, Coley Trimble (Ernest Borgnine) and Hector David (Lee Marvin), try to intimidate Macreedy, who bears them with patience and an even temper.  Local rancher-boss Reno Smith (Robert Ryan) suggests that Komoko was sent off to an internment camp shortly after Pearl Harbor, and only three months after he arrived at Black Rock.  Macreedy visits Adobe Flats, where the Komoko farm was; he finds a burned house, a deep well and what may be a grave. 

Mr. Hastings, Telegrapher:  “Sure you don’t want some lemonade? It don’t have the muzzle velocity of some other drinks drunk around here, but it’s good for what ails you.”

On the way back, Coley tries to drive him off the road, but Macreedy makes it back to Black Rock.  Coley then tries to pick a fight in a diner, only to find that Macreedy knows judo and takes him out using only one arm.  It becomes clearer that Smith and his people killed Komoko, and they’re probably going to kill Macreedy, too.  Macreedy is a veteran who lost his arm in Italy; Komoko’s son was killed saving his life, and he wants to give the old man his son’s medal. 

blackrockJudo

Reno Smith:  “She must have strained every muscle in her head to get so stupid.”

The drunken sheriff Tim Horn (Dean Jagger) and undertaker Doc Velie (Walter Brennan) try ineffectively to help him.  Finally, young local hotel clerk Pete Wirth (a James Dean-esque John Ericson), plagued with guilt over his minor role in Komoko’s death, recruits his sister Liz (Anne Francis) to take Macreedy out of town in her jeep.  She betrays Macreedy to Smith, who kills her anyway.  In a shootout with no gun, Macreedy improvises a Molotov cocktail and sets Smith afire.  Having brought in the state police to Black Rock, he then catches the train out of town. 

[last linesSecond Train Conductor:  “What’s all the excitement? What happened”

John J. Macreedy:  “A shooting”

Second Train Conductor:  “Thought it was something.  First time the Streamliner’s stopped here in four years.”

John J. Macreedy:  “Second time.”

A superb cast cast, although Tracy seems old for a recent veteran, and some excellent writing in the screenplay by Millard Kaufman.  Tightly directed, the film comes in at 81 minutes.  Tracy was nominated for Best Actor.  This was part of a good run for director Sturges in the 1950s, along with Escape from Fort Bravo, Last Train from Gun Hill and Gunfight at the OK Corral, before he got into his larger-scale action films of the 1960s.  Music was by a young Andre Previn.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone

Lawman

Nicholas Chennault ~ October 30, 2013

Lawman—Burt Lancaster, Robert Ryan, Lee J. Cobb, Sheree North, Robert Duvall (1971; Dir:  Michael Winner)

LawmanPosterlawmanJapanese

This features an implacable and almost superhuman Lancaster as Jared Maddox, the titular lawman from Bannock, which looks to be in the southwest, despite the name.  (The Bannocks were an Indian tribe that ranged mostly in Idaho.)  The movie was shot in Durango, Mexico.  Cowboys in the employ of Vince Bronson (Lee J. Cobb), returning from a cattle drive, shoot up Bannock and an old man is accidentally killed.  (The suggestion is that his life was less valuable because he was old.) 

Months later (in 1887), Maddox comes to their town Sabbath with a list of people he wants to take back to Bannock for trial.  Vince Bronson offers Maddox restitution and a deal to leave them alone, and Maddox refuses to talk about it.  The inference is that Maddox is harder on Bronson and his boys than any Bannock court will be.  While Maddox isn’t wrong in his interpretation of the law, he’s not entirely right, either.  His nature is indicated by an always-buttoned black leather vest he wears.  His character plays a flute alone in his hotel room to indicate a hidden sensitivity in his nature. 

lawmanLancaster Lancaster as Maddox

Robert Ryan in one of his last movies is Cotton Ryan, the over-the-hill lawman in Sabbath; he basically works for Bronson.  Much is made about how Cotton has been backed down before in several locations, but he seems to have more balance than Maddox, if not the same strong moral purpose.  This also has an early western role for Robert Duvall (in the same general time frame as True Grit, Joe Kidd) as Adams, a small rancher involved in the drive.  And an early role for Richard Jordan, who also appeared with Lancaster in Valdez Is Coming the same year. 

