Review

  • Warning: Spoilers
    I've never seen a movie quite like this, and I've seen lots of cheap Westerns. The main unique quality is the use of a ballad as a narrative device; almost every scene transition is filled in with a few stanzas of this ballad updating anyone who may have taken a bathroom break as to where the (largely conventional) plot is going. I liked the folksy style of the ballad, it lent a very nice flavor to the entire film.... somewhat gaudy or "cheezy", but for people like me who enjoy the genre it is pleasing. It's not the same as "singing cowboy" films because we actually only see the singing narrator in 2 or 3 scenes.... usually he is singing but in the capacity of an unseen commentator. At points the narrative ballad's commentary on the story approaches almost a "greek chorus" style of accompaniment to the story, and at points it even seems to poke fun at the film and Western formulas. For instance, when the Native Americans make their first appearance, the singing narrator tells us that "Indians.... they add to the suspense of Slaughter Trail". In this way, as well as in some of the other clearly intentional comedic aspects, this film occasionally raises itself above the level of farce and into spoof, making it almost post-modern. I can certainly see an influence from this film on others as diverse as "Rio Bravo", "Johnny Guitar" and Lucio Fulci's "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (which utilizes a similar singing narrator). This is the first movie of its type I have seen, and it is very different from those other films, so it deserves points for originality. And originality is a rare thing in classic Westerns.... a thing to be treasured by fans. This is by no means a "great" movie, nor is it trying to be (like, ahem, Mr. Ford's 1950s films), but fans will surely enjoy it as a rare, possibly unique, treat.

    Other aspects of the film are pleasing, but nothing exceptional. Donlevy is sturdy as usual, and a few Western regulars make appearances though I can't tell you their names. The color is very interesting, the photography is just so-so however. The fact that the story is so "predictable" or "formula" is, I think, another factor pushing this into the area of spoof. It was designed I believe to please those looking for a decent oater and nothing more, but also like most good B movies this film has another element present to please non-genre fans. In this case, those elements are the music and the often hilarious comedy of the film. Some of the film's comedy is pointed at itself, which is also somewhat unique until "Rio Bravo" came along a few years later.