After the Civil War, Union Major Clanton captures survivors of Quantrill's Raiders, and gets them clemency at the cost of shooting a mob member. Convicted of murder by a kangaroo court, Clanton escapes and joins the former raiders in a gang devoted to robbing everything protected by the corrupt detective agency of his enemy Fowler; culminating in a personal showdown. Written by
Rod Crawford <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Opening credits: "This story tells a forgotten chapter in the violent history of the West. Months after the tragic war between the States had ended there was still no peace on the Western Frontier." See more »
Best of the Badmen is directed by William D. Russell and written by John Twist and Robert Hardy Andrews. It stars Robert Ryan, Claire Trevor, Robert Preston, Walter Brennan, Bruce Cabot, John Archer and Jack Buetel. It's a Technicolor production with cinematography by Edward Cronjager and music by Paul Sawtell.
"This story tells a forgotten chapter in the violent history of the West. Months after the tragic war between The States had ended there was still no peace on the Western Frontier."
William Russell's Western is an energetic entry into the pantheon of Oaters, it's one that involves the often filmed topic of the Jayhawkers or Bushwhackers who roamed the West causing hurt and pain in the aftermath of the Civil War. Best of the Badmen ropes in the brothers James and Younger, a few other scalawag types (Curly Ringo/Doc Butcher) and gives them a leader in the tall form of Robert Ryan's Jeff Clanton. How and why Clanton, and ex Union Major, joined the Confederate guerrilla unit? Is a nifty bit of story telling that adds a vengeful bite to what otherwise could have been standard B Western formula.
Once motives and character traits are established, film goes about its business with guts and determination. A fight, a pursuit or a sneaky act is never far from the plot, there's even a romantic thread that's not over stretched, allowing the splendidly attired Miss Trevor as the estranged Lilly Fowler to light up the screen. The narrative has some smarts about it, Clanton and his gang are out to ruin "The Fowler Agency" (an obvious nod to the Pinkerton Agency) which is run by dastardly Matthew Fowler (Preston), but although Clanton wants revenge on Fowler, he's still a good guy at heart and will not let his gang become murderous terrorists. Honour among thieves? Yes indeed, but of course it's not going to be all plain sailing when the group is full of such strong personalities.
Although clearly not an "A" list Western, the cast assembled is approaching "A" list quality. Ryan (The Naked Spur/The Day of the Outlaw/The Wild Bunch) in the genre speaks for itself, but he's also surrounding by an assortment of fine Western and film noir character actors. Preston (This Gun for Hire/Blood on the Moon), Trevor (Key Largo/Man Without a Star) and Brennan (Red River/My Darling Clementine), all deliver the expected committed performance. One of the film's weaknesses is under using some of the secondary performers, especially Lawrence Tierney (Dillinger/Born to Kill), who as Jesse James only gets a couple of lines! However, Bruce Cabot (King Kong/Fury) and John Archer (White Heat) do get to earn their pay. Rounding out the noticeable bad guys are Robert Wilke (High Noon/Night Passage), Jack Buetel (The Outlaw), Tom Tyler (Blood on the Moon) and John Cliff (River of No Return).
There's some distracting back screen work within the piece, and Cronjager's photography never gets a chance to shine, the latter not helped by a standard print of the film that needs a good scrub up. But the cast, story, action and execution of said story, definitely make this a better than average Western. 7/10
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