In 1873, on the Gold Trail, Montana, the mysterious and controlling Dr. Joseph Frail arrives in the small town of Skull Creek with miners in a gold rush. Dr. Frail buys a cabin on the top of a hill and he sees the smalltime thief Rune wounded and chased by a mob that wants to hang him. Dr. Frail helps and heals Rune; but in return, he demands that the young man becomes his bond servant. The alcoholic healer and preacher George Grubb tells to the locals that Dr. Frail, who is an excellent gambler and gunfighter, is a devil and has a mysterious past but nobody gives attention to his words. Soon the stagecoach is robbed by thieves that kill the passengers but the coachman survives and three days later he reaches Skull Creek. He tells that the horses had speed down the hill with a young woman inside the stagecoach. The men organize a pursuit and the rude Frenchy Plante finds the Swedish Elizabeth Mahler burnt and blind. Dr. Frail and Rune take care of her and they learn that Elizabeth and... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Prior to the doctor attending to Elizabeth, he rolls his left sleeve up once and then the same sleeve again in the next shot. See more »
Must you always look at a woman like that?
Don't a partner have some right, hanh? don't he ever get a free look? I suppose you gotta get a doctor to get that, hunh? I suppose if you was a doctor, then you could get an eyeful, hanh?
[She slaps him]
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If I could sling a gun like Doc here, I'd be the biggest man in Montana Territory.
The Hanging Tree is directed by Delmer Daves and adapted to screenplay by Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles from a story written by Dorothy M. Johnson. It stars Gary Cooper, Maria Schell, Karl Malden, Ben Piazza and George C. Scott. A Technicolor production, film was shot on location at the Oak Creek Wildlife Area, Yakima, Washington, with Ted D. McCord on cinematography duties, and Max Steiner scores the music.
The Gold Trail, Montana 1878. Joseph Frail (Cooper), Doctor, Gambler and Gunslinger, arrives in the Gold mining town of Skull Creek looking to settle down and make a living. However, his past haunts him and after medically aiding Rune (Piazza) and Elizabeth Mahler (Schell), subsequently changing their lives, Frail finds this town and its people are less than enamoured with his presence.
Slow but compelling, The Hanging Tree has a unique feel to it on account of its interesting location setting, the Gold Rush backdrop and the multi stranded characters that form the story. Not given much support at the box office on its release, it's a film that has gained a cult following over the years and it's now often referred to as an intelligent Western. The performances are smart, from a very good cast, and the story manages to steer away from conventional Western movie pitfalls. But what marks it out as a must see for Western fans is the work of Daves (and Malden who stepped in while the director was hospitalised with ulcers), where the expansive scenery is utilised for both authentic impact on the narrative, and also for the emotional conditioning of the characters.
Personally I think it falls some way short of the great intelligent and psychological Westerns crafted by Boetticher and Mann. Yes there are complexities to the characters, but the script doesn't quite dig deep enough into them, which is particularly galling as regards Cooper's portrayal of Frail (an appropriate name given Coop's ailing health at the time). It's credit to Cooper that he still manages to bring the viewer into his pained world, helping to make the impact of the finale far better than it had any right to be if taken as written on the page. But it still rounds out as a thoroughly absorbing picture, one that's beautifully shot and scored with gusto by Steiner. Lovely hummable title song from Marty Robbins as well. 7/10
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