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Two friends return home after their discharge from the army after the Civil War. However, one of them has had deep-rooted psychological damage due to his experiences during the war, and as his behavior becomes more erratic--and violent--his friend desperately tries to find a way to help him. Written by
Ford and Holden worked together more than once, and they took turns playing "good cop bad cop" as the saying goes. In their case more "good Westerner bad Westerner". In this one, it's clear early that Ford is the bad guy. It was perfect casting. Ford and Holden are ex Civil War officers who become the law in a mining town. With usual poetic film license, the men from their unit live in that very town, and left mining claims while fighting in the war. While they were gone, a mine baron took advantage of a loophole to steal their claims. As the new judge, Ford complies with the letter of the law. We get a very complex and real look at the psychological influence of power, and interpretation of the law. Ford delivers his sadistic power hungry official with realism. He doesn't foam at the mouth when he performs his sadistic acts. Instead, he acts reluctant, as if he's chilled by violence. Then, after taking more and more power in his hands, he loses control of everything when he loses control of his wife, who remains faithful to him despite her respect and possible love for William Holden's character. Ford's character is very much like a Shakespearean king descending into madness and mayhem.
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