19 September 2019 | Spikeopath
Hemp Brown's search for justice and redemption.
The Saga of Hemp Brown is directed by Richard Carlson and written by Bob Williams and Bernard Girard. It stars Rory Calhoun, Beverly Garland, John Larch, Russell Johnson, Fortunio Bonanova and Allan Lane. A CinemaScope/Eastman Color production, the music is by Joseph Gershenson and cinematography by Philip Lathrop.
Plot finds Calhoun as Hemp Brown, an army officer who loses the army payroll to a gang led by Jed Givens (Larch). Being the only survivor of the robbery and with no proof of what really happened - especially since Givens had a while back been reported as killed in action - he is dishonourably discharged from the army. With his good name in tatters and the odds stacked up against him, Brown sets about tracking Givens down.
Fascinating Oater this one, it's undone a touch due to the finale being a fizzle out damp squib, but still enough here for the genre fan to enjoy. The narrative contains some smart threads that lift it above average. The concept of Brown having his name severely tarnished by the army instead of putting him on trial for his life, and thus the whole country looks down on him, is improbable but a good plot device.
Better than that though, is the fact that both Brown and Givens need each other alive! Brown has to prove Givens is alive and well to prove his innocence, and will have to fight to keep his nemesis alive, while Givens needed Brown alive so he could take the blame for the robbery. Add in that Brown's only companions worth the name are a quirky travelling salesman (Bonanova) and his lovely assistant (Garland), then it's a nice frothy hot pot of plot ideas.
This could easily have been a boorish revenge piece, but there's a complexity about Brown's journey to redemption. Everyone and everything he believed in has gone sour, and yet he seeks not bloody vengeance, but justice so he can once again hold his head high in a society that was quick to shun him. The things he witnesses, such as a violent brother over protecting his sister, or a mob rule mentality late in the play, these stack up to paint the society Brown is ostracised from as hardly ideal! Remembering that he had already been cruelly misjudged by his army peers.
Not high on action quota, what we do get is well staged by Carlson, who had starred in enough lively scenes himself during his acting career. Calhoun is ever watchable, perfectly playing out Brown's various emotional beats with ease, while he also gets some sparky dialogue to deliver. Garland looks lovely and is costumed accordingly - especially when she's able to show off her glorious legs, and she finds tidy chemistry with her leading man. Larch is a wonderfully oily villain, but his big scene in the finale is a show of over acting, while Johnson as a hook handed criminal leaves a favourable mark.
Nicely photographed out of Conejo Valley, Thousand Oaks, Calif by Lathrop (though we yearn for more for sure), and a nifty foreboding based score by Gershenson (Herman Stein uncredited) seals the deal for this as good Oater viewing. Not one for those seeking wall to wall shoot outs etc, but one for those who like to see a narrative offering meaty substance. 7/10