The Iron Sheriff (1957) Poster

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Not much of a Western, but a pretty good whodunit
JimB-429 June 2008
I'll watch anything with Sterling Hayden in it, even the stuff he isn't so good in and the terrible stuff that he's the best thing in, just because when he's good he's wonderful and because he's one of my great heroes, not in the movies, but in life. I expected The Iron Sheriff to be one of the many less than good little pictures Hayden did during the mid-Fifties. As a Western, that's just what it is -- less than good. Cheap look, cheap sets, cheap costumes, poor action sequences (what little there are of them). In a world where Lonesome Dove and Deadwood exist, this is the kind of Western it's really hard to sit through. Except: it's actually got a pretty good plot angle, and the way it works out is interesting and believable (for the most part). It's much more of a murder mystery than a Western, perhaps no surprise coming from the pen of longtime Perry Mason writer Seeleg Lester. Hayden is the titular sheriff, dead set on proving his son innocent of murder. But the more he looks, the more evidence he finds of his son's guilt. Ultimately he has to face the age-old dilemma, choosing between love and honor. The film works out the story well and fairly satisfyingly, plot-wise, though the film-making is nothing to write home about. The script and some performances by people I normally don't care for much in movies (and whom I reevaluated after this) -- people like Mort Mills and Constance Ford -- make this one far more interesting and worth catching than I'd expected. It's one of Hayden's least impressive jobs, no matter how much I admire him. But the picture is sort of okay. Especially if you like a good detective story.
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Follow that silver dollar‏.
Spikeopath4 August 2013
The Iron Sheriff is directed by Sidney Salkow and written by Seeleg Lester. It stars Sterling Hayden, Constance Ford, John Dehner and Kent Taylor. Music is by Emil Newman and cinematography by Kenneth Peach.

As his son languishes in jail charged with the robbery and murder of a stagecoach driver, Sheriff Sam Galt (Hayden), in spite of the evidence suggesting otherwise, tries to prove his son's innocence whilst adhering to his duty to the law.

A compact black and white Western that is more about dialogue and character interactions than it is about action. Essentially a detective mystery, film puts Hayden's world weary lawman front and center as he battles family loyalty and that of his official duty and integrity. He's pretty much on his own in this town since almost everyone believes his son to be guilty, whilst simultaneously the town questions his ability to be Sheriff while under such duress. The suspects are many to keep the mystery element strong, the court case is well staged (John Dehner excellent), the following of a silver dollar clue is neatly written and the big reveal is a genuine surprise.

It's not big on production value and it certainly isn't one for the action seekers, but it's well thought out and Hayden fans get a good turn from him as his character finds himself emotionally conflicted. 7/10
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Not your standard oater
whitec-36 September 2009
Iron Sheriff differs from most oaters or horse operas that feature wordless passages like long horse chases or showdowns performed under melodramatic music. I was reminded of western paperbacks I'd read in youth that, unlike those broad western film formulas, turned out to be thickly populated with characters with ambiguities, tics, or backstories. Instead of the films' standard linear revenge narrative, these novels' plots often involved confusion, discovery, and makeshift alliances. Correspondingly, this film's often-short scenes cut quickly to other settings and scenes.

Other posters are right that Iron Sheriff resembles a mystery--it uses a standard mystery-genre technique by introducing the actual culprit early and briefly but in the midst of distracting action, multiple characters, and a changing scene. Other posters are also correct that the extensive supporting cast is a prime attraction--another testament to the stable of talent developed by the late studio system.

Title actor Sterling Hayden looks great as ever but moves through the script on cruise control. After I identified the Sheriff's son Benjie as Darryl Hickman, elder brother of Dwayne Hickman of Dobie Gillis, my wife one-upped by identifying Kathi Nolan, the actress playing Benjie's girlfriend, as the future Kate McCoy, who would clang the triangle to summon The Real McCoys to dinner. Another treat is John Dehner, who dignified everything he appeared in.
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Surprising Culprit
bkoganbing23 August 2009
The Iron Sheriff manages to combine both western and noir elements in its making. It also is a pretty good courtroom drama.

The title role of The Iron Sheriff is played by Sterling Hayden and as you can gather he's one strict enforcer of the law. That includes arresting his son Darryl Hickman who's been identified as the perpetrator of a stage holdup where the driver was killed. Hickman's been identified by a dying I. Stanford Jolley as the perpetrator, but Jolley has it in for Hickman because he's been getting too serious with his daughter Kathleen Nolan. With all the evidence against him, still Sterling Hayden goes on a quest to find the real culprit, especially after some exculpatory evidence is found.

There's a town full of suspects and each has their own agenda for or against the sheriff, something like the divided public opinion in High Noon in Hadleyville as far as sheriff Gary Cooper was concerned. The Iron Sheriff also is a much better telling of the same kind of story that was told in the John Wayne film Cahill, US Marshall. The Duke in his movie was bound by the parameters of his image and Sterling Hayden did not have that problem.

