In 1865, a troop of Confederate soldiers led by Major Matt Stewart attack the wagon of gold escorted by Union cavalry and the soldiers are killed. The only wounded survivor tells that the war ended one month ago, and the group decides to take the gold and meet their liaison that knew that the war ended but did not inform the troop. The harsh Rolph Bainter kills the greedy man and the soldiers flee in his wagon driven by Major Stewart. When they meet a posse chasing them, Stewart gives wrong information to misguide the group; however, they have an accident with the wagon and lose the horses. They decide to stop a stagecoach and force the driver to transport them, but the posse returns and they are trapped in the station with the passenger. They realize that the men are not deputies and have no intention to bring them to justice but take the stolen gold. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This is a film that deserves to be better known, particularly by those fans of Randolph Scott's later work with director Budd Boetticher (The Tall T, Commanche Station, Ride Lonesome etc). It is a fascinating transitional work, and a one-off vehicle for Huggins, who went on to direct the Rockford Files for TV.
As Scott grew older in his acting career, he made predominately Westerns. At the same time his face grew harder, more sinewy and austere. Something of his matinee idol looks and southern accent remained, but age brought something else - a moral gravitas than added immeasurably to his on-screen presence. Finally the 'Scott character' achieved a magisterial quality - a characteristic that added immeasurably to the ironic resonance of his last film Ride The High Country.
In Hangman's Knot, Scott plays a Confederate officer who only learns that the Civil War is over after a successful action in which his group take a gold shipment from Union soldiers. He and his men agree to return home, each with their share of the booty, but run across some outlaws who corner them in a way station, laying siege to them.
This is a situation familiar to those who know those later Scott-Boetticher masterpieces, and the familiar hallmarks are already in evidence. Even the same locations are utilised. Like the later films with a different director, this is a morality play, almost a chamber drama, where Scott makes a dignified stand of principle. In Hangman's Knot, those with the dark hearts are both outside the way station's walls waiting to pounce, as well as inside (a characteristic performance by Lee Marvin, reminiscent of that he gives in The Big Heat). These are the men that Scott's character, Stewart, cannot relate to: those without honour or moral courage, greedy, cruel men. For Scott, as he says in one of those later films, 'there are some things a man can't ride around' and these are the choices that have to be made. A man needs to face up to his options in life and live with himself on or off the trail. When he tells Marvin here that he 'never really knew (him) at all', we know the moral battlelines have been drawn, just as distinctly those that existed between the warring states.
At first the gold is merely the spoils of war. Then it becomes a short cut to happiness, an unexpected reward for the men's trouble, and a compensation for the loss of the War. Finally it is just a moral encumbrance, both to body and mind. By the end of the film, as Scott and the boy let the heavy saddle bags slip off their shoulders, the sense of relief is tangible - one which isn't just physical.
A film well worth investigating, full of artistic resonance and anticipations. And if you haven't seen the later Scott-Boetticher vehicles, some of the greatest B-Westerns ever made, see this as a taster.
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