Tension at Table Rock (1956) Poster

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The Ballad of Wes Tancred.
Spikeopath10 February 2016
Tension at Table Rock is directed by Charles Marquis Warren and is adapted to screenplay by Winston Miller from the novel "Bitter Sage" written by Frank Gruber. It stars Richard Egan, Dorothy Malone, Cameron Mitchell, Billy Chapin, Royal Dano, Edward Andrews and John Dehner. Music is by Dimitri Tiomkin and Technicolor cinematography is by Joseph Biroc.

Wes Tancred (Egan) is a weary gunslinger who is wandering the plains after having been accused of a cowardly killing. Assuming the name of John Bailey, he happens upon the "Bitter Sage" ranch and events there will lead him into the town of Table Rock. Where his future, perhaps damned by his past, will be determined.

A good Oater full of the staples of 50s genre pieces, tension at Table Rock is nonetheless a worthy morsel for those keen of a Western diet. Pic picks up a number of thematic threads, such as the gunman trying to go straight, a lawman who has lost his bottle, and hero worship by way of surrogacy. Naturally there's a romantic angle, with Malone all bright eyed and perched in between Egan and Mitchell, but this is thankfully not over played.

Standard action scenes are handled well by Warren, a man who knew his way around dusters of TV and cinema. Costuming and scenic photography is pleasing, while Egan (tortured square jawed machismo), Mitchell (tortured and scarred and awaiting machismo rebirth) and Dano (eleagant wise man) are in good credit with performances. Best of the support is Dehner, no surprise there, and Angie Dickinson and DeForest Kelly have minor but key roles to play.

It's all tightly played out to the point that the derivative nature of the story is in no way a hindrance to the entertainment on offer. 7/10
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Richard Egan and Cameron Mitchell
kevin olzak30 April 2014
1956's "Tension at Table Rock" was one of the last gasps for ailing studio RKO, soon to become Desilu under the new ownership of Lucy and Desi. Truly enhanced by its color photography, telling a Frank Gerber story that seemed mighty familiar to 50s audiences, but done so well by such an expert cast that the many episodic pieces just seem to effortlessly fall into place. Richard Egan is well cast as laconic gunman Wes Tancred, whose troubles begin when he rebuffs the advances of the wife (Angie Dickinson) of his best friend and former boss (Paul Richards), who tries to shoot Wes in the back, but is slower on the draw (a clear act of self defense, pardoned by the Governor). The woman scorned makes out that her husband was shot in the back and didn't have a chance, with the stain following Wes from town to town, even to a song depicting the lurid, and phony, details, so he must take up a new name by the time he enters the lives of Sheriff Fred Miller (Cameron Mitchell), his wife Lorna (Dorothy Malone), and adoring nephew Jody (Billy Chapin), echoes of "Shane" that need not have been present. Among the townspeople are smooth villain Edward Andrews and crusading newspaperman Royal Dano, who fears the upcoming cattle drive, and the vicious trail herders that come with it (led by John Dehner). No one knows the newcomer's true identity of Wes Tancred, and the final showdown with hired killer DeForest Kelley finds him already friends with Wes, and one of the few who know the truth about what really happened (as if their dead boss was supposed to be 'Santa Claus'). Cameron Mitchell probably has the toughest role, playing a sheriff who commands little respect because he seeks an easy way out instead of a real solution, due to a beating he once took that left him full of fear (reuniting with Royal Dano just two years later in "Face of Fire"). Richard Egan, from Presley's forthcoming debut "Love Me Tender," never reached true stardom but here enjoys his finest showcase.
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Understated But Raw
LeonLouisRicci21 November 2013
Better than Average Western with a Fine Cast and has Moments of Hard-Hitting Fisticuffs and Underplayed Suspense. It is a B-Movie that does have a Good Score and is in Color. It Relies on Melodrama and Good Dialog to Offset the Less than Sprawling Cinematography.

There is an Orphaned Youngster and the Characters are more Conflicted and Deep than in a Standard Oater. Richard Egan is Expressionless as is Cameron Mitchell and Dorothy Malone is Radiant and there for some Sexual Tension.

