In August, 1863, Jim Dancer, searching for the killer of his brother, rides with Quantrell's raiders against Lawrence, Kansas. Yancey, one of the guerrillas most responsible for the band's bad name and reputation, accosts Evelyn Slocom. Yancey tell Dancer that Evelyn's father is the man who killed Dancer's brother, and Dancer takes revenge by killing him. But the man he is searching for is really the dead ma;s brother, Bert Slocum. When the Civil War ends in 1865, Dancer becomes a fugitive, hunted by Slocum and George Cummings, a detective for the Pleasanton Agency. Cummings finally catches Dancer, and it is only then that Dancer learns he killed the wrong man. While crossing the river on a makeshift ferry, Cummings is accidentally killed. When they are found, Dancer introduces himself as Cummings, saying the dead man was Jim Dancer. As Cummings, Dancer becomes a track-worker at Lanyard, Kansas. While the town is celebrating the arrival of the first cattle-drive herd from Texas, one ... Written by
Les Adams <email@example.com>
Solid script propels fast-paced Randolph Scott western
Renowned western novelist Frank Gruber wrote the script of FIGHTING MAN OF THE PLAINS (1949) based on his own book. It tells the story of Jim Dancer (Randolph Scott), a fugitive outlaw who'd been part of Captain William Quantrill's infamous raid on Lawrence, Kansas on August 21, 1863. Dancer is apprehended by a "Pleasanton" (read: Pinkerton) detective who is then killed in an accident, allowing Dancer to take his identity and wind up in Lanyard, Kansas, where he's pressured into taking the job of Marshal after fearlessly subduing some rowdy cowboys. It's a fairly corrupt town, but the new Marshal does a good job of keeping the peace and gets aid from some unexpected quarters at the local gambling hall.
The script is awash in simmering undercurrents, including the fact that the man who owns the town, Slocum (Barry Kelley), had killed Dancer's brother during the war, and Dancer had killed Slocum's brother in response during the Lawrence raid. Slocum's niece (Joan Taylor), who'd witnessed the killing of her father a decade earlier, lives with her uncle but fails to recognize Dancer as the culprit and begins to fall for him. Meanwhile the gambling saloon owner, Oldham (Victor Jory), finds his voluptuous partner, Florence (Jane Nigh), falling for Dancer as well. Eventually, Slocum alienates both the local cattlemen and the railroad company through his efforts to control all the land around town and a showdown is inevitable. At one point, a detective from Chicago shows up, summoned by the suspicious Slocum, to see if "Marshal Cummings" (Dancer's new identity), is indeed his old detective buddy. To make matters worse, Slocum's got cocky young gunslinger Johnny Tancred (Bill Williams) in his pocket, ready to take over when the tide turns. Dancer has his own ace in the hole, however, thanks to his old wartime associations. The finale offers a clear violation of the Production Code, but I can see where the blurred lines between good and bad, lawman and lawbreaker, "respectable" and disreputable could have easily confused the censors.
Lots of stuff happens in the movie and the cast of characters is quite colorful. Things never slow down and surprises come at us pretty quickly. I had a great time watching this. I never felt it getting too far-fetched for me. The cast includes plenty of old hands at this kind of thing (Scott, Jory, Paul Fix, Douglas Kennedy) and a few new hands (Taylor, Nigh, Williams) and they're all good. Jory is particularly awesome. He comes off initially as his patented oily gambler, but he proudly defies our expectations. Future western star Dale Robertson appears as Jesse James in his first credited role. He has only two scenesone good one and one great one. Film noir regulars Barry Kelley and Berry Kroeger are both on hand, one as a bad guy and one who'll surprise you.
I watched this on TCM, which showed a black-and-white print of a Cinecolor film. I hope someone finds a color print and releases it on DVD.
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