Western movies


REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

A TIME FOR DYING. Fipco, 1969/71/82. (*) Richard Lapp, Anne Randall, Robert Random, Audie Murphy, Victor Jory, Beatrice Kay, Burt Mustin, Peter Brocco, Walter Reed and Emile Meyer. Written and directed by Budd Boetticher.

   The last film of legendary westerners Audie Murphy and Budd Boetticher, and the best I can say is that it will probably do their reputations no lasting damage.

   Murphy, of course, is remembered as the most decorated soldier of WWII (Neville Brand was the fourth most decorated.) and as the rather retiring hero of numerous westerns, some pretty good, including fine performances in THE UNFORGIVEN and RED BADGE OF COURAGE.

   Budd Boetticher’s films are a mixed bag, but he hit his stride with a series of Randolph Scott Westerns, most of them produced by Harry Joe Brown, including SEVEN MEN FROM NOW, THE TALL T, COMANCHE STATION and RIDE LONESOME. Same Peckinpah’s RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY is often seen as a continuation of the series and a fitting coda to Scott’s career.

   Boetticher’s subsequent career was notably rockier, including a lengthy exile in Mexico laboring to produce ARRUZA, which is only fair-to-middling, the screenplay for TWO MULES FOR SISTER SARAH, and this one, A TIME FOR DYING, which was plagued with money troubles during and after production — note the various release dates — probably because it isn’t very good.

   Boetticher’s best work was spiced with the fiery Karen Steele and memorable baddies like Lee Marvin and Richard Boone, anchored by the authoritative presence of Randolph Scott at the films’ center. DYING offers some fine character actors, but they only serve to show up the inadequacies of the leading players, who never seem to relax into the natural performances that grace the earlier films.

   If you can get past this (and you can’t, really) you run into an uncharacteristically aimless screenplay from Boetticher. His films with Randolph Scott had a sense of movement (One critic called them “journey films.) with the characters and the story visibly progressing to a conflict defined early on. Or as another critic put it: “Partly metaphorical odysseys, partly floating poker games where every character took turns bluffing about his hand until the final shoot-out.”

   There’s movement in A TIME FOR DYING, but it’s mostly just Richard Lapp and Anne Randall (Never heard of them? See this and find out why.) bounced from one encounter to another without ever realizing their place in Boetticher’s existential universe. And the result is a story that meanders when it needs to move.

   If there’s a saving grace, it’s Boetticher’s elliptical, near-poetic dialogue. Dialogue written to be spoken, not read. As in a Mexican stand-off:

SHOTGUN: “Billy, that woman drop a hammer on you, I’ll blow her husband’s head clear across the street.”

BILLY: “That woman drop a hammer on me, it don’t make a damn what you do to her husband’s head.”

   But I’m afraid it’s just not enough. This is available free on Amazon Prime, and worth every penny, but if you’re inclined to see it, talk yourself down and watch RIDE LONESOME instead.

      —

(*) From Wikipedia: A rough cut of the film premiered at the National Film Theatre in London on May 27, 1969. The finished version of the film premiered in Dallas, Texas on September 15, 1969. The film was shown throughout Texas, but following legal problems after Murphy’s death in 1971, the film only had limited showings and did not screen in New York until 1982.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

TREASURE OF RUBY HILLS. Allied Artists, 1955. Zachary Scott, Carole Mathews, Dick Foran, Barton MacLane, Lola Albright, Raymond Hatton, Lee Van Cleef, Stanley Andrews and Steve Darrell. Screenplay by Tom Hubbard and Fred Eggers, based on the pulp story “The Rider of the Ruby Hills” by Louis L’Amour, written under the pen-name Jim Mayo (West, September 1949), later expanded to the novel Where the Long Grass Blows (1976). Directed by Frank McDonald. Currently available on YouTube here.

   There’s no treasure, and we never actually get to the Ruby Hills, but here’s an intelligent Western, well-played, with some interesting noirish angles.

   Things kick off fast, with Zachary Scott and his aging outlaw buddy waiting nervously for their partner to return with his end of a land-grab they’re plotting. He gets back, mission accomplished, and in a voice like a dead man’s, tells his friends who killed him.

   It’s obvious from here that the game’s afoot, as they say in shoe stores, but things pause for a short word from an aging sheriff to the effect that Darrell’s past is catching up with him, and Scott would be wise to part ways before it does. It’s a thoughtful moment that turns moving when Darrell opts to send Scott on alone while he lingers in a ghost town to “see some old friends.”