It does have a Laid-Back Feel and Never seems to Rise Above its Rasin' but there are Confrontations Aplenty and it is a Mature Movie. Definitely worth a View for Western Fans and some Others may find Pleasure in its Understated but Raw Roughness.
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Decent if somewhat clichéd western
Tweekums19 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
When I started watching this the only thing I knew about it was that it was a western; I didn't even know who was in it. That didn't matter as the opening scenes had me hooked; Wes Tancred, the films protagonist, has decided to go his own way because his one time friend is now just a murderer, the man's wife asks to come with him but is rebuffed so when the two men get into a gunfight she says Wes shot her unarmed husband in the back; it is a lie of course, in fact he drew first. By the time Wes is released from jail and given the reward for killing a wanted man he is famed as 'the man who shot his friend in the back'; there is even a song being sung about his cowardice. With nothing else to do he heads out of town and when he gets to a remote outpost takes on the name John Bailey. He isn't there long before a group of bandits turn up and kill the man running it; Wes manages to shoot them but is left looking after the man's son. He takes the boy on to the town of Table Rock as his uncle is the sheriff there. It seems a nice enough town but the people are scared because a cattle drive is on its way though and this has led to trouble in previous years. The sheriff, keen to avoid trouble, lets the drovers come into town on the condition that they don't cause any trouble... they do and a farmer is killed. The sheriff has to decide whether to stand up to the killers or accept their story that it was a fair fight when he knows it wasn't. His ultimate decision will lead to him facing personal demons to protect the town and Wes admitting who he really is and having to face another old friend in a gun fight.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this considering that there was only one actor I'd heard of in the film and he only had a small role. Richard Egan did a good enough job as Wes Tancred although I thought Cameron Mitchell was better as the sheriff doing his best despite being terrified of the drovers after an incident where he was severely beaten by some in a previous year. DeForest 'Dr McCoy' Kelley buts in a nice turn as the gunslinger who shoots it out with Wes at the end but unfortunately his role was fairly small. The action was good enough although people more familiar with modern films may be surprised that nobody sheds a drop of blood even when fatally shot! I'm not sure I'd recommend going out of your way to see this but if it is on television is passes an hour and a half well enough if you enjoy westerns.
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Will The Real Dr. McCoy Please Stand Up
DKosty12330 September 2011
Warning: Spoilers
This is a movie with a solid script, really a very good cast, and a decent script. It is a later RKO production completed a short time before Lucy & Desi bought the studio. It is one of a handful of films of this type shot in color during the 1950's.

Any fan of the Wild Wild West TV series will recognize John Dehner and some of the set sued in this movie. Angie Dickinson has a small role. When you add up Richard Egan, Cameron Mitchell, Edward Andrews, Billy Chapin, Dorothy Malone, and DeForest Kelly, the cast is a who's who of 1960's and 70's television actors.

It is a good solid western outing that only suffers slightly from the fact that RKO did not have the resources of the other studios by now. Still, some of these folks went on to stay at Desilu later and help make that a great television studio.
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Tired Premise has its Moments
dougdoepke11 December 2010
Fugitive gunslinger is torn between fleeing a town or staying to help.

The obvious comparison is Shane (1953). But whereas the result there rises to mythic heights, here the results are little more than pedestrian, and I'm not sure why. Certainly, director Warren's erratic pacing doesn't help—the dialog scenes, especially with Malone, bring things to a slumping stop. For a Western, that's deadly. Then too, wardrobe gussies up Malone (a fine actress, nonetheless) like it's Oscar night on the frontier, befitting her star-status, I guess.

I really like the first half, especially DeSantis's hapless station agent. He brings a strong hint of soul to the part, something Egan, in the lead part, needs in order to broaden Tancred's conflicted character. Unfortunately, Egan never gets beyond a single stony expression (contrast that with Ladd's nicely nuanced Shane).

Still, that opening is a real grabber. Too bad, we lose that fine villain Paul Richards (Sam) so early in the movie. Speaking of expert bad guys, the 90-minutes is filled with them, from the slippery Edward Andrews to the commanding John Dehner to the plain mean James Anderson, and even Star Trek's DeForrest Kelley makes a charming gunslinger. And that's along with affecting turns from Cameron Mitchell and the wonderful little Billy Chapin.

