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Frenchie Fontaine sells her successful business in New Orleans to come West. Her reason? Find the men who killed her father, Frank Dawson. But she only knows one of the two who did and she's determined to find out the other.
A cattle-vs.-sheepman feud loses Connie Dickason her fiance, but gains her his ranch, which she determines to run alone in opposition to Frank Ivey, "boss" of the valley, whom her father Ben wanted her to marry. She hires recovering alcoholic Dave Nash as foreman and a crew of Ivey's enemies. Ivey fights back with violence and destruction, but Dave is determined to counter him legally... a feeling not shared by his associates. Connie's boast that, as a woman, she doesn't need guns proves justified, but plenty of gunplay results. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Striking casting, complex script, brilliant cinematography add up to a special, fascinating Western
I won't comment on what has been written by several others here, regarding the noir-ish qualities of the material. I do want to mention some things that caught me off guard, in a very good way, from the moment the film began. First off, the writers and director de Toth were confident enough in their material not to spoonfeed their audience. Indeed, the first few minutes are so opaque it seems as if we may have come in in the middle of the film. In reality, we've come in in the middle, not of the film, but of the characters' lives, and the filmmakers allow us to figure out what's going on much as a stranger arriving in town would have to figure out what this drama is that's occurring around him. Adding to the intelligent and innovative approach to the story is the cinematography of Russell Harlan. Harlan, who shot Red River, Lust for Life, The Big Sky, and To Kill a Mockingbird, certainly knew how to place a camera and light a scene. For de Toth, Harlan's camera moves almost constantly, innumerable dolly shots (far more than in a typical film of this day) both reveal and obfuscate the settings in such a way as to keep the viewer always a little off-balance as to where the action is moving next. It's a skillful means of unsettling the viewer. The casting as well performs similarly. Joel McCrea is a familiar figure in Western leading roles, but here he's both a reformed drunk and so soft-spoken and comparatively passive as to be almost the antithesis of what we expect. Veronica Lake gets one soft scene with her hair down and almost peekabooing, but for the rest of the film it's up tight on her head, and she's up tight in the role. She's an interesting case, a pitiable femme fatale, a nice girl at first pushed then willingly galloping down the wrong road. Charlie Ruggles, typically a comic father type, here is stern but not heartless, wrongheaded but goodhearted. And the best piece of off-beat casting in the film is light comedian Don DeFore as the rascally, promiscuous, and deadly Bill, a gunman with a seductive smile and the grim good humor that one both fears and wants to protect. DeFore's performance is the best I've ever seen him give, and it made me wish he'd done more like this. Thankfully (and oddly), the script gives him plenty of screen time, much more in fact (toward the end) than one would expect, given that he's not the lead in the picture. There have been bad good-guys like Bill in scores of Westerns before and since, but few with the charisma and style that Don DeFore brings to this one. All in all, I was amazed by the complexity and shades of gray in this film, which I completely expected to be just another good old shoot-em-up. Well worth watching.
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