   Then it’s back to the plot: quarreling cattle barons, and a third party keeping things stirred up for his own ends. Scott has grabbed the water rights to the whole valley, but there’s so much going on around him, that detail seems to get lost in the shuffle. What we get is a vigorous shoot-out, a desperate escape through dark alleys and shadowy stables, a showdown between Scott and Lee Van Cleef, and a final set-to back in the old ghost town where it all started.

   Along the way we get some finely-etched characters. Zachary Scott, a native-born Texan and a figure of moral ambiguity in the movies, combines both aspects quite effectively. He really does look like a man who’s been mixing in low company a little too long. And he comes up against tough Carole Mathews (one of Corman’s Swamp Women) as a gal who clearly has her own plans. Gordon Jones vacillates quite well as her double-dealing brother, Lee Van Cleef struts his razor-sharp villainy, and Dick Foran, on his way to becoming a fine character actor, does an excellent turn as a contemplative, pipe-smoking schemer.

   Writers Hubbard & Eggars make the story a little too convoluted, and director Frank McDonald lets the reins slacken now and again, but for the most part things move swiftly and agreeably here, and the result is a solid B-western I can highly recommend.

   

REVIEWED BY RAY O’LEARY:

   
FRANK THOMPSON – Alamo Movies. Old Mill Books, softcover, 1991. Republic of Texas Press, softcover, 1994.

   I have a fondness for what I call “Alamo Movies”: films based on fact or fiction in which a small group of soldiers hold out against superior forces, a list which includes THE LOST PATROL, the Flynn CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOTS ON, BEAU GESTE, BATAAN, 55 DAYS AT PEKING, KHARTOUM and ZULU. There are more, but by this time you either know what I mean or I can’t explain it. Anyway, in ALAMO MOVIES, Frank Thompson confines himself to one particular siege, about which there has never been a great film made.

   After a brief introduction by Fess Parker, there’s a chapter on facts and legends surrounding the actual battle, mostly centering on whether or not Travis actually drew the line in the sand, and more importantly the fact that a handful of Alamo defenders were captured alive, with many eyewitnesses claiming Davy Crockett was among them (though executed shortly thereafter) although you will never see a film where Crockett doesn’t die heroically.

   Chapters are devoted to the films: THE IMMORTAL ALAMO, the lost first film on the subject, made by Gaston Melies (George’s brother) who crammed the whole story into 10 minutes! MARTYRS OF THE ALAMO, produced by D. W. Griffith and subtitled THE BIRTH OF TEXAS to cash in on the notoriety of BIRTH OF A NATION, and with a similarly racist slant — the revolt isn’t so much against Santa Anna as to protect the flower of American Womanhood from dark-skinned Mexican Lust; Santa Anna was even played by Walter Lang, th would-be rapist in BIRTH OF A NATION.

   Then there’s DAVY CROCKETT AT THE FALL OF THE ALAMO, directed by Robert Bradbury, whose son (later Bob Steele) played one of the defenders, so years later, on F-TROOP, when Steele as Duffy talked about fighting alongside Davy Crockett, it wasn’t so far from the truth.

   As the chapters progress, more familiar films get their due: MAN FROM THE ALAMO, DAVY CROCKETT: KING OF THE WILD FRONTIER, THE LAST COMMAND, THE ALAMO, and the Peter Ustinov comedy, VIVA MAX. Moving on, Thompson appraises the TV miniseries 13 DAYS TO GLORY and the IMAX film ALAMO … THE PRICE OF FREEDOM.

   Final chapters cover “lost” Alamo movies and films that were announced but never made. Thompson rates Wayne’s THE ALAMO as the best, “nearly great except for an awful screenplay,” which is like saying the Giants had a nearly perfect season except for a seven-game losing streak. Still, it’s an entertaining and informative read, with lots of purty pitchurs to look at when the going gets heavy.

— Reprinted from A Shropshire Sleuth #71, May 1995.

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   For the titles, see below. Cast: James “Shamrock” Ellison, Russell “Lucky” Hayden, Raymond Hatton, “Fuzzy” Knight, Julie (later Julia) Adams, Tom Tyler, George J Lewis, John Cason, Stanley Price, Dennis Moore, George Chesebro, Bud Osborne, and Stanford Jolley. Written by Ron Ormond and Maurice Tombragel . Directed by Thomas Carr.

