THE DESPERADO. Allied Artists, 1954. Wayne Morris, James Lydon, Beverly Garland, Lee Van Cleef, Dabs Greer John Dierkes, Roy Barcroft. Written by Geoffrey Homes from the novel by Clifton Adams (Gold Medal #121, 1950). Directed by Thomas Carr.

   I finished my inadvertent Wayne Morris Film Festival with this, a surprisingly classy B-western from Allied Artists in the days when they were morphing from Monogram, still churning out second-features but with an eye to moving upscale.

   The plot is the standard revenge story, with Jimmy Lyden (best remembered as Henry Aldrich) out to avenge the murder of his dad, but it’s given a typical 1950s twist: It’s Reconstruction and Texas is run by a bunch of corrupt owlhoots, and when Jimmy runs afoul of them, he goes on the run, a rebellious youth persecuted by an older generation.

   This is a B-western, so it’s not long till he meets up with wanted outlaw Sam Garrett (Morris of course) and the two of them form a shaky friendship that gets tested when Sam cynically lets his new pardner shoot his own way out of a scrap with Lee Van Cleef.

   In fact, cynicism is the mark of Morris’s character here, constantly warning his new buddy not to trust anyone or mix himself up in other people’s fights. When Lyden gets a chance to avenge his dad, Wayne cheerfully urges him to shoot down the unarmed baddies in cold blood, and takes a dim view of his inability to do so. It turns out, though, that other folks have no such tender feelings, and our callow hero gets a murder frame-up added to his troubles.

   With all this and more going on (Lee Van Cleef plays twins, so Jimmy gets to shoot him twice), The Desperado could have easily bogged down in complications, but writer Geoffrey Homes keeps it moving and even throws in a couple of corrupt sheriffs: one (Dabs Greer) likably so and one… well he’s played by Roy Barcroft and enough said.

   Mostly though, the focus is on the uneasy relationship between Morris and Lydon, and it’s here where script, acting and direction come together, and I say this knowing that Wayne Morris and James Lyden are not well-known for deep and insightful acting. But they could rise to the occasions like Strange Illusion and Paths of Glory, and they do quite nicely here.

   Director Thomas Carr was a soul consigned to toil for eternity in B-movies and cheap television, but he took his fate like a low-budget Sisyphus, moving his camera for maximum effect, turning out the best of Bill Eliott’s final westerns with a fluid camera and sure sense of pace, shown here to good effect.

   As for writer Geoffrey Homes (or Daniel Mainwaring, if you prefer) well, his talent was always a variable commodity. His screenplay for Out of the Past is much better than his source novel (Build My Gallows High) which in turn is much much better than any of his other books. His movies range from the excellent Invasion of the Body Snatchers to dreck like The George Raft Story, and The Desperado is somewhere about mid-range: nothing fancy, but solid and enjoyable.

   Oh, and one more footnote: Wayne Morris was a bona fide war hero whose next film after Desperado was Two Guns and a Badge, generally considered the last series B-western. And his first wife was named Bubbles Schinasi.

   Just thought I’d mention it.