The trouble is that once the focus comes to town, events lose the edge they've had. Nor does it help that the town is an obvious studio backlot (contrast that with Shane's desolate mudhole of a town). Anyway, there're a number of nice touches (Dickinson's treacherous Cathy, for one), but unfortunately these can't overcome the limitations of budget and pacing, resulting generally in an interesting but undistinguished 90-minutes.
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Blazing Familiar Trails
wes-connors28 March 2010
Needing a break from his gunfighter western ways, rugged Richard Egan (as Wes Tancred) decides to take on a tamer identity (as "John Bailey"). In this guise, Mr. Egan finds honest work, but immediate tragedy. He hooks up with blue-eyed Billy Chapin (as Jody Burrows), after gunmen kill the cute boy's paw. Delivering the lad to relatives, sharply outfitted Dorothy Malone (as Lorna) and sheriff husband Cameron Mitchell (as Fred Miller), leads "Rifleman" Egan from "Shane" to "High Noon" territory. Angie Dickinson and DeForest Kelly have bang-up roles. With Charles Marque Warren at the reigns, "Tension at Table Rock" knows its turf.

****** Tension at Table Rock (10/3/56) Charles Marque Warren ~ Richard Egan, Dorothy Malone, Cameron Mitchell, Billy Chapin
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Telling A False Tale
bkoganbing27 March 2010
Tension At Table Rock casts Richard Egan as a misunderstood gunman who gets a phony reputation as a backshooting coward because he outdrew the wanted Paul Richards and Richard's girlfriend Angie Dickinson who was the only witness told a false tale.

Now having to operate under an assumed name, Egan falls in with orphan Billy Chapin after he eliminates those who killed Chapin's father Joe DeSantis and made him an orphan. He delivers young Billy to the town of Table Rock where his aunt and uncle live and uncle Cameron Mitchell is a much put upon sheriff.

After this the film does run along the established plot lines of Shane somewhat. Mitchell makes a Faustian bargain with trail boss John Dehner to not tear up the town too much mainly because he got beaten really badly by a whole bunch of Dehner's trailhands on the previous drive. But when one of them shoots down an unarmed farmer and then tries to get away with it Egan gets into action.

Dorothy Malone is in Tension At Table Rock as well. 1956 was the same year Malone got her career Oscar winning role for Written On The Wind. The sexual tension between the stranger Egan and her is unmistakable and it's where people draw comparisons between Tension At Table Rock and Shane.

Though she's on only briefly in the beginning Angie Dickinson really does shine in the part of a woman who gets vengeance for her man. Another really good performance is that of Edward Andrews the saloon owner who could care less if the drunken trailhands shoot up the town and kill a few people as long as they drink in his saloon and his profits don't get cut into.

Towards the end of that studio's existence RKO was getting into some serious adult B westerns as was its competitor Republic, the stuff that would later be a staple for fifties and sixties television. Tension At Table Rock is a good example of the adult type westerns that would later be found on television.
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Good unknown western but riddled with the usual clichés...
Neil Doyle27 March 2010
RICHARD EGAN is the gunman who has killed his best friend and must live with the consequences of a town that has turned against him with a legendary song (by Dimitri Tiomkin) that paints him as a coward. He flees to another town and assumes a new identity, but his past catches up with him before the tale is over.

As the scorned outlaw who decides to help weak-minded sheriff CAMERON MITCHELL keep order in a tough "Dodge City" sort of town, Egan is solidly cast as the sturdy anti-hero who rises to the occasion whenever gunfights break out. He wins the admiration of Mitchell's pretty wife, DOROTHY MALONE and their young son, BILLY CHAPIN (from "Night of the Hunter"). Therein, the story bears elements of "Shane" and other similar westerns.

Egan's quiet underplaying of the conflicted gunman is effective and most of the performances are fine. Dorothy Malone looks out of place as a frontier lady, her make-up and costuming making her look like a modern 1950s woman rather than the good wife she was portraying.