1. HOSTILE COUNTRY. 1950.

2. MARSHAL OF HELDORADO. 1950.

3. CROOKED RIVER. 1950.

4. COLORADO RANGER. 1950.

5. FAST ON THE DRAW. 1950.

6. WEST OF THE BRAZOS. 1950.

   Six movies with the same set of credits. There’s a story here.

   About the time William Boyd achieved TV stardom with his old Hopalong Cassidy movies, producer Robert Lippert hit upon the notion of making a little cash with the erstwhile sidekicks of Hoppy’s salad days, James Ellison and Russell Hayden. (For background on Lippert, see my review of MAN BAIT.)

   Lippert announced his new series with all due fan-fare: Press releases about multi-year contracts and big-budget Western epics… then proceeded to make all six films in a month(!) using the same actors in the same costumes on the same sets and locations, playing the same roles, or analogous ones, in all six entries.

   Actually, the first three aren’t bad, as B-westerns go. The action is plentiful, the actors show a certain chemistry playing off each other, and there’s a sly, subtle humor flirting about the edges of the scripts. HELDORADO offers James Ellison a chance to masquerade as an Eastern Dude, just as William Boyd did from time to time in the Hoppy series, and the result is pleasingly humorous.

   With COLORADO RANGER, a sort of carelessness began to creep in, betrayed at first by a bit of mis-matched footage from a Bob Steele Western in COLORADO RANGER. FAST ON THE DRAW opens with about ten minutes of “Prologue” made up of unrelated stock footage (a favorite ploy of writer Ormond’s) that meanders into a tired story of Shamrock Ellison seeking out the criminal mastermind behind the murder of his parents — the guilty one turns out to be not only the least likely suspect but also the least convincing. WEST OF THE BRAZOS, which opens with the same footage as FAST ON THE DRAW, brought the series slouching to a close.

   Which is kind of a shame, actually. There was an abundance of talent here, some beloved faces, and an indefinable sense of sheer Fun in the early entries. Just a shame Lippert – who never wasted a penny foolishly, or ever spent one wisely—couldn’t see what he had and do better by it.

REVIEWED BY DAVID VINEYARD:

   

THE BRAVADOS. 20th Century Fox, 1958. Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd, Albert Salmi, Henry Silva, Lee Van Cleef, Herbert Rudley, Andrew Duggan, Ken Scott, George Voskovec, Barry Coe, Gene Evans. Screenplay by Philip Yordan, based on a novel by Frank O’Rourke. Director Henry King.

“There’s only one man who could have followed us here. The strange one. The one with the eyes of a hunter.”

      — Henry Silva as the half-breed, to outlaws Stephen Boyd, Albert Salmi, and Lee Van Cleef.

   This widescreen Technicolor western may not quite be a classic, but it comes close, and as the saying goes, I wouldn’t want to live on the difference. Directed by veteran Henry King and with a remarkable cast of actors, even for a Western from this period, it follows one man’s path to revenge and ultimately redemption.

   Jim Douglass (Gregory Peck) rides into a quiet and tense little town on the eve of a public hanging of four outlaws who shot up the place and killed several people. All he will say is that he is from a small town one hundred miles away and he is there to see the hanging. The law (Herbert Rudley) is nervous about strangers in town and waiting for the hangman, unsure of this quiet sullen man who has traveled so far to see four men die.

   Also in town is Josefa Valarde (Joan Collins, and quite good here) who knew Douglass five years ago in New Orleans. Through her we gradually piece together Peck’s nature and journey, his wife’s death, his six month quest to hunt down these four men he has never seen (that’s a key point later in the film).

   There are several small characters from the town drawn sharply, the young lovers and the girl’s disapproving father who wants more than small town life for her (Kathleen Gallant, Barry Coe, George Voskovec), a gullible good natured deputy (Ken Scott), Rudley’s lawman, padre Andrew Duggan (who knows the secret Douglass hides from everyone).

   During a church service the supposed hangman (Joe deRita — yes, that Joe deRita, unbilled and quite good in serious role) frees the prisoner, stabbing Rudley and getting killed for his efforts and the young girl Emma (Gallant), is taken hostage by the escaping killers.

   There’s a fine scene when the wounded Rudley stumbles bleeding into the church, eloquently shot and staged for full effect.

   In a scene that echoes The Searchers, Peck refuses to join the others in a pointless nighttime posse. He knows the hunt will be long and deadly.

   Peck’s performance here as a man grown deadly and possessed by his anger, grief, and need for revenge anchors the film.

