TUMBLEWEED. Universal Pictures, 1953. Audie Murphy, Lori Nelson, Chill Wills, Roy Roberts, Russell Johnson, K.T. Stevens, Madge Meredith, Lee Van Cleef, I. Stanford Jolley. Director: Nathan Juran.

   Surprisingly stylish for an Audie Murphy oater, Tumbleweed isn’t a particularly well-known Western. Yet it’s a quite watchable movie and one that deserves wider recognition as well as an official stand-alone DVD release. Directed by Nathan Juran, whose significant work in art direction gave him a keen eye for staging scenes, this Universal-International release may not have anything in it that you probably haven’t seen before.

   But that doesn’t mean what it has isn’t solid. There are Indians on the warpath; a White man scheming with them (of course); a seemingly impossible love affair; a man wrongfully accused of a crime; and a sheriff who must face off against the town’s rabble who are determined to exact frontier justice.

   Murphy portrays Jim Harvey, a drifter who takes a job guiding a wagon trail through Yaqui Indian country. When the braves attack the caravan, killing the men, he gets blamed for their deaths. Some seem to think he ran away out of cowardice. Others seem to believe he may have been in cahoots with the Yaqui. After he’s sprung from the town’s jail by a friendly Indian tribesman, it’s up to Harvey to clear his name and find out the real reason the wagon trail was ambushed. Chill Wills and a youthful looking Lee Van Cleef, respectively, portray the town’s sheriff and his deputy. Van Cleef is very good here as the tougher and more brutal of the town’s lawmen.

   Now, I know what you may be thinking. It sounds like every other Western from this period. Well. Yes and No. Juran isn’t often thought of as a Western auteur the way in which someone like Budd Boetticher is. But he definitely has his own particular style, one that is highly notable in two scenes in particular: Harvey’s jailbreak and a fight scene in which our hero takes on the corrupt, greedy White man behind all the recent troubles. Well-staged and filmed with a sharp sense of what makes action scenes invigorating to an audience, they are but two standout moments in a film that punches well above its weight.