The dialogue is full of the usual western clichés. A line at the end of the film, after law and order has finally been restored by Egan, is a summary of the plot's conclusion. "These boys just got their town back," drawls one of the townsmen. And in time for the final reel, the sheriff gets his courage back too.
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A Minor Masterpiece
nigel-hawkes17 September 2009
This superb '50s western is what I term a "minor masterpiece". By that I do not mean that it is inferior, rather that its "B" status will inevitably always relegate it to side discussions when the "big" westerns are brought up. But a very convincing argument can be made that this, and many other '50s "B" westerns-including in my view almost all of the Audie Murphy ones-are the absolute pinnacle of the genre.

Other reviewers have given good accounts of the plot so I will instead mention: the marvellous cast (DeForrest Kelly was underused as a westerner-marvel at his performance); the tension that I think is due to the modest running time and the quick, simple scenes that just flow so naturally; great, bright colour (I loathe the dark modern movies); a second-to-none score from an age when there were great film composers; all the essential elements are here-the boy, the tortured hero, believable domestic tensions, the baddies-you just care about these characters.

Every time this appears on British TV I seem to watch it afresh and discover more subtleties.

Minor masterpieces are not that much more common than major ones. Do not miss this movie.
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Surprisingly good Western - right in the heart of the genre
rooster_davis17 July 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I was surprised how good this movie turned out to be. Talk about a Western for Western-lovers - there's the guy (Wes Tancred played by Richard Egan) who's good with a gun, a cattle drive where the cowboys are going to overrun and terrorize a town, the sheriff is weak and his wife falls for Tancred. There are a lot of smaller stories that influence the action. Billy Chapin plays a boy named Jody whose father is killed by outlaws; Tancred kills the outlaws and takes the boy to live with his uncle and aunt (the sheriff and his wife). The local newspaper's editor is at odds with the sheriff, knowing he is weak and is afraid to stand up to bad guys.

The basic plot is of someone, Tancred, who is trying to escape his past and start over, but things keep making it hard for him to do that. A popular folk song claims that he killed his best friend by shooting him in the back, so under his actual name he is a reviled man. He changes his name and ends up taking part in the town's struggles against the bad guy cowboys.

This movie has plenty of action; it doesn't just sit there and talk you to death. Between the guns and horses and fights and shooting and saloon and all, it's got to be called a classic Western, no doubt.

The casting is good though I was surprised at how many people I hadn't really seen in many Westerns; meanwhile there was not a Lee Van Cleef or a Denver Pyle or a Jack Elam or a Paul Fix to be seen. Doesn't matter much though, the cast did a very good job. The movie is in color though the quality of the color is uneven from scene to scene.

I enjoyed this movie more than I expected to, and it's surely worth the watching for anyone who likes Westerns.
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Surprisingly good flick
david-hinman-111 June 2008
I had never seen nor heard of this movie, though it was made in the year of my birth. Typical of many westerns of that era, with some stolen themes, mostly from 'Shane', such as the subtle interest between the stranger and his new friends stay at home wife, and the brewing battle that you just knew the stranger would reluctantly join, it still had many twists and turns that were not given away. Egen was likable, but could have used a little more character development. However, his quiet acting approach mostly seemed to work well with the movie, and there was just enough action to let you know that this gunman knew his trade, and make you eagerly await the next show down. Dorothy Malone was fine, but she looked like she had spent all day at the beach, and was ready for a night out. She could have looked a little more 'frontierish'. The most interesting part of the movie was the friendship between our hero, and the gunman sent to kill him, a great touch. The music was very haunting throughout, and added to make this movie a hidden gem. Very enjoyable movie.
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Lots of tension amongst these honest ranchers and black-hearted sidewinders...
moonspinner556 June 2008
Frank Gruber's novel "Bitter Sage" becomes highly-engrossing western from R.K.O. Richard Egan (amusingly expressionless, and cutting a mighty figure in his cowboy garb) plays a gunslinger whose best friend turns on him, ending with the friend shot dead; hoping to escape his reputation as a coward, Egan's Wes Tancred first goes to stay with a lonesome rancher and his son (ending in a rather unfair violent episode), later winding up in a town under the fear-grip of a nasty bunch of rowdies who invade the territory every so often during their cattle drive. Combining several familiar scenarios (such as those for "High Noon" and "Shane"), the movie nevertheless gets quite a bit of sagebrush excitement pumping, with the viewer completely on Egan's side (if this film didn't break handsome Egan as a big Hollywood name, it should have). Billy Chapin (from "The Night of the Hunter") is excellent as the lad who takes a shine to Tancred, and Dorothy Malone is also good as a lonely sheriff's wife. Eddy Arnold hauntingly sings the theme song, which plays a major part in the proceedings. Predictable, perhaps, but it's a formula that works when it is done right, and here it is done right. *** from ****
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Almost a top Table
FilmFlaneur6 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
TENSION AT TABLE ROCK is a underrated Western starring the taciturn and fleshy Richard Egan as Wes Tancred, a man thought by society to have shot his best friend in the back (an event celebrated by an ubiquitous ballad through much of the film). The song of course is incorrect, as the audience knows full well from watching the opening scenes. But such miscomprehension is central to a film frequently concerned with people being what they are not, or at the least not what they are expected to be. Just as Tancred is not the "black-hearted, white-livered, backbitin' sidewinder" murderer as the infamous lyrics say, so Sheriff Miller (Camron Mitchell) is no longer the fearless lawman he was after his beating; his wife Lorna (Dorothy Malone)is no floozy as the audience initially suspects; and even the gunfighter Jim Brek, finally brought in to dispatch the lawman turns out to be an affable enough, if still dangerous, fellow.

