8 January 2001 | pzanardo
Perhaps the best psychological western ever made
I consider "Warlock" the best psychological western ever made. The main purpose of the movie is to draw a thorough inner design of the characters; nonetheless there is (happily) plenty of action and gun-fights, with no lowering of strain or moments of bore. As a matter of fact, important sides of the psychology of the male characters are represented through their attitude in violent action.
Clay (Henry Fonda) is a cool-headed gunslinger who, somewhat hypocritically, deludes himself to be fair since he kills people following "the rules". And it's a bit disappointing to see that people like and trust him mainly because he is handsome and well-mannered. However, Clay doesn't like violence and has noble sides, as shown when he stops a lynching.
Morgan (Anthony Quinn) is more honest in his self- judgment: he knows to be an assassin, who solves any possible problem caused by other people by simply killing them. There is a single important thing in his life, which he is even too ready to die for: his friendship-love toward Clay. Johnny (Richard Widmark) is the repented outlaw who has had the strength to quit a life of crime. He is naturally fair and non-violent, yet he knows when it's necessary to draw the six-shooter, for his own honor and moral code, and to protect innocent people. McQuown (Tom Drake) is just a loathsome, treacherous coward, who never face a duel without an accomplice ready to shoot his opponent in the back.
Of course, the main theme of the movie is Morgan's morbid affection for Clay. This totally absorbing love is masterly represented in the movie, in a crescendo of intensity, finally showing Morgan close to sheer madness. Reasonably enough, most critics have inferred a homosexual love in the relationship between Morgan and Clay. I'm not much Freudian and I have no tendency to find sex everywhere. I think that the director Dmytryk has made a deliberately exasperated, unconventional representation of the manly friendship, a classical motive in western movies. Here we have two adventurers, two gunslingers who deeply understand each other's feelings. Women (saloon-girls) are good for fun, and that's all: a real friendship is something completely different, extraneous to the feminine mentality. And deep friendship can be more jealous than love. In fact, Morgan begins to suffer when he realizes that Clay has found a true love, a coming spouse in Jessie (Dolores Michaels): he's not just infatuated by some meaningless, cheap girl. Morgan's natural, psychologically exact reaction can only be a brutal interference.
The preceding theme of the movie is really so interesting that one could miss to notice how beautifully treated is the psychology of all other characters. Let me focus and make some comments on Lily (Dorothy Malone), the cynical, life-tired former saloon-girl, devoted to a revenge against Clay, which she visibly makes a point of, without being really convinced of the sense of adding violence to violence. Malone is perfect for the role. Her charming beauty make us fully believe that both Clay and Morgan were once infatuated with her. And her splendid, sad, stern yet ironic eyes describe the weariness of her inner core more effectively than words. Lily has a pair of my favorite lines. "How could I love you... a cripple!", showing her capacity to wound her hated enemy Morgan, where it most hurts. "What do you want? A whole life in one night?": Lily loves Johnny, who is going to face a mortal duel, yet she's unable to check her spiteful irony, to get rid of her own former wasted life, showing herself worse than she actually is. And, moreover, she can't stand these preposterous honor codes of men killing each other, and for what? Really great stuff!
Other merits of "Warlock": the perfect script, the accurate photography, the magnificent locations. The acting by Fonda, Quinn, Widmark, Malone is superb, to say the least: that's exactly what we expect from them. The final clash between Fonda and Quinn is a powerful piece of cinema. Splendid movie, highly recommended (even to people not fond of westerns).