During the Rif War in Morocco, the French Foreign Legion's outpost of Tarfa is threatened by Khalif Hussein's tribes but Sergeant Mike Kincaid devises a plan of survival until the arrival of French reinforcements.
While passing through the town of Bannock, a bunch of drunken, trail-weary cattlemen go overboard with their celebrating and accidentally kill an old man with a stray shot. They return home to Sabbath unaware of his death. Bannock lawman Jered Maddox later arrives there to arrest everyone involved on a charge of murder. Sabbath is run by land baron Vince Bronson, a benevolent despot, who, upon hearing of the death, offers restitution for the incident. Maddox, however, will not compromise even though small ranchers like Vern Adams are not in a position to desert their responsibilities for a long and protracted trial. Sabbath's marshal, Cotton Ryan, is an aging lawman whose tough reputation rests on a single incident that occurred years before. Ryan admits to being only a shadow of what he once was and incapable of stopping Maddox. Maddox confides to Ryan that Bannock's judicial system is weak and corrupt, and while he's doubtful that anyone he brings back will suffer more than the ... Written by
According to the hotel ledger, Maddox checks in on Friday, May 13, 1887. See more »
When Maddox (Burt Lancaster) shoots the horse out from under Vernon Adams (Robert Duvall), the man who is thrown from the falling horse has a full head of hair, and is clearly a stunt double. Robert Duvall was totally bald on top in this movie. The stuntman even tries to hide the fact by placing his hand right on top of his head as he comes up, but the full head of hair is still visible. See more »
Sabbath Marshal Cotton Ryan:
It's a great life. If you were some cheap gunsel with a big name running out in front of you, they'd all be buying you drinks... rubbing up against you... fixing up what they're going to tell their kids and the ones who weren't there. But if you're a lawman, you're a disease. They need you, but they hate you.
Bannock Marshal Jared Maddox:
It comes with the job.
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It's crazy the way some films get labeled "brilliant" while others get ignored just because of bad timing or poor studio backing or any # of things.
I'm not a fan of Westerns. I don't consider this a Western. I consider it a wonderfully written, directed, and acted work of art.
Gerald Wilson's script, and its interpretation by the three leads, is so skillful that it functions almost as a poem on the themes of "man," "animal," "law," and euphemism.
Micheal Winner's direction is beyond good. Every cut--early on he uses many overlays, then as the film builds he uses jarring smash cuts--is breathtaking in its thoughtfulness and thematic effect. And he knows when to lay off the music. An eerily quiet early showdown scene with Burt Lancaster, Albert Salmi, and Richard Jordan (with Robert Ryan in the background) is probably the most creative and effective such scene I've ever witnessed, Leone notwithstanding.
Then there's the acting. Lancaster is THE great underrated American actor, and it's because so many of his best performances came after he'd turned 50. I truly think this is his best. He says so much with his eyes, and especially with a tiny flutter or break in his voice. The range he achieves within this supposedly rigid character is phenomenal. From the knockout first scene between him and Ryan, to the touching scenes between him and Sheree North--you'll never see a sadder face than his when North gets out of the bed--to the scene by the river with Jordan, he creates a full character simply by being a great actor. No gimmicks or wackiness. He just out-acts anyone on the screen today.
Ryan equals Burt's performance. This is the best of the ten or so Ryan performances I've seen. Like Lancaster as he aged, Ryan is unafraid to play an aging, weakening character. Seeing him come to life briefly when he takes on a "Bronson man" is thrilling.
Lee J. Cobb has less to do but does a heck of a lot with it. The supporting actors are, to a person, superb. But special kudos must go to Richard Jordan.
This is a film that challenges the macho stereotype and finds it wanting. Lancaster's character offers a complex alternative. An absolute must-see. Tremendous script, unparalleled acting, superb directing. Oh, and the locations are just breathtaking. It's criminal that there's no true widescreen of Lawman available. Anyway, SEE IT.
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