THE VIOLENT MEN. Columbia Pictures, 1955. Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Dianne Foster, Brian Keith, May Wynn, Warner Anderson, Basil Ruysdael, Lita Milan, Richard Jaeckel, James Westerfield, Jack Kelly, Willis Bouchey, Harry Shannon. Based on the novel Smoky Valley by Donald Hamilton. Director: Rudolph Maté.

   Sometimes the formula works. That’s what I thought when I finished watching The Violent Men, a taut, emotionally wrenching Western starring Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.

   The plot, a standard one about a range war, follows former Union soldier John Parrish (Ford) as he gradually becomes embroiled in one with local land baron and petty tyrant, Lew Wilkenson (Robinson). Parrish initially is more than willing to sell his land to Wilkenson and head East with his fiancée. But when he realizes just how thuggish Wilkenson’s brother, Cole (Brian Keith) is and the lengths to which the Wilkenson clan are willing to go in order to consolidate their power, Parrish shifts gears and decides to launch a violent confrontation with the brothers.

   But behind these eponymous violent men there is a devious, scheming woman with blood as cold as ice: Martha Wilkenson (Barbara Stanwyck), Lew’s wife and Cole’s lover. Her duplicitousness and hidden contempt for her husband serve to fuel the fire that both literally and figuratively consumes Anchor, the family’s estate.

   With its tragic underpinnings and intense focus on family drama, there is something operatic about The Violent Men. That may help explain why the movie makes such extensive use of its score in pivotal scenes, so much so that the music occasionally overwhelms the visual presentation.

   This has the opposite effect of what the director likely intended, making scenes a bit too melodramatic for their own good. But with a solid cast and some beautiful outdoor scenery, this Western is something I imagine Tennessee Williams could have written, had he worked in the genre. It remains an above average film that, despite its forced upbeat ending, is well worth seeking out.