A quintet of travelers journey in a wagon through Comanche county includes a tinhorn and his woman, a sheriff escorting an accused murderer, and a sea captain with a checkered past. After a renegade Indian tells them about a virgin gold field as thanks for saving his life, the group becomes fixated on the gold as greed becomes their prime motivation. Written by
Robert Lippert, the force behind Lippert Films and later Regal Films, was a very resourceful Poverty Row filmmaker from the late 40s through the 50s who managed to make extremely interesting films with even more interesting casts on a low, sometimes shoestring, budget. He covered all the B film genres: Film Noir ("A Stolen Face"), Westerns ("Little Big Horn"), science fiction ("Rocket Ship X-M"), horror ("Lost Continent"), and war ("The Steel Helmet"). The studio occasionally even turned out more expensive period dramas (like "The Baron of Arizona") with class and some style.
In retrospect it seems inevitable that in the late 40s and early 50s elements of the newly emerging Film Noir genre would seep into the already well-established Western format. Memorable Noirish Westerns of the period include "Pursued," "Blood on the Moon," "The Furies," "Colorado Territory," "Ramrod," and two classics of the new hybrid genre: "Treasure of the Sierra Madre" and "Lust for Gold."
"The Tall Texan" is a minor masterpiece, interweaving themes from more traditional Westerns like "Stagecoach" with Noirish elements like lust, deceit, greed, betrayal, fate, paranoia, and irony with a disparate group of mismatched, morally ambiguous travelers thrown together by fate.
A great cast of Film Noir types (femme fatale Marie Windsor, laconic antihero Lloyd Bridges, fish-out-of-water sea captain with a shady past Lee J. Cobb, morally corrupt lawman Stanley Herrick, and ruthlessly unprincipled bottom-feeder Luther Adler) look as though they would be equally comfortable in a Twentieth Century urban setting with dingy buildings, rain-soaked streets and shadowy alleyways. However, they are also perfectly suited here, claustrophobically trapped in a metaphoric maze of giant boulders, unfriendly Indians, and their own greedy lust for gold.
Under the taut direction of Elmo Williams, the editing genius who transformed "High Noon" from a routine Western into a taut, edge-of- your-seat masterpiece, "The Tall Texan" is a highly recommended sleeper that both fans of Westerns and Film Noir will enjoy.
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