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Stew Of Soap And Horse Opera Cooks Up Top Notch Beery Western
It may be that women will like The Bad Man Of Brimstone markedly better than men, as indicated by the IMDb user ratings. Not the least because the plot is so sudsy a contemporary New York Times review called it "the Madame X of horse operas." That doesn't mean that old tough guys, such as yours truly, will not like it as well. One of the few Class-A westerns of the 1930's, this handsomely turned out Wallace Berry vehicle is an action-packed, gritty, authentic, adult oater with top-notch production values.
Ruthless outlaw Trigger Bill (Beery) is just getting set to ventilate young itinerant prize fighter/tax collector Dennis O'Keefe for having the unmitigated gall of standing up to him, when he discovers by one of those unlikely but charming Hollywood coincidences that the young man is the son he abandoned many years ago. From here on the tough outlaw leader goes out of his way and very much out of character to protect his son both from the bullets of his own gang and from finding out his father is such a bad man. Many plot complications and much gun smoke ensue before the inevitable resolution.
Beery gets expert support from top MGM character player Lewis Stone as a formerly upright lawyer who falls in with the outlaws; gorgeous and talented Virginia Bruce as Stone's feisty daughter and O'Keefe's love interest; Joseph Calleia as Beery's loyal, easy-going sidekick Portuguese Ben; Guy Kibbe as O'Keefe's manager; and the ubiquitous Bruce Cabot in one of his stock cold-blooded gunman portrayals. Director J. Walter Ruben, who also had a hand in the intelligent, engrossing story, guides all with a sure hand. Dialog is crisp and colorful. The black and white cinematography by Clyde DeVinna is straight-forward but aesthetically pleasing. Editing is smooth with a couple of stylish montage sequences. The all important pacing provides a well-timed rhythm of action and melodrama, both driven along at the appropriate speed by Dr. William Axt's flavorful original score. Production values are first rate with authentic, colorful sets and costumes and outdoor scenes filmed on several scenic locations in Utah, Arizona, and California. The climatic shoot-out is big enough and violent enough to do credit to a later Italian Western, but more realistic and artistically staged than one of theirs.
But Beery, as always, is the main attraction here. And he is at his absolute menacing, snarling, mugging, smarmy, conniving, crude, gross, horrible yet fascinating, likable scoundrel best. Like any of his vehicles, this picture is at times corny, sentimental, and generally overdone, but nevertheless tremendously enjoyable all the way though. Leonard Maltin's condescending review says it's only for Beery fans, but yours truly and the grouchy old wife say, how could anyone not be one!
The Bad Man Of Brimstone is exciting, dramatically engaging, amusing, charming, beautifully filmed, top-notch Old Hollywood Western entertainment.
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