Sun 15 May 2011
THE DESPERADOES. Columbia Pictures, 1943. Randolph Scott, Claire Trevor, Glenn Ford, Evelyn Keyes, Edgar Buchanan, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams, Raymond Walburn, Porter Hall. Based on an original story by Max Brand. Director: Charles Vidor.
Randolph Scott and Claire Trevor were the bigger names at the time, and they’re listed first in the credits, but neither of the two contributes nearly as much to this western extravaganza as do stars number three and four, Glenn Ford and Evelyn Keyes.
Glenn Ford, who plays Cheyenne Rogers in the film, was being groomed as a star at the time. The same path was envisioned for Evelyn Keyes, who was married then to director Charles Vidor, but as pretty and talented as she was, most of her films were of the B-variety. On the other hand, Glenn Ford, who was a very young 27 in 1943 – and looks it – did go on to many bigger and better things.
Cheyenne is a gunfighter hired by Evelyn Keyes’ Uncle Willie (Edgar Buchanan) to rob the local bank – unknown to her, of course – while Randolph Scott is the local sheriff who has a fatherly interest in Keyes. Maybe more, but he steps aside without a fuss if he did when Cheyenne comes along – the latter is a friend of his, as it turns out, even though they are on opposite sides of the law.
As for Claire Trevor, she’s the owner of the local gambling palace – and a very sumptuous one, as far as the usual standards of small western towns are concerned. They may be more going on in the back rooms than could be let on in a movie made in 1943. She’s also in on the plot to rob the bank, but if her part hadn’t been written into the screenplay, nobody would have noticed.
There is a lot of action in The Desperadoes, including one of the wildest wild horse stampedes I have ever seen in a movie, clear through Red Valley [Utah]. Of course some fool decides he has to run across the street from one sidewalk to the another just before the horses run through, but I guess every town has fools like that. (He makes it.)
Personally, I’d have liked to have seen more of Randolph Scott than Glenn Ford, who seems too young (see above) to be a wanted man with a reputation, even if wrongly accused, and awfully unsure of himself as an actor. Evelyn Keyes, though, is very pretty in either a calico dress or a western shirt and blue jeans. Even so, I’m afraid I’d have to agree that she doesn’t have the onscreen catch-your-eyes-and-hold-them type of personality she needed, as much as I’d like to say otherwise.
I mentioned a lot of action, but I haven’t mentioned (so far) the beautiful outdoor scenery, as befits a western film shot in color. (In fact, The Desperadoes was the first movie by Columbia to be released in color, a more than incidental fact that’s worthy of note.)
Incongruously, though, there is more comedy in this film than seems appropriate; that is to say, the presence of Edgar Buchanan and Big Boy Williams, not to mention the saloon fight that all but destroys the place. It is also difficult to reconcile Edgar Buchanan’s crooked and outwardly befuddled Uncle Willy with the innocence of Evelyn Keyes’ character; they simply don’t mesh.