THE BADLANDERS. MGM, 1958. Alan Ladd, Ernest Borgnine, Katy Jurado, Claire Kelly, Kent Smith, Nehemiah Persoff. Based on the novel The Asphalt Jungle by W. R. Burnett (1949). Director: Delmer Daves.

   I suppose I should tell you that I haven’t yet gotten around to seeing the earlier version of this movie, nor have I read the book. All I know is that it has a pretty good reputation (the movie, I mean; I don’t know about the book). Whose idea it was to turn it into a western, I don’t know that either, but it was a lousy idea.

   At least it’s one that didn’t come off, in terms of putting it into practice. I’m not surer what went wrong. The actors are professional and competent, and they seem enthusiastic enough. (Or in Alan Ladd’s case, as enthusiastic as he ever seems to get.) I would lay most of the blame on the people responsible for the script.

   But maybe I should tell you what the story’s about first. Ladd is a mining engineer or geologist who’s been framed for stealing some gold; Borgnine is a simpler sort who’s been cheated out of a mine (or the land it was on; it wasn’t entirely clear) and jailed for retaliating the only way he knew. They leave Yuma Prison at the same time, but not on so friendly terms with each other. Nevertheless, they decide to team up and steal some ore that’s still in a vein that only Alan Ladd knows about.

   Along the way somehow or another they become friends. Male bonding. Borgnine also saves a Mexican woman (Katy Jurado) from some overfriendly white men, and before you know it, he has moved in with her, full of surprisingly cheerful good will toward mankind.

   The heist comes off – don’t ask me how they can carry around three large bags of gold ore worth $200,000 (or more) with as little effort as this – and what it so unpredictable about the rest of the movie is that no one would predict anything as predictable as what happens next. If you see what I mean.

– Slightly revised from Mystery*File #32, July 1991.