The veteran Civil War Yankee officer Yellowleg saves the cheater Turk in a card game, and together with the gunslinger Billy Keplinger, they ride together to Gila City with the intention of heisting a bank. Yellowleg has a war scar on the head from a man that tried to scalp him and he has been on the trail of his attacker for five years. When bandits rob a store, Yellowleg shoots at the outlaws and accidentally kills the son of the cabaret dancer Kit Tilden and the grieving woman decides to bury her son in the Apache country Siringo, where her husband is also buried. Yellowleg calls Billy and Turk to escort Kitty through the dangerous land. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Turk talks about creating a "Republic of Freedonia". While most people are aware that this is the name of a fictional country in the film Duck Soup, 'Freedonian' was a term used in the USA after the American Revolution until it was replaced by 'American'. See more »
It's strange - I feel I know better than any man I've ever known, yet I hardly know you at all.
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For fans of Sam Peckinpah, there's little to recognize of the legendary director in his first movie. Yes, it's a western featuring a morally compromised protagonist (Brian Keith), and Chill Wills plays the first of many bat-guano crazies in the Peckinpah canon. But there's a lot that's different.
Maureen O'Hara stars as a woman who loses her son in a bank robbery gone awry. Keith plays a guy named "Yellowleg", the Union Civil War vet who shot the boy and tries to help her bury him while working in some revenge on the side. There's some shooting and horseback riding, too, but Peckinpah's hard-edged humanism and iconic visual sensibility have yet to arrive.
Keith is the guy more in command of this film. "I hear they got a new bank and an old marshall over at Gila City," is the way Yellowleg frames his outlaw pitch to Turkey (Wills) and Billy (Steve Cochran) at the start of the film. Tough but sly, Yellowleg asserts his authority without the slightest sign of strain.
"You givin' the orders now?" Billy asks him.
"Looks that way, don't it?" is the reply.
O'Hara is more of a problem. Her character, Kit, wants to bury her boy in a ghost town deep in Apache country, and could care less about the danger to herself or others. O'Hara frequently played stubborn characters, but few as unrelievedly serious as Kit. Her manner grates as the film goes on and she seems more put out by the idea Yellowleg might not think she was married to the boy's father than the fact her boy is dead.
It's possible O'Hara's performance suffered from a lack of communication with her director. It's said that the producer, O'Hara's brother Charles B. Fitzsimons, forbade Peckinpah to talk to her on set, then fired the director before editing began. This could account for the fact her scenes never gel with the rest of the film.
I'm reluctant to judge the film too much by its look and feel. The version I saw, part of the "Maureen O'Hara Collection" put out by St. Clair, seems to be a pan-and-scan lifted from a TV print and was possibly edited for commercials. Certainly the film jumps around a lot.
Some blame must fall on either Peckinpah or Fitzsimons. The score is both mediocre and idiotic, soft mariachi music playing while Billy assaults Kit or a lame rendition of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" playing whenever Turkey goes off on one of his rants about creating his own republic complete with "slave Indians". At one point we are asked to believe Yellowleg walking into a camp of sleeping Apaches to steal a horse without getting caught.
Keith reveals himself here as a worthy lead. He worked with Peckinpah on TV shows and would have been an excellent talent for the director on screen. His loss was Warren Oates' gain. You do get the great Strother Martin as one of Peckinpah's few-ever positive religious figures, turning a bar room into a "preach house" and telling Yellowleg and company to take their hats off to the Lord. Moments like that lift the film from being the muddy genre exercise it otherwise is.
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