   Boyd is his usual charming over-sexed sadist, a part he perfected (his showdown with Peck is well staged as less a duel than an execution), Salmi a vicious brute (a part he perfected), Van Cleef a hothead prone to losing his cool and a coward when it comes down to it (one of the stronger scenes key to the movie is when Peck’s character executes him in cold blood), and Silva the cool half-breed (Salmi: “I don’t trust the Indian. You never know what he’s thinking.”}, the key to this Western drama that proves to be much more than just the typical Western revenge Kabuki theater we are so used to.

   Uniquely for King, who usually composed his films like paintings, the camera work here is often nervous and edgy, especially when Peck is on screen. Shot by the great Leon Shamroy, who often worked with King, the film’s intelligence goes well beyond the screenplay and O’Rourke’s fine novel (he also wrote Two Mules for The Marquesa, the basis for The Professionals), to the films visual style which varies from wide sweeping shots to tense close ups.

   A tensely shot fight between Salmi and Peck in a shadowy grove of woods is one of the best uses of outdoor Technicolor filming you will see in a film and the dramatic scene when the posse finds Salmi hanging upside down from a tree a masterpiece of implied violence. You’ll notice Peck wears a black hat and dark blue and black clothes throughout the film and rides a black horse, visual shorthand for what he has become.

   What isn’t shown or even said is more eloquent than any dialogue could be in this film.

   The key to the film lies in the duel of wits between Henry Silva’s half-breed and Gregory Peck. As the killers circle towards the Douglass ranch never knowing it, a gentle neighbor of Douglass is killed (Gene Evans), and the girl attacked by Boyd, but left alive at Silva’s insistence when he interrupts her rape by Boyd to force him to flee. Even Collins, who has sought to curb Peck’s wrath is ready to see him kill them all when they find the girl in Evans cabin.

   Peck gives a subtle understated performance here. As the hunt goes on his humanity begins to reemerge, as he kills the men one by one until only he and Silva are left.

Peck: Why didn’t you kill me when you had a chance?

Silva: I had no reason to kill you. Why do you hunt me?

   The answer changes this film from what it began as, and gives it a remarkable turn rare in a Western revenge film, one Peck plays to the hilt, and one that leaves this film feeling remarkably modern and marks its rare intelligence. That is is also beautiful to look at and the cinematography is part and parcel of telling the story is also notable. There is also a fine score by Lionel Newman with contributions by Hugo Friedhofer and Alfred Newman uncredited.

   The suspense here is less whether Peck’s character will survive and more whether he will end up worse than the men he is hunting.

   Peck has a particularly good Western resume, from films like The Gunfighter, and Yellow Sky, to Only the Valiant and The Big Country and fairly late in his career, The Stalking Moon. This one fits well within the mold,

   And if you want to call it a classic, you won’t get an argument from me.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

SILVER LODE. RKO, 1954. John Payne, Lizabeth Scot, Dan Duryea, Morris Ankrum, Harry Carey Jr. Robert Warrick, Dolores Moran, Emile Meyer, and Frank Sully. Written by Karen DeWolf. Directed by Alan Dwan. Available on DVD, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.

   Probably the most explicit anti-McCarthy film of its time, and a pretty good “Town” Western besides.

   “Town Westerns” of course are those that largely forsake the wide-open spaces associated with the genre, and focus the action in and around a small community. They can get a bit static and talky, but there are some fine ones: FACE OF A FUGITIVE, DECISION AT SUNDOWN, BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK, RIO BRAVO…. Feel free to add your favorites in the list, but try to include SILVER LODE.

   The film opens with a quartet of Owlhoots riding into town, led by a stubble-faced Dan Duryea as a character named McCarty — could it get more obvious? Turns out that a well-loved local man (John Payne) is about to Marry Lizabeth Scott when Duryea/McCarty disrupts the ceremony. He has papers identifying hm as a US Marshal, a warrant to arrest Payne for murder, and a glint in his eye that says Payne will never make it to trial.

   What follows will be familiar to anyone who has seen HIGH NOON or its imitations: Payne’s friends rally to his side, then drop away one by one as suspicion mounts against him. To be fair to them, at one point he’s found standing over the murdered Sheriff (Emile Meyer) with a smoking gun, but director Alan Dwan keeps the talky parts commendably brief and un-preachy.

   Thus, SILVER LODE emerges as a well-crafted cat-and-mouse game, Payne trying to find some lever against Duryea, and Duryea chipping away at his reputation with innuendos and half-truths—character assassination in aid of physical murder.

