1 February 2012 | claudio_carvalho
An Unconventional and Great Western
In 1873, in the Gold Trail, Montana, the mysterious and controller Dr. Joseph Frail (Gary Cooper) arrives in the small town of Skull Creek with miners in a gold rush. Dr. Frail buys a cabin on the top of a hill and he sees the smalltime thief Rune (Ben Piazza) wounded and chased by a mob that wants to hang him. Dr. Frail helps and heals Rune; but in return, he demands that the young man becomes his bond servant. The alcoholic healer and preacher George Grubb (George C. Scott) tells to the locals that Dr. Frail, who is an excellent gambler and gunfighter, is a devil, but nobody gives attention to his words.
Sooner the stagecoach is robbed by thieves that kill the passengers but the coachman survives and three days later he reaches Skull Creek. He tells that the horses had speed down the hill with a young woman inside the stagecoach. The men organize a pursuit and the rude Frenchy Plante (Karl Malden) finds the Swedish Elizabeth Mahler (Maria Schell) burnt and blind. Dr. Frail and Rune take care of her and they learn that Elizabeth and her father, who was killed in the heist, had come to America to settle down.
When Elizabeth is healed, she falls in an unrequited love with Dr. Frail and she decides to stay in Skull Creek to seek gold with Rune. They form a partnership with Frenchy and Dr. Frail secretly helps them to begin their business with The Lucky Lady Mine. When Elizabeth learns that Dr. Frail is helping her, she is disappointed but she promises to pay her debt with him someday. During a heavy rain, a tree falls down and the trio of partners finds a fortune in gold underground. Frenchy drinks with the locals and when he is drunk, he takes an attitude that will affect the lives of the locals and Skull Creek, mostly of Dr. Frail, Elizabeth and Rune.
"The Hanging Tree" is an unconventional and great western with a dramatic story supported by complex characters in a small town in the gold rush and not in shootout and other usual themes in this type of film. The lead characters are intriguing, with Gary Cooper performing a bitter character with a hidden past but also a good and fair man. Rune is also a good man that had robbed only due to his needy situation. Maria Schell performs a sweet and well-educated woman, capable to greet everybody and also tough in a negotiation. Karl Malden is fantastic as usual and the scum Frenchy Plante is one of the most despicable characters I have ever seen. Virginia Gregg has a minor but effective performance and her character Edna Flaunce is an example of how sickening and nauseating a human being can be.
This is the first time that I see this film, recently released on DVD by a small Brazilian distributor, and it was a magnificent surprise for me since I am not a fan of the conventional Western genre. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): "A Árvore dos Enforcados" ("The Hanging Tree")