THE LONELY MAN. Paramount, 1957. Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins, Neville Brand, Elisha Cook Jr. Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef and Elaine Aiken. Written by Harry Esex and Robert Smith. Directed by Henry Levin.

   A pretty good film that should have been great.

   I mean look at that cast, and all of them with good parts written by the author of Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sons of Katie Elder, with photography by Lionel (The Manchurian Candidate) Lindon. So where did they go not-great?

   We’ll leave that for later. Right now let’s start with the basics: Jack Palance stars as Jacob Wade (called Jake by his friends, but that movie wouldn’t come along till next year) a notorious gunfighter/outlaw trying to make his peace with the world and particularly with the son (Tony Perkins) he hasn’t seen in nigh unto twenty year now. Turns out Tony blames Jack for the ostracism and death of his mother, and when Jack gets run out of town, Tony goes along just out of adolescent angst.

   Meantime (as they say in Westerns) Neville Brand is plotting revenge for a near-fatal wound Jack gave him sometime before the movie started. And not just him; Brand is abetted by fellow no-goods Lee Van Cleef and Elisha Cook Jr. And not just them; Robert Middleton is skulking around with suspect intentions and shady links to an outlaw band run by Claude Akins. (Here billed for some reason as “Claude A. Akins” though his actual middle name was Marion!)

   With all this going on, one expects a lot of action, but in fact this is a rather leisurely film as Jack and Tony hole up on a ranch with the pert Ms. Aiken (a stage actress of note who did too few films) and chase wild horses around until the bad guys come calling. Elaine loves Jack, and Tony has a yen for Elaine, but there’s a lot of complex emotional issues to resolve, and director Levin seems disinclined to hurry things along.

   Therein lies the problem. I wouldn’t mind a bit of emotional conflict, but director Levin never seems to put any passion into it, giving the feeling that we’re just marking time here. And in the year that gave us emotionally resonant westerns like The Tall T, The Halliday Brand, Fury at Showdown and Forty Guns, that just won’t wash.

   On the plus side, The Lonely Man has lustrous photography of some breathtaking locations, fine action scenes, and writers Essex and Smith took the time to work things out intelligently. This film is worth your time, but I can’t help wishing….