4 February 2009 | Bob_Zerunkel
And now for the opposing opinion
This is a darn fine movie, but it does not have the character development that many are claiming. The town, and the movie as a whole, has many odd characters, but we don't know much about why they are odd. We simply know that they are odd. Even Bixby is not developed. He starts as a psycho. He's a psycho in the middle. And he's a psycho at the end.
The character development is substantial on Connors (the good guy), Rennie (the bad guy), and Hays (the good guy's wife who is now with the bad guy). But is it good character development? Not really.
Connor's character could fall in love and marry, but he wouldn't have let the Aunt influence his marriage or his wife. He certainly would have left his home and wife as he did, but he never would have let himself get into that situation in the first place.
Rennie did play a guy who could turn bad, but he didn't play a stupid man. He wouldn't have let things get so far out of hand. At almost every turn, Rennie could have stopped Connors. Yet somehow, he lets things get worse and worse. Rennie's character was smart and knew how to manipulate people and situations. He could have killed Connors. He could have hired someone to do it. He could have returned the money anonymously. He could have framed anybody, living or dead, as the thief. He could have just stayed home. Even if he had just stayed home, it would have been enough. Stay home, Rennie, stay home. Let the town deal with Connors.
Hays played a woman who could fall in love with Connors under the right circumstances, but the character she played would not have fallen in love unless Connors was rich and/or if Connors had the approval of her aunt. Her character was weak and could never stand on her own. At least, that is who she was early on when a weak character was necessary. Later in the movie, she became strong and hard. I guess her aunt told her to do that. At the end, she became soft and warm towards Connors. I guess her aunt must have died by then. She was at least as psycho as Bixby from what I can tell. I'm sure she spent her remaining years taking care of her houseful of cats and screaming at anyone who used her sidewalk.
How come Connors was smart enough to save all that money, but he was too dumb to get a bank draft? How come Connors really hoped that he would be able to get a shave when he entered that campsite, but he was too dumb to stop anywhere along the way and buy a shave? How come Connors wanted so much to see his ex-wife, but he didn't even think about spending any of his money on a bath, a shave, and a set of clothes? Bixby and Akers went on and on about how bad Connors stunk. Are we supposed to believe that Connors thought his high-born wife wouldn't mind the smell? There are only two characters that are necessary to this movie: Connors and Akins. It would be the exact same movie if Bixby, Rennie, O'Connell, Hays, Blondell and the rest were replaced, rewritten or discarded. It is a simple story of vengeful good versus pure evil. Jimmy Stewart played that role several times. So did Eastwood, Wayne, and most of the other macho stars. First the star has something bad happen to him. Then he spends the rest of the picture trying to set things right. At the very end, good triumphs over evil. It works well because, when the whupping starts, the audience is really rooting for the good guy.
So why is it a great movie? Because it is a great western with great actors. There are many fine actors in this movie, and they all do a stand-up job. It is excellent. If you like westerns or dark film noir, you will like this. It is a much better movie than Johnny Guitar.
But, just like in Johnny Guitar, you can pick apart the plot and character development without even trying.