LES SAVAGE, JR. – Return to Warbow. Dell First Edition #65, paperback original; 1st printing, 1955.

RETURN TO WARBOW . Columbia, 1958. Philip Carey, Catherine McLeod, Andrew Duggan, William Leslie, Robert Wilke, James Griffith and Jay Silverheels. Written by Les Savage Jr from his novel. Directed by Ray Nazzaro.

   I was mildly impressed by Les Savage’s novel for the efforts it took to be a bit different; the film he wrote from it impressed me too, but for all the wrong reasons.

   To start with the novel — well actually, before the novel starts, a small-time rancher named Elliot Hollister needed money for his sick wife, but he was already deep in debt and the only friends he had in the town of Warbow were the drifters and low-lifes he met in saloons where he drank to drown his troubles.

   One of these reprobates roped him in on a stagecoach heist, but a third party horned in, killed Elliot’s partner and a popular local businessman and left Elliot holding the bag — but not the loot. So as the story starts, Elliot has served his time and returns to Warbow, where he is universally reviled and suspected of having stashed the haul, and he means to figure out who the killer really was.

   Got all that? Well pay it no mind, because the central character here is Clay Hollister, Elliot’s adult son who has grown up, got out from under the onus of his father, built up the ranch, and bids fair to marry the daughter of the man his daddy is thought to have killed. When his father hits town Clay feels compelled to take him in and the two begin an uneasy relationship punctuated by violent encounters with the locals who still hate Elliot for that killing he never done, plus those who think he can lead them to a fortune in stolen gold, and the mysterious third man, who simply wants him silenced in the surest way possible.

   Savage gives the thing a bit of emotional complexity, particularly as some of Elliot’s persecutors see the results of their work and waver a bit, and he sets the tale in the nasty midst of a Montana blizzard, lending a welcome edge of realism. None of this makes Warbow a great novel, but it does lift it a bit out of the ordinary.

   You can imagine my surprise then, when I watched the film version, also written by Les Savage Jr., and found he had leeched out just about everything that made the book worthwhile.

   The film eschews the wintry setting of the book in favor of that perpetual sunny summertime of just about every other Western ever made. And in this version there’s no Elliot; Clay Hollister (Phil Carey) is an unrepentant robber who breaks from a chain gang with a couple of other bad guys and returns to his home town to recover the loot he left with his weakling brother (a fine performance from James Griffith).

   There are the usual complications: Hollister’s new partners want more than their share of the loot (a wrinkle that recalls Big House U.S.A., reviewed here not long ago) his ex-girlfriend has married upstanding Andre Duggan, and they are raising his son as their own; there’s a posse on his trail; and that brother of his is awfully evasive about where he hid the dough.

   Which is pretty much where things just stop and pot around for awhile. Everyone chases everyone else around the Columbia Western Town set and the familiar environs of Simi Valley. We get a few fights, a bit of shooting, and no real sense that anything’s going anyplace very much. Ray Nazarro was always a competent director, but that’s all he was, and he never enlivens the rather stale proceedings.

   As for the script, well I have never seen an author trash his own work so completely, and I just hope Savage got well paid for it.