One thing about Kirk Douglas is that he's never been afraid to let the public see him as a bad guy. It's a great tribute to his ability as an actor to develop such a wide range of characters from the heroic Spartacus to the villainous George Brougham in The List of Adrian Messenger.
Posse falls somewhere in the middle of those two films in terms of the good versus evil scale for Kirk Douglas. Politicians running on "law and order" platforms were just coming into vogue at the time and this western is spot on about those kind of politicians and the motivations behind them.
Kirk Douglas is a U.S. Marshal with political ambitions to be a United States Senator. He's got his photographer with him to record his exploits and travels on a private railroad car provided by the railroad.
He's on the trail of outlaw Jack Strawhorn, played by Bruce Dern. Before capturing Strawhorn, Douglas and his posse burn alive Dern's gang in a barn fire and then butcher another group of misfits he's put together even as they want to surrender.
What I like most about Posse is that it doesn't try to make Dern out any kind of a hero. He's an outlaw the way some people are grocers, bakers, shoemakers, etc. This may very well have been Bruce Dern's best screen role.
It turns out that Dern is a far better judge of human nature than the fatuous Douglas is. The town of Tesota, Texas where most of the action takes place is very much sadder and wiser when the film concludes.
A lot of the same themes are covered in the more acclaimed The Unforgiven with Clint Eastwood who also starred and directed himself. But I think Kirk Douglas got there first.
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