Malone's casting as Lorna is on one level ideal; the actress made such a success as an unstable nymphomaniac in Sirk's marvellous WRITTEN ON THE WIND made the same year, and in that light it's the unaccustomed restraint between her character, wife of a weak male and the strong Tancred (who clearly is infatuated with her) which is one of TABLE ROCK's more interesting elements. Having said that, an early appearance by Angie Dickinson in the film, 3 years before her memorable role in RIO BRAVO makes one wonder what she would have brought to the main female part.

In one of the film's key scenes, Miller returns home early to overhear his wife treating Tancred's head flesh wound - a moment of relative intimacy, ripe for a liaison, but which never materialises. (In a quietly Freudian moment he moves Tancred's hat off the back of the door revealing a peg beneath). As she says to her patient admiringly: "You're really the man Jody thinks you are" Miller reflects upon his own shortcomings. The irony is, of course, that Tancred is in fact really a man that *nobody* thinks he is, and someone who can only be be admired, loved and respected without a damaging reputation in place. From this perspective the film can be seen as the interesting antithesis to such works as Ford's THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, where one is invited to believe the legend of the West, and not the truth.

Charles Marque Warren's direction is up to the job, although it is buoyed considerably by a fine score by Dmitri Tiomkin - another reason why the film should be better known. It may be that Warren (who made a number of Westerns, and co-wrote the fine DAY OF THE EVIL GUN) is ripe for reappraisal. Cameron Mitchell is also good in his difficult role which would probably have suited a slightly older actor. Egan's performance is subdued but fairly subtle as he plays a man who internalises a lot of his moral decisions, and this is surely one of his best works. The young Jody is played by Billy Chapin who made such an impression in NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, but at times here his experience, largely among older, more violent males, recalls the world of TV's THE RIFLEMAN notably during his early scenes with Tancred and his natural father. It's these moments too, set as they are in a Fargo way station, a world threatened by the arrival of thugs with their own agenda, which might reflect the narrative influence of the celebrated Randolph Scott cycle made with Budd Boetticher, made around this time.

Trivia note: the film contains characters called Kirk and Scotty, while DeForrest Kelley (Brek) played McCoy in Star Trek.
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Similarities with "Shane"
thirsch-211 June 2006
"Tension" has quite a few similarities with "Shane." In fact, you could call "Tension" Shane Lite or Shane Jr.

Here are some similarities: Proficient gunman shows up. He has good heart it appears. He rescues boy then helps family. Wife seems to take liking to him, like Alan Ladd to Jean Arthur. Husband is a little confused & weak. Hired killer comes into town but gunman kills him. Then rides off.

Whereas "Shane" was very well paced and held your attention, "Tension" is very slow and boring at times.

The gunman really isn't very interesting, nor is the family.