   Karen DeWolf, a prolific writer of B Movies, makes it seem fresh by keeping the characters on the move, seldom seen on the same set twice, and never for very long. She also makes a fine job of giving Lizabeth Scott and Dolores Moran (as a tarty Saloon Gal) roles that are more than decorative. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that they manage to shape the story without breaking character. Indeed, DeWolf uses their positions in the social strata of the town so well I began to wonder if this was a Chick-Western.

   No fear of that though. Dwan keeps up the pace and tension as few could, culminating in a bell tower chase-and shoot-out that caps the action perfectly. Where some Town Westerns tend to get verbose and self-important, SILVER LODE delivers its anti-McCarthy message with style and a disarming lack of pretension.

   I also want to put in a word here about Frank Sully. A busy character actor in films as diverse as THE GRAPES OF WRATH and THE BOOGIE MAN WILL GET YOU, he specialized in dumb cops, dumb hoods, dumb cowboys and the occasional yokel, and he always gave it his all. SILVER LODE features Sully as a rattled telegrapher, and he manages to inject his own sense of humor quite effectively into a scene played for tension.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

BIG JAKE. Batjac/CinemaCenter Films, 1971. John Wayne, Richard Boone, Maureen O’Hara, Patrick Wayne, Christopher Mitchum, Bruce Cabot, Harry Carey Jr, Hank Worden, Glenn Corbett, Jim Davis, and John Agar. Narrated by George Fenneman. Written by Harry & Rita Fink. Directed by George Sherman.

   George Sherman’s final feature film makes an altogether fitting end for a career that stretched back to the Three Mesquiteers: just as silly, just as vigorous and just as much fun.

   That’s not to say Big Jake is a very good movie – it ain’t. The first half is barely tolerable, what with “trendy” borrowings from Butch Cassidy and a story that slows to a grind in order to bring on the Duke and show us how tough he us. Duke’s acting here is painfully self-indulgent, and despite plenty of dramatic potential (an estranged father must work with his two sons to rescue his kidnapped grandchild) the screenplay goes out of its way to avoid anything like emotional conflict.

   But that’s just the first half. Once Duke and his party reach the rendezvous point, where Richard Boone waits with a small army of bad guys, Big Jake turns into a real scrapper. I particularly enjoyed the diminuendo effect of the final set-to, so let me see if I can explain that.

   In Laurel & Hardy Movies, action moves to a crescendo. The boys start out spilling coffee on someone and end up demolishing his car in a series of comic escalations. But Big Jake’s climactic battle opens with phalanxes of warriors, armed with shotguns, machetes, high-powered rifles and a semi-automatic pistol, then grinds them down till by the ending, the combatants are throwing lanterns and popping derringers at each other.

   Add to this that in Richard Boone, John Wayne finds an adversary worthy of him, and you get a movie that is, finally, enjoyable on the level of the old Republic B-Westerns. No more, but certainly no less.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

SAN ANTONIO. Warner Brothers, 1945.Errol Flynn, Alexis Smith, “Cuddles” Sakall, Victor Franken, John Litel, Paul Kelly and Tom Tyler. Written by Alan Le May and W. R. Burnett. Music by Max Steiner. Directed by David Butler, Robert Florey (uncredited) and Raoul Walsh (uncredited).

   This generally gets compared unfavorably to Dodge City (1939) and dismissed as inferior, but I find a lot in San Antonio to enjoy. With three directors and two talented writers, it’s hard to say who might be the real auteur of the film, but my bet is Max Steiner.

   Flynn plays Clay Hardin, a South Texas rancher shot to pieces sometime before the movie started (Tom Tyler quips “They must be picking lead out of him yet!”) recovering from his wounds in Mexico and gathering evidence against Paul Kelly, who heads up a combine of organized rustlers preying on honest cattlemen. As the film opens, Flynn’s got hold of the vital Macguffin that will convict Kelly, and means to make his way to San Antonio (hence the title of the piece) through outlaw-infested territory to get his man — with a few time-outs to romance itinerant chanteuse Alexis Smith.

   It’s a plot that wouldn’t be out of place in a film noir. Kelly owns the nightclub saloon where Ms Smith performs and he has a suave and treacherous partner in Victor Franken. Unfortunately, somebody lets the pace slacken, throws in too much witless time-wasting bits with Cuddles Sakall, and generally prolongs things when they need speeded up. BUT we also get a death scene from Tom Tyler to match his memorable exit in Stagecoach and a dandy saloon-wrecking shoot-out where everyone who gets hit smashes into something, falls off of something, or just flies into the air — or as we kids used to say “He died neat!”

