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Texas Ranger Jake Cutter arrests gambler Paul Regret, but soon finds himself teamed with his prisoner in an undercover effort to defeat a band of renegade arms merchants and thieves known as Comancheros. Written by
Jim Beaver <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Pretty Good John Wayne Vehicle for John Wayne Fans
This is an entertaining John Wayne movie, with a good cast. It may not rank right up there with the great John Ford westerns and other films The Duke was in, it nevertheless presents the essence of John Wayne during this phase of his career (call it "mid-career"), and actually foreshadows the John Wayne we would see for the rest and remainder of his career. This is a high quality, well-made film --probably a testament Michael Curtiz's directing-- and the quality of the film, and its obvious production values, are evident throughout. One way this shows itself is, although the movie was made in 1961, it really seems and feels like a much newer movie, made 5 or even 10 years later than it was. I don't know what to attribute that quality to other than simply it being a well-made film.
In a way the movie is three movies, consisting of three separate but connected story arcs, any or each of which could have been beefed up and expanded into movies unto themselves. The story is thusly layered with complexity, which keeps it all interestingly moving along apace, never bogging down. It is also however the source of the movie's only real flaw. And that flaw is, as other reviewers have noted, the movie's presentation of a dubious and flawed historical chronology. And it isn't just little anachronisms like repeating rifles out of time. There is a complete confusion of historical eras and historical settings. Even though the story is set in 1843, its time seems to vacillate throughout, in one arc staying true to the story it is or purports to be, a story set in the antebellum south, but then jumping in another arc to a story appearing to be more similar to the further-western and decades later Indian wars, circa the 1870s. It seems as if there was lot of trouble deciding which of those two kinds of stories the movie was telling, a story about events in the antebellum south or a shoot-em-up story of the western Indian wars. It is likely a problem of scriptwriting, having had numerous "treatments" or rewrites by more than one writer, and those seams show. My guess is ultimately director Michael Curtiz and producer George Sherman must have decided that the typical ticket-buyers for this movie would be fans of John Wayne westerns, and that target audience would not be comprised of history majors or even history buffs, or be ones to get hung up on historical details, so they just let the historical flaws slip through.
There is one unintentionally funny moment in the movie. About mid-way through, watch for the blood-curdling scream by the bed-ridden lady (Joan O'Brien?) at the outpost when she looks out the window and sees the supposed Indian raiders crossing the river. It is truly a classic and world-class movie scream. I wonder how many takes that took.
One of the movie's three story arcs features Lee Marvin. This is a pre-Cat Ballou, pre-Dirty Dozen Lee Marvin who at this point in his career wasn't really yet a bigtime Hollywood household name, at least not like he would later become. Marvin turns in a marvelous over-the-top performance as a gun-dealing rapscallion, in my opinion flat-out stealing every scene he's in. That's no small feat, considering in all of his scenes he was playing directly off against John Wayne, who almost fades into the woodwork in the comparison. Actually Wayne sublimates himself quite well. He knew how to be a team player, and the chemisrty between Wayne and Marvin is good. Unfortunately this story arc is really nothing much more than a side-story than anything else, so Marvin's role is quite limited. Too bad. I would've liked to have seen a lot more of Marvin in this film. It would have been a better movie for it.
Lee Marvin, John Wayne and Marvin appeared together again two years later in John Ford's Donovan's Reef, with Marvin again playing a lesser role.
This movie pops up regularly on the Encore Westerns channel. I've seen it there about 5 times over the last 6 months. Watch for it.
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