This western has some pretty good courtroom scenes with Judge Will Wright, prosecutor Frank Ferguson, and defense attorney John Dehner who may have turned in the best performance in the film. I have to confess that I was surprised at who the culprit eventually turned out to be.

If it's run again on TCM try to catch it.
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"Iron" Shouldn't Mean Lifeless
dougdoepke21 July 2008
Westerns were all over the screen both big and little in 1957. Maybe that's why Sterling Hayden looks terminally bored as the "iron" sheriff. Too bad, because the script keeps us guessing-- who really did kill the stage driver. (Stage drivers are always getting killed in Westerns. But, more importantly, in most scripts they just amount to expendable story props. Nice to see some actual concern here.) Anyway, the screenplay (Seeleg Lester) shrewdly manages to stay one jump ahead of us in the guessing game.There's also real fire-power in the supporting cast. A lot of familiar faces of the time, from the always cranky Will Wright (the judge) to shabby aristocrat John Dehner (the kid's attorney) to professional hayseed Frank Ferguson (the other attorney), while even the young lovers manage not to cloy. There's even a Broadway actress, the formidable Constance Ford who mostly gets to stand around.

Okay, with these promising elements why did my rating service give the movie a one-and-a-half out of four, while I would give it a two. Well, there is Hayden who just can't seem to get interested in the story-line. I counted his changes of expression, but after an hour, stopped at two. Most of all, is director Sidney Salkow. He must have come cheap since there's little evidence he cares about building the suspense of the who-dunnit, or even getting the actors to move around when they speak their lines. It's sort of like a slow-motion result, always deadly for an action genre like the Western. Anyway, the movie was a payday for a lot of veteran performers, and a different kind of story-line, especially if you want to take up the cause of the lowly stage driver.
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Some kind of thriller western
I was a bit disappointed when I discovered this feature. I expected more action. But It is no bad after all. A flat, somewhere oater western, with lots pf talk, trial, funny dialogue, and an inexpressive Sterling Hayden as ever.

But it seems to be a rare western.

Do not look for gunfights, violence or Indians in this one.

I must admit that Sidney Salkow used to show us more better action films such as Sitting Bull or Blood on the Arrow; I don't mention his pirates or other adventure movies.

In short, a unusual western that deserves to be seen.
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Interesting and a Bit Different…Detective Story in the Old West
LeonLouisRicci23 May 2015
A Detective/Courtroom Drama set in the Old West with Sterling Hayden Leading the Proceedings on a Mission to Discover the Real Killer. His Son has been Accused of Robbing a Stage and Shooting the Driver. He is in Jail and On Trial when the Movie Begins and the Running Time is Spent on Uncovering what really happened.

Most B-Westerns aren't as Talky or Concerned with Sleuthing, but this one sure is. A pretty Good Cast of Familiar TV Faces and John Dehner Standing Out as the Boy's Attorney. There are Numerous Town Folks who are Suspect and the Movie is Different enough to Warrant Attention.

Things Twist and Turn quite a bit and there are Riding and Gunplay in the End with Hayden the Sheriff Almost Losing It. Certainly Worth a Watch for its Unique Take on Standard Western Movie Stuff and the Game Cast and Story are Interestingly Off Beat.
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one silver dollar...
dbdumonteil14 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers in Marilyn's song in "river of no return",plays a prominent part in the plot.

When the movie begins,essential events already happened ;the sheriff's son is accused of murder.As the trial begins,the distraught father has to set out to prove he is not guilty .We suspect several men ,in this whodunit à la Agatha Christie disguised as a western ;the lead is a silver dollar,which was taken from the stolen money.

Only the last sequences -which are quite derivative- have something to do with true western spirit.All that remains is Hayden's investigation ,and the trial ,during which witnesses give their own view of the facts.The defendant's girlfriend's father reveals something to the sheriff but he can't reveal his secret until...

SPOILER: a good trick which Christie ,Ellery Queen or Conan Doyle would not disown:the hope chest or the "trousseau" as French would say.

like this?Try this...

"time without pity" Joseph Losey,1956
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Guilty until proved innocent.
mark.waltz15 March 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A good cast provides this moody western with some interesting dark elements. Sheriff Sterling Hayden is certain that his son, Darryl Hickman, is guilty of murder and must prove his innocence before he faces the hangman's noose. The whispered confession of a dying man seems to tighten that noose, but holes in the death statement (as well as the plot) seem to dissolve all the proof. Hickman, in love with the dead man's daughter (Kathleen Nolan) seems to be a motive of revenge, but Hickman's possession of a gold coin seems to seal his fate. Nolan's caretaker (Constance Ford) aids Hayden, whom she loves, in helping find the real killer, but a jealous journalist (Kent Taylor) stands in the way of justice, hoping to win Ford for himself.

Not terrible B western from the last year of B westerns has an interesting and dark edged performance by Hayden and a rare leading lady in Constance Ford, two years before her legendarily mommy dearest part in "A Summer Place" and a decade before she started her 25 year role as tough but loving mother Ada Davis (etc.) part on "Another World". Familiar character actors like John Dehner and Frank Ferguson are among those supporting players rounding out the cast. The ending is not at all surprising, and pretty much concludes with a wimper rather than the bang I wished for.
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Great detective plot makes this movie a pleasure
chipe8 September 2017
This is a must-see Western if only because of the great, intricate, surprise detective- story plot. It was terrific to see Sterling piece together bits of evidence, going from one suspect and plot revelation to the next.