   There are also as couple of quieter moments that surprised me: Like Errol Flynn looking visibly shaken after killing Tom Tyler in the street. I’ve never seen such a haunted look from Flynn or any other movie cowboy coming out of a fight. And satanic Victor Franken, double-crossed and dying, smiling up at his killer and saying “I’ll be waiting for you!”

   Small things, but together with the bigger scenes, thy make San Antonio a fun movie, and one worth seeing.

   

RETURN OF THE BAD MEN. RKO Radio Pictures, 1948. Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, Anne Jeffreys, George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, Jacqueline White, Robert Armstrong. Director: Ray Enright.

   It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Bring together all of the famous bad men of the west, or a good passel of them, whether or not they ever met each other in real life, or were active at the same time, and create a gang of outlaws even a figure as solid and stalwart as Randolph Scott could handle them. Audiences would simply flock in, or I’m sure that’s what was the expectation was.

   I haven’t researched the historical facts well enough to tell you whether anything in this movie is true, but I doubt it. In any case, the result is surprisingly sub-par. Not even the evil presence of Robert Ryan as the Sundance Kid, nor the alluring beauty of Anne Jeffreys as Cheyenne, the niece of Wild Bill Doolin, help a lot to make Return of the Bad Men more than a barely passable way to spend 90 minutes f your time.

   For the record, here’s a list of the outlaws that gangleader Bill Doolin (Robert Armstrong) puts together: The Youngers (Cole, Jim and John), the Daltons (Emmett, Bob and Grat), Billy the Kid, Wild Bill Yeager, and the Arkansas Kid. I hope I didn’t leave anyone out. I didn’t list any of their names as part of the cast because other than Robert Ryan, who’s as mean as they come, all of them are very minor roles.

   It turns out that Randolph Scott has a sweetheart that he plans to marry, but what Anne Jeffreys’ character, once reformed (or is she), thinks about that is that she will have something to say about it. Scott is quite oblivious. Unfortunately, the writers not knowing how to write themselves out of this romantic triangle they’ve written themselves into, take the weakest, lamest way out.

   George ‘Gabby’ Hayes, as a bank president, no less, adds comedy relief, but the story is overwhelmed by characters who are simply not very interesting. Not even the sight of the masses of men on horseback and in flimsy wagons at the beginning of the Oklahoma Land Rush adds any excitement to the proceedings.

   Passable entertainment, but barely. Only the sharp, clear black and white photography is worth a mention (J. Roy Hunt , cinematographer). Credit where credit is due.

   

REVIEWED BY DAN STUMPF:

   

FOUR FACES WEST. MGM, 1948. Joel McCrea, Frances Dee, Charles Bickford, Joseph Calliea, and William Conrad. Screenplay by C. Graham Baker and Teddy Sherman, from the story “Paso Por Aqui” by Eugene Manlove Rhodes. Produced by Harry Sherman. Directed by Alfred E Green.

   “Pop” Sherman’s last Western is a gentle affair, maybe too gentle, but a fitting coda for the man who brought Hopalong Cassidy to the screen.

   Joel McCrea stars as a wandering westerner who rides into town and robs the bank while Marshall Pat Garrett (Charles Bickford) is giving a speech a few blocks away. A chase ensues. And ensues. And goes on… and on…. And about the time I’d had enough, the story takes a turn that brings things to a worthy, if tame, ending.

   Aye, there’s the rub. I’m not going to put in a ((SPOILER ALERT!)) here because it’s pretty obvious early on that nothing very bad is going to happen here. And when the viewer figures that out, the film forfeits a certain amount of interest. Much as we like the characters, it’s hard to care about them when we can see a happy ending galloping across the screen with every shot. And speaking of Shot, nobody gets killed in Four Faces. Hell, nobody even gets shot much. There’s not even a decent fist-fight in the whole film, and at a certain point we no longer expect one, so there’s no need to add ((END OF ALERT!)) here.

   For viewers accustomed to seeing a certain amount of action in their oaters — even a pacifist Western like Angel and the Bad Man — this can be off-putting. Four Faces compensates with a literate script, strong performances (Charles Bickford embodies everything I’d like to think Pat Garrett really was) and lustrous photography, and I’d like to think this was what Sherman wanted his Hoppy series to be.

   I’m just glad it wasn’t.

   

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