BACKLASH. Universal International, 1956. Richard Widmark, Donna Reed, William Campbell, John McIntire, Barton MacLane, Harry Morgan, Robert J. Wilke, Jack Lambert, Roy Roberts, Edward C. Platt, Robert Foulk. Screenplay: Borden Chase, based on the novel Fort Starvation by Frank Gruber, reviewed here. Director: John Sturges.

   Here’s a gaudy little B-movie which I found enjoyable out of all proportion to its actual merit. Written by Borden (Red River) Chase, directed by John Sturges (Great Escape, Magnificent Seven) and done up in lurid Universal Technicolor, this is in every inch a “B,” never mind the budget, cowboys, Indians, lost treasure and what-all else you need for a Saturday afternoon.

   The plot hangs loosely on the peg of Richard Widmark looking for the man who killed his Pa — or more precisely, the an who let Dad and four others get butchered by Indians instead of going for help, then took the gold they were carrying out of Indian country.

   To this end, Widmark does some exemplary sleuthing, poring over old testimony, double-checking witnesses, exploring the crime scene and wisecracking in the best PI tradition (“There’s something I’ve wanted to tell you since we first met — Goodbye!”) with “tough gal” Donna Reed, who plays the possibly treacherous female lead like Angie Dickinson in Rio Bravo or The Killers.

   There are suggestions here that this could have been a better movie, though perhaps less fun: as the story progresses we find that Widmark is not so much pursuing his dad’s killer as he is trying to live up to a father whose love he never knew. Anthony Mann or Delmar Daves would have pursued the oedipal complexities of this, but Sturges just shrugs it off and brings on the Indians.

   And the gunfights, fistfights, and chases with the lean technical skill typical of him, and even a certain amount of humor. I particularly enjoyed the spirited thesping of third-billed William Campbell: he’s only in the movie for a few minutes, but he plays a black-clad giggling gunfighter just like Richard Widmark’s Tommy Udo of a decade earlier.

— Reprinted from The Hound of Dr. Johnson #51, May 2007.