On the whole, I'd give "Tension" 3 stars out of 10.
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A must see 50's western
zorg195218 August 2005
This movie has all the ingredients most Western fans love in their films: gunfights, love triangles, bad guys & a quiet, suffering & misunderstood hero working out his private travails by helping a beleaguered sheriff deal with his own demons. All with a rousing Dimitri Tiomkin score that has a memorable ballad at its core. We've seen these ingredients before in many other Westerns but in this film they seem to work.

Richard Egan non-acting style work perfectly here & the supporting cast boasts small but vivid parts for Angie Dickenson as the siren that starts Egan's private struggle & Deforest Kelly as a smiling, friendly gunslinger. I've seen this film a number of times & surprisingly the film still works.
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Interesting, entertaining and forgotten western.
Warning: Spoilers
This western has an interesting story, probably inspired in the famous song about Jesse James where the killer of Jesse is referred to as "the dirty little coward that killed Mr. Howard". Here Wes Tancred (Richard Egan) kills a famous outlaw in self defense but the story that comes out is that he shot him on the back and a ballad telling this version becomes famous. Tancred has to change his name and he ends up in a town where there is a scared sheriff (Cameron Mitchell) and his wife (Dorothy Malone). Mitchell only stays on the job because he needs the money but his big problem is when a group of cowboys come to town, which is very good for the saloon owner but a nightmare for the rest of the town. What goes wrong in this film is the casting of Richard Egan. Egan is a competent actor, but it is not easy to play a western hero. The best example of that is in the meeting of Egan with DeForest Kelley. Kelley is excellent as the gunfighter and Egan has a poor body image compared to him. In spite of that, this is an interesting, entertaining, forgotten western that should be released on DVD.
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Mama don't let your babies grow up to be cowboys
helpless_dancer30 July 2002
Good western featuring a reticent gunslinger and a lawman who has lost his nerve who must go up against a group of thugs who want to let off steam in their town. Egan was well cast as the gunman who was short on talk and long on slinging lead when the chips were down.
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Great Title, Good Film
Eric Chapman10 February 2001
Not to be confused with "Bad Day At Black Rock", but just about as good especially considering it was made when RKO was really struggling. It's deliberately paced and quite absorbing with fine performances from Richard Egan (a lumbering, mostly humorless actor who nevertheless had dramatic weight) as a guilt-ridden gunman, and Cameron Mitchell as a physically and emotionally scarred sheriff who wrestles with his cowardice. (I'd even go so far as saying Mitchell gives a great performance - he does some real interesting things with the character.) The highlights for me were the courtroom scene, where Egan gives a moving little speech on how a man is through when he deceives himself (it's a real turning point for both characters) and a showdown at the end that plays out in an understated but completely satisfying way. I also liked the psychological intimidation tactic of the cattle drivers mimicking in unison the footsteps of various townspeople as they walk along. The one real flaw would have to be the way the same cattle drivers are so antagonistic towards the folks in town. Rowdy and reckless, sure, but their hostility seems unmotivated and certainly counter-intuitive.
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Better than average Western with a good cast and story.
Slim-425 November 1998
Warning: Spoilers
This is a better than average telling of the trail herd vs. the town story. A legendary gunfighter(played by Richard Egan) hiding from his past drifts into a town about to be visited by a trail herd. The sheriff (played by Cameron Mitchell) has more than his share of troubles with the town council, a local saloon owner and his pretty wife (played by Dorothy Malone). The ending is predictable with the gunfighter confronting his past, shooting a gunfighter hired to kill the sheriff and saving the town.

Although the usual cliches are plentiful, the movie is well photographed and colorful. The script is well above average and there is much more going on plot-wise than usual. The acting is top notch. DeForest Kelly is memorable in a small role as a gunman hired by the saloon owner to kill the sheriff. There is also an excellent Dimitri Tiomkin score which reflects nicely the psychological undercurrents of the gunfighter's past.

This movie is well worth the time.
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Tense western with a fine supporting cast
bux6 November 1998
As a director, Warren(Little Big Horn,1951) was either very hot or cold. He's hot here. The tension rises as the town braces for the insurgence of rowdy, often deadly cattlemen and copes with a sheriff who doubts his courage. Egan is superb as the man who has killed a blood-thirsty outlaw, now turned legend. There is enough action on hand to satisfy all and a rousing score by Dimitri Tiomken. One of the good ones.
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