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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
This underrated 1971 western is not your standard issue good guys/bad guys John Wayne-type film; that style went out thanks to men like Peckinpah and Leone. LAWMAN stars Burt Lancatser as a hard-bitten lawman who rides from Bannock to Sabbath to bring in a group of ranchers who, in a drunken spree, had shot up his town and killed an old man. He states his goal to Sabbath's local marshal (Robert Ryan) as plain as day: "I'm gonna take these men back with me, or kill 'em where they stand."
The problem is, however, that the "good people" of Sabbath are beholden to these same group of ranchers and their leader (Lee J. Cobb), and are openly hostile to Lancaster for the most part. Lancaster, of course, is unperturbed by the hostility, dedicated as he is to finishing his job one way or another. The result is a somewhat violent but always compelling psychological western along the lines of HIGH NOON, well directed by future DEATH WISH director Michael Winner, perhaps his best film as a director.
Lancaster is, as always, extremely good in his role as the stoic and unbending lawman, but so too is the often-underrated Ryan as Sabbath's aging and pragmatic marshal who, when he sees Lancaster being openly threatened, stops being a "kick dog" and starts being the kind of marshal the West still needs. Cobb is sympathetic as the leader of the ranchers. The cast is rounded out by such top-notch performers as Robert Duvall, Richard Jordan, Albert Salmi, J.D. Cannon, Lou Frizzell, and Joseph Wiseman.
Except for an over-reliance on zooms, the cinematography by British cameraman Robert Paynter really captures the bleak scenery of the arid Southewest; the film was shot on location in and around Durango, Mexico during the summer of 1970. Jerry Fielding's score (as conducted by David Whittaker) adds to this film's starkness and occasional violence, and is sometimes influenced by jazz and even a bit of Aaron Copland in one sequence.
LAWMAN is for those western fans with a taste for suspense and psychological tension, and remains impressive to this day.
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