Reviewed by JONATHAN LEWIS:         

LAW AND ORDER. Universal International, 1953. Ronald Reagan, Dorothy Malone, Preston Foster, Alex Nicol, Ruth Hampton, Russell Johnson, Barry Kelley, Chubby Johnson, Jack Kelly, Dennis Weaver. Based on the novel Saint Johnson, by W. R. Burnett. Director: Nathan Juran.

   If the film Law and Order tells us anything, it’s that Ronald Reagan was a natural both in the saddle and in his ability to portray a lawman of the Old West. Based on a novel by W. R. Burnett and directed by Nathan Juran, Law and Order is an above average Western worth watching.

   The film benefits from good acting, fairly believable characters, a solid (if admittedly somewhat clichéd) plot in which two brothers are pitted against one another, notable use of color, well decorated interiors, and some breathtaking western scenery.

   Law and Order has the texture of an early 1950s Western, as if it were straddling a middle ground between an era of simple, Saturday morning fare and those darker, gritty Westerns in which the lines between good and evil were deliberately blurred.

   More than anything else, however, the film is a character study of a U.S. Marshal by the name of Frame Johnson (Reagan). Frame wants to clean up the Old West, but despises vigilantism. When it comes to giving suspects and outlaws a fair trial and their day in court, Frame is a true believer.

   As the film unfolds, we see Frame willing to confront both the townsfolk of Tombstone, Arizona, including his own younger brother, just to ensure that an outlaw does not become the victim of a lynch mob. But he’s stubborn too, as if blinded by his devotion to an ideal that may not really be applicable to the time and place in which he finds himself.

   The story follows Frame Johnson, his two brothers, Lute and Jimmy, and their friend/sidekick, Denver, as Frame attempts to make a new life for himself on a ranch outside Cottonwood. He’s had enough of enforcing the peace in Tombstone and is ready to begin a life as a man, not a Marshal. Even better, he’s got himself a girl, a beautiful Tombstone saloon owner named Jeannie (Dorothy Malone), who’s ebullient that Frame’s gotten out of the justice business.

   Things ought to be good for Frame. Alas, there’s trouble brewing. Soon after arriving in Cottonwood, he encounters the villainous Kurt Durling (Preston Foster) and his son, Frank (Dennis Weaver). Turns out that Durling and his son all but run the town. They’ve even got the pathetic excuse for a sheriff under their thumb.

   The senior Durling loathes Frame, blaming the strong willed lawman for his crippled hand. You just know that these the two men are eventually going to go at it at some point. And sure enough, they do in what is a harrowing fight sequence on a dusty street.

   There’s another conflict at play in Law and Order, one that pits Frame against his younger brother, Jimmy, who skips town after shooting Frank Durling (Weaver). This conflict between two brothers, both hotheads each in their own way, is pretty standard Western fare. But here it works.

Despite being a solid, if somewhat overlooked Western, Law and Order certainly has its weaknesses. These include its depiction of an unbelievably quick-to-develop love interest between Jimmy Johnson and Maria Durling as well as an ending that’s just a bit too pat and sentimental. Similarly, the film’s attempts comic relief end up feeling a bit forced.

   Law and Order may never achieve any achieve any sort of status as a classic or as a “must see” Western. It’s not a brooding or overly introspective sort of film. But that doesn’t stop it from being a quite enjoyable movie to watch. Reagan and Malone have great on screen chemistry, Foster and Weaver make great villains, and the scenes with Reagan riding alone on horseback through the desert landscape are nearly iconic.

   In this movie at least, the good guy sticks to his principles, defeats the bad guy, and still gets the girl.