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The town of Warlock is plagued by a gang of thugs, leading the inhabitants to hire Clay Blaisdell, a famous gunman, to act as marshal. When Blaisdell appears, he is accompanied by his friend Tom Morgan, a club-footed gambler who is unusually protective of Blaisdell's life and reputation. However, Johnny Gannon, one of the thugs who has reformed, volunteered to accept the post of official sheriff in rivalry to Blaisdell; and a woman arrives in town accusing Blaisdell and Morgan of having murdered her fiance. The stage is set for a complex set of moral and personal conflicts. Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
At around 1:12:20, Fonda is made to draw his gun, when he goes to put it back in the holster, he clearly misses the holster and gets it right on the second try. As a gunfighter he was obviously better at getting his gun out of the holster than putting it back. See more »
Warlock is a little mining town in the Wild West. Local heavies from San Pablo are terrorising the citizens of Warlock, and the movie starts with the sheriff being run out of town. The citizens' committee decides to hire the notorious Clay Blaisdell to reimpose order.
Ethical positions are relative in the strange little world of Warlock. The citizens are willing to give Blaisdell free rein when it comes to cleaning up the town, even though his methods are famously ruthless, and his 'package' includes installing himself and his partner Tom Morgan in the saloon with their travelling casino. Blaisdell intends to earn a rake-off as the faro dealer. He will also collect $400 per month as the 'marshall', even though Warlock has no town charter and does not qualify for a marshall.
Blaisdell is himself a man of deep moral equivocation. Henry Fonda plays him as an emotionless killer who paradoxically forms deep personal attachments - first to Morgan, then later to Jessie Marlow (Dolores Michaels). He crusades to rid western towns of their bad guys, but does so on a strictly commercial basis. Blaisdell knows that the citizens' hero-worship will turn in time to resentment, and he and Morgan will have to move on to the next beleaguered town.
Morgan, too, is a man of profound contradictions. The cynical casino owner has little regard for the human race, but adores Blaisdell, "the only person ... who looked at me and didn't see a cripple." Morgan is Blaisdell's partner in the law-and-order campaign, and yet there is a strong suggestion that Lily is a whore and Morgan her pimp. The relationship between Blaisdell and Morgan has a definite homoerotic tinge, and when Blaisdell takes up with Jessie, Morgan behaves like a jealous lover. Eventually, he even gives up the will to live.
"Warlock" is an idiosyncratic film with its own look, its own terminology and a curious plot. The quaint high street with its rutted red clay is quite unlike standard western towns. When the characters talk of 'road agents', they mean stagecoach hijackers. 'Backshooters' are men who shoot others in the back. In the mean moral climate of Warlock, backshooters are everywhere. McEwan never sets up a confrontation without putting his backshooters in place, and Blaisdell's answer to the San Pablo boys is to cover their backshooters with backshooters of his own.
Richard Widmark plays Johnny Gannon, the San Pablo man who throws his lot in with the people of Warlock. Johnny is the measure of the town's growing maturity. If the people are prepared to back Johnny against the bad men, there will be no need for hired guns such as Blaisdell. The judge warns Johnny that his status as the town's totem will single him out for trouble - "You're a target, a symbol, and they must come after you." And so it transpires.
Changes of clothing signify changes of heart. Once Johnny decides to embrace the law, he doffs his denim jacket and starts wearing fancy duds. When Clay transfers his allegiance from Morgan to Jessie, he discards the silk waistcoats which are Morgan's 'uniform'.
"Star Trek" fans will spot DeForest Kelly ("Bones") in the role of Curly, the sarcastic joker of the San Pablo gang. We quickly form the view that Curly is not as brutal as the others, and this is borne out when the shooting starts in earnest.
The film has two climaxes. First, Johnny has to face down McEwan and his men, and then there has to be a reckoning with Blaisdell. This eccentric film manages to contrive an unexpected ending.
In a strong cast, Fonda and Quinn stand out as the ill-matched friends
the cold killer and the emotional gambler.
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