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Gunslinger Jacob Wade finds his long-abandoned son Riley, now a young man who hates his father but has nowhere else to go. Hoping to settle down, Jacob finds no town will have him. They end at Monolith, the ranch of Jacob's former girlfriend Ada, to whom he had no intention of returning. A mustang hunt finds Riley himself attracted to the shapely Ada...and Jacob having trouble with his eyesight. And his visions of a quiet life are doomed by the re-appearance of enemies from his past... Written by
Rod Crawford <email@example.com>
The Lonely Man is directed by Henry Levin and written by Harry Essex and Robert Smith. It stars Jack Palance, Anthony Perkins, Elaine Aiken, Neville Brand, Robert Middleton, Elisha Cook Jr. and Claude Akins. It's a VistaVision production with cinematography by Lionel Lindon, music scored by Van Cleave and the title track sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Trying to leave his gun slinging days behind him, Jacob Wade (Palance) tries desperately to bond with his son Riley (Perkins) who blames him for his Mother's death.
From the outset as Tennessee Ernie Ford warbles a soft ballad over the opening credits, you know that we are in for a Western sorrowful in tone, and so it proves. I confess it's a film I hadn't really heard of before and kind of stumbled upon it by accident. It certainly seems to be under seen, while judging by the lack of written critique's for it, most probably forgotten by those who viewed it many years ago.
It's a film with problems, there is no getting away from that, but for the Western fan who has a bent for films like Shane, The Gunfighter and Unforgiven (and it is no way in the same league as these pictures) it has narrative rewards. There is very little action here, a couple of horse pursuits (though these are very well filmed and are exciting) and a short gunfight are about as thrilling as it gets, because this is very much a character study and smiles are very much in short supply. Story follows father and estranged son forming an uneasy alliance as Jacob tries to set Riley up for the future, truths will out along the way and Jacob's past is coming back to haunt him. There's a girl in the middle, naturally, and health will also come into play.
Filmed out of the Sierra Mountains, Lone Pine and the Mojave Desert, the back drops are excellent. Lionel Lindon's black and white photography is a real asset to the picture in how it captures the mournful mood of the story. While for the finale we move into noir territory as Levin and Lindon darken the skies and bring the atmospheric shadows, and this is something that perfectly cloaks what unfolds in the story. The support cast is like a whose who of Western character actors: Elisha Cook Jr., Neville Brand, Claude Akins, Lee Van Cleef, Denver Pyle, Harry Shannon and John Douchette, all of whom owe the Western fan nothing. But here lies one of the film's major problems
With a dialogue heavy picture such as this, we reasonably expect good characterisations, unfortunately we just don't get that. Palance is basically required to just look tough and emote when faced with Perkins' whiny barbs. Oh they are good at being emotive and whiny respectively, but the screenplay just doesn't ask anything of them, with some interesting threads dangled but never expanded upon. Aiken is stock female fodder, and again she plays a character that just exists since the interesting possibilities are not explored. Then there's the number of characters played by those wonderful Western actors that just drift in and out of the film with no chance to impact on proceedings. Brand does get a neat role, and shows a good mean streak whilst introducing us to some cowardly bastard tactics, but he's still under written.
The lack of depth to plotting and complexity of principal characters is such a shame, as is the uneven direction of Levin. Yet I personally was very pleased to have seen this, it has some merits in the "moody redemption" splinter of Western films. A cautious and generous 7/10 from me.
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