The cast was certainly good, filled with well-known character actors of the time. Yet the film lacked in action and direction. Sterling seemed bored and expressionless. Still the plot made up for everything.

One unimportant thing in the film seemed unnecessary, bothered me and threw me off: John Dehner, who did his usual swell performance, played the important role of Sterling's son's defense attorney, and he was drinking liquor throughout the movie. I was afraid he'd get drunk and ruin the defense, but nothing came of it.
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"Why would a dying man lie?"
classicsoncall29 January 2017
Warning: Spoilers
A mystery element drives this old time Western, with Sterling Hayden front and center as the Iron Sheriff of the title. His son's (Darryl Hickman) been accused of murdering a stage coach driver who was robbed of newly minted 1891 silver dollar coins. What bothered me a little about the set up was how little faith the town had in their long time lawman to do the right thing, even if it was his son waiting for trial and possibly facing a hangman's noose. You would think the citizens would cut him a break and let him go about investigating the case in an honorable way.

The surprising thing about the story was how each new revelation about the robbery and murder led to yet another fact that kept tripping up an open and shut case. John Dehner did a pretty credible job as the defense attorney for young Bengie Galt (Hickman), and would have won the case early if the sheriff hadn't toughed it out with his honesty and dedication to the badge. Which made it seem out of character for him to go off in search of the real killer (O.J., take note), so hell bent for leather that he would gun the man down without giving him a chance. I had a pretty good idea Sam would do the right thing in the end, but gee, did he really have to pistol whip and hogtie the Marshal (Walter Sande)?

I'm still thinking about that silver dollar and how it made it's way to Bengie, but that's not the biggest question mark of the story. What do you suppose ever happened with Jackson Gallagher (Peter Miller), the guy who robbed Chinaman Charley Key (Sammee Tong)? Seems like he got away scott-free!
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Undistinguished B Western
Robert J. Maxwell23 August 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Sterling Hayden is the sheriff of a small Western town in South Dakota. A stagecoach is held up and the driver killed, and Hayden's son, Darryl Hickman, is arrested on the accounts of a couple of witnesses, some of them a little shaky. The boy is convicted and sentenced to hang. Hayden has one day to track down the real killer -- unless Hickman actually DID do the crime. Of course Hickman DIDN'T commit either the robbery or the killing. This isn't that kind of movie.

Instead, it's rather more of a mystery than a traditional Western. We don't see the hold up and killing. And we see only an exchange of shots during the climactic scene in which nobody is hit.

One can imagine the writer, Seeleg Lester, putting together a treatment of a noirish urban mystery about a police detective whose son is arrested. The resultant hurried investigation takes him through the darker parts of the city and bumps him into a couple of queer, louche characters.

Then somebody said, oh, hell, it's 1957 and noirs are on their last legs, whereas Westerns are flourishing both on the screen and on television. Let's turn it into a cheap Western.

Q.E.D. There's nothing about the film that isn't perfectly routine. The wardrobe is generic -- string ties, vests, and so on. Make up doesn't even nod in a period direction. The haircuts are echt-1950s, and the men's chins are so close shaven that not a hint of a whisker appears. The photography is functional but sometimes careless. Hickman's jail cell seems to be lighted from floor level. The performers hit their marks and repeat their lines. When Sterling Hayden tries to look mad with rage, his eyes widen slightly. When an actor puts some effort into a physical scene the overacting is outlandish, as if in a silent movie by Cecil B. DeMille. The best performances come from seasoned character actors like Will Wright. John Dehner is outstanding as one of the principals, an expensive lawyer whose character is more complex than anyone else's.

What can I say? If you like shoddy and undemanding Westerns, you'll enjoy this one. The main plot has some tension and it's not insulting in any way. There are times when one aches for mindlessness.
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Talky, confusing and lifeless...
MartinHafer27 February 2010
Sterling Hayden plays a sheriff in the West whose son is accused to holding up the stage and murdering the driver. So many facts seem to point to this being true but what makes it so tough is that the sheriff needs to testify against his own kid! However, despite this, he spends his time trying to prove that, perhaps, this is still a mistake and some other person is actually responsible.

I watched this movie for one reason--Sterling Hayden. He was an amazingly talented and underrated actor who managed to bring a lot of toughness and realism to the parts he played--why he's pretty much forgotten today is beyond me. I am not just talking about his roles in bigger films like "The Asphalt Jungle", "The Killing" or "Dr. Strangelove"--but even his appearances in seemingly smaller films where he managed to make ordinary material seem extraordinary. However, this is a rare case where no matter the talents of Hayden, the film was a lifeless mess--thanks to a confusing and overly wordy script. It should have been a lot better and they should have trusted the actors to have been able to make the film work without all the needless twists and turns.
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