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Strong emotions flare as Guy Madison flits between Cathy Downs and Carole Mathews
"Massacre River" is a noir western, not 100%, but quite a lot, enough to differentiate it from being a routine oater. Its darkness shows up in the story and in the black and white photography. The latter is at times really nice, with some beautifully done long shots in Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona. In one early and notable shot, a long line of Indians comes riding along a ridge and then down into a plain to a fort. The interior scene when Rory Calhoun comes gunning for Guy Madison is beautifully shadowed and composed as well. There is an escape sequence through canyons and plains, accompanied by appropriate thundering music, that reminds me of other noir westerns of that time.
The movie at first seems like any number of westerns with cavalry. Calhoun and Madison are buddies who are competing over the affections of Cathy Downs. She, it will be recalled, made an impression in "The Dark Corner" as the wife of Clifton Webb, and she was Clementine in "My Darling Clementine". She chooses Madison, who seems a bit overwhelmed. He later finds himself drawn to saloon owner Carole Mathews. You have got to give her credit for hanging in there and surviving in the tough movie business, first in many uncredited roles and then getting more meaty parts, of which this is one. She's partners with Steve Brodie, in his slimier persona. Mathews falls hard for Madison, thereby erasing some of her assumed checkered past.
In true noir fashion, we have a couple that wants to escape to a better life but find events going against them. These I will not reveal. But suffice to say that the light-heartedness at the movie's opening quite soon gives way to a dark story with several shootings, and not out in the sun good guys versus bad guys either. These are driven by stronger personal feelings.
Eventually, the story gives in to some standard but unpredictable outcomes. The movie comes off as being at best an average entry rating a 5 or a 6, but it has these points of interest. Surely, Guy Madison fans will want to see it, and so will Rory Calhoun fans. The two ladies also do a fine job, with Mathews having the larger role.
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