20 July 2005 | silverscreen888
Never Disappointing; Solid, Tough-Minded and Intelligent Drama
This is a western that its makers claimed was "adult", implying many others were not. What they had in mind is that it dealt with prejudices expressed openly that elsewhere , in adventures set in the West, were mostly the subjects of hints. It is a decently-assembled dramatic western, whose theme is "do no run away from what you want the most". Everyone in town is doing just that when Morg Hickman, played ably by laconic Henry Fonda, rides into town with a dead man over his packhorse's saddle. He is a bounty hunter, and no one asks his side of the tale. The young temporary sheriff, Anthony Perkins, shares the attitude of contempt until he starts to observe the man. Hickman can ignore men, go his own way. And when he learns Hickman has been a long-time sheriff, against advice he asks him for lessons. He wants to be a lawman and a good one...and Hickman sees himself in the boy and agrees, while he is waiting for his money. He finds a room in the meanwhile with Betsy Palmer and her boy, who is half-Indian. Her husband was an educated and fine man; but the townsfolk do not deal with her socially. He is kind to the boy, and assures her he does not mind spending some time with him. There is also a crusty old doctor, John Mcintire, who does not approve of Hickman for reasons he will not give; a girl in love with Perkins, pretty Mary Webster, and a town bully, Bart Bogardis, powerfully portrayed by Neville Brand, who the young sheriff knows he will someday have to challenge. The major part of the film shows us the young man unlearning misassumptions under Fonda's tutelage. They meet the McGaffey brothers, while out doing shooting practice, played by Lee Van Cleef and Peter Baldwin. Then on the way into town for a big celebration the elderly Doctor is being given, he is murdered. The rest of the film is in three parts. One is tracking down the men who did it. The second is the young sheriff dealing with Bogardis. And the last is the leave-taking, as Hickman takes Palmer and the boy off with him, and opines that he is going to take up the badge again; he has just remembered why he wore the 'tin star" so long in the first place.The film's music by Elmer Bernstein is subtle and good. The very fine B/W cinematography was by Loyal Griggs, with art direction by J. MacMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira. Joel Kane, Barney Slater and Dudley Nichols provided the script with much above-average dialogue; the period set decorations were done by Sam Comer and Frank R. McKelvy; costumes were designed by Edith Head and they are very fitting additions to a realistically mounted production. In the cast along with the principals were fine actor Howard Petrie as the Mayor, James Bell, Russell Simpson, and Michael Ray as Palmer's son. Director Anthony Mann has little to work with here; this is a claustrophobic town-based western. But by using shots through a large plate-glass corner window and staging the blocking of scenes cleverly, he gives the film variety in its scenes and a consistent style that seems to come from the dust and the board buildings of the town. This is by my standards quietly a very-good western.