THE NAKED DAWN. Universal Pictures, 1955. Arthur Kennedy, Betta St. John, Eugene Iglesias, Roy Engel, Charlita. Director: Edgar G. Ulmer.

   Arthur Kennedy as a Mexican bandit. If that doesn’t sound appealing to you, then The Naked Dawn probably isn’t for you. If you are amenable to that, you might find, much as I did, that this B-Western actually punches well above its weight.

   Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer, who had a natural talent for transforming what would otherwise could have been forgettable dreck into highly stylized works, The Naked Dawn does not have the production values of more polished Westerns of the era. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own special charm.

   Kennedy actually puts in a convincing performance as Santiago, a solitary bandit who inadvertently ends up on the property of a young married couple. His presence there has an immediate effect on the beautiful wife who tells him that her marriage was really one of necessity, not love.

The young husband is also taken with Santiago, albeit for different reasons. He’s keen to know what it’s like to be an outlaw, to live with reckless abandon. Soon, a strange love triangle will emerge between these three characters. While the wife dreams of running away with Santiago, the husband plots his murder.

   For a Western, the film has precious little natural outdoor scenery and a lot of intimate dialogue that one associates more with melodramas. It’s a chamber piece, to be sure and the film could just easily have worked as a film noir set in 1950s Los Angeles. Clumsy and stilted at times, it nevertheless has its own internal logic. Overall, the film doesn’t always succeed in keeping your attention. But Arthur Kennedy’s Santiago is a quite memorable movie character. More than you might expect.