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Three Violent People (1956)
Most underrated western?
I consider this movie to be one of the greatest westerns I have ever seen (which means one of the best westerns out of more than hundred of the most interesting and important movies in the genre)! Some people seem to think that it is a rather ordinary western about people fighting for land - but it is definitely primarily a film about three characters who has been having rather rough lives and who, in the course of the movie, all get a chance to get things back together.
The interest of the movie simply is whether they will succeed in this. The three characters are played by Anne Baxter, Charlton Heston and Tom Tryon and, in my opinion, they all put on a fantastic show. First and foremost, though, Anne Baxter. It is definitely her movie - although she gets tough competition by Gilbert Roland in a fantastic role as Charlton Heston's Mexican "grand vaquero". In my humble opinion Anne Baxter and Gilbert Roland simply creates two of the most memorable characters in the history of the western genre!! The scene where Charlton Heston brings Anne Baxter to his ranch and she is greeted by the Gilbert Roland and his sons is hilariously funny and deeply moving and is a great example of the virtues of this great off-beat western.
The Violent Men (1955)
Incredibly cool - but not very deep
Glenn Ford is a former cavalry captain, John Parrish, who has settled down temporarily in a valley to recover from his war-wounds. He has promised to go back East with his girlfriend when he has recovered.
When the story opens, he is on his way to the doctor. On the street he almost gets run over by a gang of badies - the hired hands from the Anchor-ranch led by Lew Wilkinson (Edward G. Robinson). Lew wants to own the entire valley and has for many years been using very ruthless means to achieve this goal. This way of doing things has got him crippled, though, and he is now set on doing things a little more gentle. His crippled physics and his new softness - comparatively speaking - has made his wife, Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) despise him. In fact, she never really loved him but his brother Cole - but Lew was the successful one so her ambition led her to choose him. After Lew's accident she has manipulated him to bring back Cole to help them run the Anchor-ranch. Without Lew's knowing Martha and Cole resumes their old relationship and runs the Anchor-ranch as ruthlessly as Lew ever did.
One of Cole's most important "tools" in running Anchor is his right hand, Wade Matlock - a very brutal gunman. It's Wade and other hired hands from Anchor that gallops down the main street as we meet John Parrish on his way to the doctor. As expected, the doctor tells Parrish that he is now completely recovered and wishes him a happy honeymoon-trip to the East. When the doctor learns that Parrish is going away for good and that he intents to sell his ranch to Wilkinson, he gets very disappointed. He thinks Parrish should stay and help the farmers of the valley resist the dominance of Anchor. Parrish reply is the classic "hardened loner"-one: "What happens in this valley is no concern of mine!" and we know that we are in for yet another version of western-formula.
Sure enough: when Parrish gets back on the street he arrives just in time to see the friendly - and righteous - old sheriff being gunned down by Wade Matlock when he tries to stop Matlock and the rest of the Anchor-men from harassing a farmer who has been complaining about the low price Wilkinson paid him for his farm. Watching this event without interfering gives Parrish greats qualms about selling his place to Wilkinson - and he tells his fiancé Caroline (May wynn) and her family so. This upsets Caroline a lot as she is *very* eager to leave the town. In fact, a little later Caroline tries to brush off another suitor by saying that he will never be able to take her out of town - to which he replies: "What do you want? A man or a railroad ticket?". Thus we learn that Caroline is a pretty ruthless girl who does not have any qualms about using other people as means to reach her goals. We are never told why she wants to get out so badly but it is made very obvious that her reasons are severely selfish - and this makes her *very* different from Grace Kelly's character in "High Noon". "I want to get out of here - and nothing is going to stop me" she says - and persuades Parrish to sell to Wilkinson after all. This earns Parrish the utter contempt of the other farmers in the valley. Of course, Parrish is not one to bother about what other people thinks of him - so he goes to see Wilkinson about the deal. To his surprise this also earns him the scorn of Wilkinsons daughter, Judith (Dianne Forster). She is well aware of what is going on between her mother and Cole and how they run the Anchor-ranch. Parrish gets a very low offer for his ranch and 24 hours to think about it - indicating that he will be forced to sell when the time is up.
Nonetheless, Parrish is still determined to keep his promise to Caroline - until he learns of the brutal killing by the Anchor-people of one of his loyal men. When it becomes obvious that the new sheriff is controlled by the Anchor and nothings is going to be done about the murder, Parrish decides to take up the fight. The rest of the movie shows us how he does that using the skills he learned in the army. This "cleverness-against-force"-theme is played out with great force and is probably what will attract modern viewers most about the movie.
