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Everyone figures Lou Ford, a small-town, Montana, deputy sheriff, to be a normal, good-old-boy kind of regular Joe. But no one knows about "the sickness" that drives him to kill. Written by
Keach excellent in interesting psychological drama
Based on one of Jim Thompson's best novels, this sleeper went largely unnoticed in the mid-70's despite an excellent lead performance by Stacy Keach as Lou Ford, mild-mannered Montana deputy-sheriff whom everybody in the small town of Central City likes. An upcoming election, angry miners, and a hooker on the edge of town stir up trouble within the town and Keach.
The relationship between Keach and Susan Tyrrell as the hooker is one of the more intriguing cinematic couplings, made even more so in light of their recent work as a pair of drunks in Huston's "Fat City". Their actions are anything but predictable. Western-vet Burt Kennedy handles the direction chores ably, though the film is obviously constricted by a low-budget. Location work helps, and cinematographer William Fraker captures some nice "big sky" shots. However, several other scenes are poorly lit, with one straining to find the principals in the darkness and shadows. Considering the pro background of Kennedy and Fraker, I wonder if this was a comment on the characters' dark, shadowy personalities ... Another minor complaint is the music score, which seems wrong and intrusive at times.
The film has several veteran character actors, among them Royal Dano, John Carradine (in a nice scene with Keach toward the end), John Dehner, and Keenan Wynn. Best of all though is Don Stroud as Elmer, perhaps his quintessential beer-swilling, hot-headed, good ol' boy role. He balances his character's violent tendencies with a fair degree of bawdy humor (some would seem to be improvised), and would simply walk away with the picture if it were not for Keach being so strong and interesting in the lead. Certainly worth a look for the performances and subject matter.
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