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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 deputy sheriff in rivalry to Blaisdell; and a woman arrives in town accusing Blaisdell and Morgan of having murdered her fiancé. The stage is set for a complex set of moral and personal conflicts. Written by
David Levene <D.S.Levene@durham.ac.uk>
the post stating that Henry Fonda missing his holster is a "goof" is not correct ; the action is right out of the novel. The character, Clay, is startled by what he has just heard and fumbles with replacing his pistol in its holster. See more »
Warlock has always been a favorite western of mine. With a top flight cast of leads and familiar western supporting players and a good director who gets pluperfect performances out of his cast, Warlock is one of the best westerns made in the last half of the last century.
Richard Widmark and brother Frank Gorshin belong to an outfit called the San Pablo cowboys run by a truly malevolent man played by Tom Drake. This bunch comes into the as yet unorganized town of Warlock and just shoot the place up and behave like animals. After the harmless town barber is killed and a deputy sheriff run out of town, the city fathers look to hire their own gunslinger to stand up to these people.
Who they hire is Henry Fonda and you get a package deal there, where Fonda goes so goes Anthony Quinn and a traveling saloon. Fonda's arrival sets off a complex series of events involving changing loyalties and motives. And a couple of romances get started, Widmark with former Fonda and Quinn gal, Dorothy Malone and Fonda with the prim and proper daughter of one of the town founders, Dolores Michaels.
Warlock has always been cited by film historians as demonstrating a not so subtle homosexual relationship with Fonda and Quinn. I think a case could be made for it, but I think it's a one sided crush with the crush on Quinn's side.
Fonda's a thoroughgoing professional, he's well aware of the pitfalls of his trade and the fact it's a dying profession as civilization creeps ever so slowly westward. His scenes with Michaels have some real poignancy to them, a man who wants more than anything else to leave killing behind, but knows nothing else.
Widmark takes up the challenge for official law enforcement. Oddly enough ten years later he did a western called Death of a Gunfighter where he becomes the man on horseback that Fonda has the potential to be in Warlock.
The supporting cast has some really fine and familiar character players. You always can tell a good film when the smallest of character players give indelible performances in a film where they might not have as much scenes and/or dialog to work with. My favorite in this film is DeForest Kelley who as a San Pablo cowboy demonstrates a streak of innate decency and fair play. If he didn't gain immortality with the original Star Trek as Doctor McCoy, this might very well have been Kelley's career part.
In a good John Wayne western, Tall in the Saddle, Gabby Hayes has one of my favorite western lines about law and order when he says he's for it, but it depends who's dishing it out. In Warlock it's the who and the how of the dishing that is explored here with a lot of disturbing questions raised.
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