Of course, the theme of ruthless people using other people to reach their goals will also be very familiar to modern viewers - but this is certainly one of this movies greatest problems: although played by great actors such as Edward G. Robinson and Barbara Stanwyck the ruthless characters are all highly unconvincing. Just as in - say - "Dynasty" or "Dallas" (or other soap-operas) they are two-dimensional people used to propel a lot of action. It's all incredibly smoothly done with lots of great vistas and absolutely wonderful score by Max Steiner - but the emotional conflicts in this movie is not very likely to engage anyone. It's an action-flick disguised as a morality-play.
Still, it is probably one of the best Glenn Ford-westerns - perhaps only surpassed by 3:10 to Yuma.
Forty Guns (1957)
Yet another highly overrated "cult-movie"
Yet another meditation on the Wyatt Earp-myth. Sure, it's a bizarre meditation - with the Clantons replaced by "a woman whit a whip" and her forty gunmen - but that doesn't save it from being a bad movie. Mainly because of the terrible script - which is corny to the bone - but also because of terrible acting in some parts and lots of camera-movements that seems designed to attract attention to themselves rather than to the story. Furthermore, the score is probably among the most uninspired ever composed for a western.
The super-corny style of it all and the focus on a strong woman and her passionate love for a taciturn newcomer isn't even very original - it was all in Nicholas Ray's "Johnny Guitar" from 1954. The corniness of that movie also made it tough to sit through - but at least it had some very witty dialog.
Too schematic to be deep - but still entertaining
This western is obviously very original and well made. Still, on closer examination it does not appear to be very deep. On the one side are the bad guys, on the other side we have the good guy. The bad guys are the citizens of Warlock - who hire a gunman to clean up their city - and the gunman and his friend - who clean up cities for a living. The good guy is the reformed bandit who take the deputy-job when nobody else wants it. Just because he feels it right. The good guy gets his girl and wins over the bad guys: the citizens are turned into good guys who support their deputy at the final showdown and the gunman leaves town without his girl and having shot his friend dead.
The originality of this story is in the way it handles the Wyatt Earp-myth. Instead of trying to recreate a more or less "authentic" version of the events in Tombstone, it takes interesting parts and use them to create an entirely fictional story. This obviously is the way to go. Unfortunately, it seems have been done in a much too schematic way here. In spite of lots of clever dialog-writing the characters simply appears far too one-sided. Particularly underdeveloped are the romantic relationships. The "bad" girl falls for the good guy, and the "good" girl falls for the bad guy with very little explanation and in *very* short time.
The relationship between the "wyatt Earp"-character and the "Doc Halliday"-character is also oddly "underdescribed". The "Doc Halliday"-character are fond of the Wyatt Earp-character to the point of killing anyone that threatens this friendship in any way - just because the "Wyatt Earp"-character does not see him as a cripple. And what does the "Wyatt Earp"-character see in the "Doc Halliday"-character? We are given no hint of an answer and in fact the "Wyatt Earp"-character most of all wants to end the friendship and settle down with a woman. A woman he hardly knows and whom he suddenly announces that he is going to marry after a bizarrely sudden "romantic" scene. It's hard to avoid the impression that the story only gives him this romantic interest in order to be able to punish him later when he has to leave town without the girl.
Still, in spite of all this it's an entertaining and exciting movie with lots of good acting and excellent cinematography.
Winchester '73 (1950)
A fascinating but appalling western!
The visual force of this movie alone is guaranteed to make it stay with you for a long time.
On top of that the film has some very powerful acting. My current favourite is Dan Duryea as Waco Johnny Dean. He gives an overwhelmingly strong (and much more nuanced) version of a character like Lee Marvin's Liberty Valance in John Ford's film from 1962 - right down to forcing a man to serve for him dressed with an apron and forcing him to clean up when he trips him.
However, Winchester '73 suffers severely from the heavy-handed and highly moralistic writing of Borden Chase. Much has been said about the fact that James Stewarts character is at the verge of madness and some see this as a sign of complex morality. The logic seems to be that the presence of a mentally unstable hero surely must express an attempt to deconstruct the myth of the hero. However, this view overlooks the simple fact, that the extreme emotions of the hero are not first and foremost expressions of his own disposition but caused by the severity of the crime committed by the bad guy. It is true that one could imagine less extreme reactions to this crime - but that is just what makes Lin McAdam a hero: his sensitiveness and his deep moral integrity. A Western Hamlet, so to speak.
In other words, the morality of the movie is disturbingly primitive. We have a sensitive and highly moral hero on hand and an extremely slimy bad guy on the other. The effect is that the movie is a dangerously powerful endorsement of revenge.