7 March 2016 | photoe
Better than Average Western
Couldn't quite give this film an 8, but I think it's a solid 7. First off, it's beautifully shot. The cinematography takes advantage of a few great landscapes, and some solid lot work, and even dares to shoot dark at dusk and in the dark. The depth of the film being pushed becomes really apparent, and it has a thick, rich, painterly quality to it.
Jock Mahoney is said to be wooden, but I think he adapts well in the role of a war- weary veteran with a disability he needs to hide since it is central to his ability to fight and shoot. This is one of a few dynamics that are written into a script that nourishes the emotions and attention of the viewer, something often lacking in modern scripts., where the visual and the casual destroys the immersion. All that's really needed to carry the film is one hero, one tragic figure, one template bad guy (who still warns the tragic figure he's gonna lose, and the tragic figure doesn't take his heed), and a heroine. This keeps the film competently engaging.
The real meat of the script is given to Dave, played strongly and with complexity by Lyle Bettger, whose big eyes project emotion well. His part is really phenomenal in that he is a decent man who is a childhood friend of Mahoney's lead Jim Trask, and yet Trask undoes his entire life and accomplishments, and I ended up wanting him to triumph more than the lead character. It's one of the most tragic figures I've ever seen played in any Western. The trajectory of Dave's destruction occurs on multiple levels, partially through the usual underestimating of his foe, but also at his failure to step in and take down the hero, who has done a list of wrongs any man would kill for.
There's a boilerplate villain, played competently, but not phenomenally, and a heroine who is gorgeous and devoted, but their characters are pretty two dimensional. The strength of this film is really in the dynamic between a hero trying to find his way, and the epic tragic figure of his childhood friend. In fact, the tragedy is almost overwritten, to the point you almost lose support for the lead by the end.
This film has the feel of a peak Hollywood Western, not too clean but far before the revisionism of the 70s. It just has a real authenticity to it, with the dialog and the horse work and stunts, which include Jock Mahoney doing some serious diving into the dirt and hand to hand fighting. The actor was a real physical threat, and it shows.
All in all, a strong film, especially for its time and budget.