Running through this film is a sense of problems with traditional authority and values, very common in the early 1970s.  There is a good setup of moral quandaries, especially with the Cobb character.  The resolution, to the extent things get resolved, is less convincing.  There are questions on the climactic shootout, but this is better than average.  It was a good year for westerns starring Lancaster, with this, Ulzana’s Raid and Valdez is Coming.  

lawmanLancasterRyan Ryan tries to mediate.

There are attempts to depict moral shades of gray among various characters.  Cobb’s Bronson isn’t that bad a person; he’s not trying to avoid reasonable consequences, and he’d make restitution if Maddox would let him.  Crowe Wheelwright (Jordan) is a young Bronson gunslinger who comes to see some of Maddox’s view.  Ryan can see both Bronson’s and Maddox’s view; he tries to broker a deal between them, which Maddox refuses.  Ryan is the foil to whom Maddox makes the comments most revealing of him. [Note that Ryan uses the word “gunsel,” normally associated with Dashiell Hammett’s work from a later time period, especially The Maltese Falcon.]

The townspeople seem actually to like Bronson (as opposed to being oppressed by him), and some take up arms against Maddox.  Some of the cowboys are as inflexible in their way as Maddox (e.g., Harvey Stenbaugh, played by Albert Salmi), and they’re the first ones to push things to violence; some are cowards or backshooters.   In some ways there may be too many characters.  There’s not enough explanation about Lucas (Joseph Wiseman), the crippled local saloon-bordello owner who has some history with Maddox.  He’s an interesting character, and a counterpoint to Ryan in some ways—some one who has not lost his edge despite reason to have done so.

lawman-burt-lancaster

Such moral complexity is unusual in a western.  Maddox is world-weary and sees the fruitlessness of it all:  “It’s always the same.  If you post a man, he has to come into town to prove he’s a man.  Or you kill a man, he’s got a friend or kin — he just has to come against you… and for no reason… no reason that makes any sense.  And it don’t mean a damn to the man already in the ground.  Nobody wins.”  But he does it anyway because it’s his job.  As he goes out for the final shootout, he fatalistically says to Ryan:  “A man gets caught in his own doing.  You can’t change what you are.  And if you try, something always calls you back.”    

At the end, there seem to be some cracks in the implacable Maddox façade, but he’s forced into a shootout where there’s no room for hesitation.  It pushes him back into his black-and-white role and outlook.  After dealing with action forced by several others, Maddox shoots down the fleeing J.D. Cannon when he doesn’t really have to.  It certainly de-glamorizes the showdown.  Although Maddox comes out alive, nobody wins.  A rigid adherence to the letter of the law doesn’t make things turn out right.  In some ways, this is a story of obsession, like The Searchers, as well as a variation on the High Noon theme. And it’s said to be a remake of 1955’s Man With the Gun.  (All those are better movies, though.)

The print sometimes seen on the Encore Westerns channel isn’t in good shape, grainy and with washed-out colors.  British director Winner was better known for the Death Wish movies with Charles Bronson, and also made the western Chato’s Land with the same star; he’s said to be overly fond of camera zooms.  Sometimes this one is viewed as a violent relic of the early 1970s overly influenced by spaghetti westerns (unnecessarily violent, for example, as emphasized by the poster); others see it as a gem of moral complexity with excellent performances.  Ryan is said to have preferred this movie to The Wild Bunch.  Not many others would make that claim, but this is worth watching even though there is a residual feeling of director Winner wanting to make a statement more than tell a story that was real to him.

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Pin on PinterestEmail this to someone