This is a superb King Vidor film noir, made only two years after his ultimate masterpiece, THE FOUNTAINHEAD (1949). Unless one considers the sultry RUBY GENTRY (1952) a film noir of sorts, Vidor was not really a noir director. But this film shows that when he needed to become one, he could do it in the twinkling of a lens. The female lead in this film was that very fifties woman, Ruth Roman, who appeared in film after film in those days. Seeing her now, she is so much 'then' as a type, that one cannot imagine her in a contemporary setting at all. All of her mannerisms and assumptions positively reek of the Eisenhower Era. The mesmerising performance of Richard Todd is what really makes this film work. His eyes blaze with ambivalent intensity, like two searchlights, as he stares at Ruth Roman and we and she try to guess is he a good guy or a bad guy. Whatever he is, he feels it deeply. Zachary Scott, in sinister lecherous mode, is Todd's friend, or at least Todd thinks he is. Scott keeps 'lech-ing' round Ruth Roman, can't keep his eyes off her, and that goes for his hands too. She's having none of it, because she's a straight fifties gal. The film has a strong, tormented performance from Mercedes McCambridge, in only her fifth role. She had commenced her film career in the hit ALL THE KING'S MEN (1949) only two years earlier, and five years after this she was to play perhaps her best known role of all in GIANT (1956) with James Dean. She was generally considered one of the finest actresses of her generation, which is hardly surprising, since she was originally one of Orson Welles's Mercury Theatre team, and most of them were brilliant. Mercedes was her second name, but she used it as her first, and was called 'Mercy'. In this film, Rhys Williams plays a priest named Father Paul, who is sickly and sanctimonious and likes to call grown-ups condescendingly 'my child'. (Don't over-pious, patronising priests like that make you sick, especially when they have pet Hispanics hanging around to prove how broad-minded they are?) This film is set way out West somewhere, where the desert is threatening. But so are some of the people! This murder mystery is a twister, and it wriggles like a rattler.
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