The familiar plot explores the problem of a mature man, ready to settle down after an outlaw youth, but the justice system won't let him. In some films, such as "The Tall Men" and "The Bend in the River", the man is able to escape the reach of the law and presumably accomplish his transformation. In others, such as this, he is doomed to die trying.
Fugitive badman Wes McQueen(Joel McCrea) and feisty tomboyish femme fatal Colorado(Virginia Mayo) have high hopes of 'busting out' of his past baggage and making a new start together as ranchers in Mexico, hopefully out of reach of pursuing US lawmen. But, McQueen is contracted to lead one last train heist as a condition of help in his Missouri jail break, and to provide start up money for their future. This puts him on the radar as the #1 western badman, leading to the quick demise of both. Yep, it's presented as a tragic too late love story. McQueen seems like too nice a guy in most ways to fit his outlaw side. Clearly, Colorado is fatally infatuated by his combination of dangerousness and decency. Yep, he's her man and she will follow him to the grave.
Although officially a remake of "High Sierra" in a western setting, McQueen seems loosely modeled on Jesse James, who reputedly was planning to give up his outlaw ways after one more robbery, when he was assassinated by a gang member. It also repeats some key features of the previous "Duel in the Sun". It lacks any substantial musical or humorous elements, being a hard-driving drama and love story. The photography is excellent, much of it in darkened settings, in crisp B&W. In addition to the canyonland settings, the train robbery sequence was done with the Durango-Silverton railway in the SW Colorado mountains. It supposedly takes place when Colorado was a territory, from 1861-76.
This is yet another western where the leading man(dare I claim hero?) gets involved with 2 new beautiful single women: one conventionally prim, often newly arrived from the East, and the other a 'bad' flamboyant extraordinary beauty. Probably, in most films, the leading man(who often has a tainted past himself) eventually ends up with the 'good' girl. In Anthony Man's "The Far Country", clearly the 'bad' woman is made for Jeff, but she dies defending him in a gun battle. Hence, he is left with the 'good' girl, whom he considers too young and naive. In the present film, the choice is made more complicated by the reversal of the characterization of the two women during the film. Thus, when Julie(Dorothy Malone) learns that the tall handsome man who earlier saved her from a stagecoach bandit holdup is actually a notorious escaped convict with a $20,000. reward for his capture, she tries to open the door and tell the posse that McQueen is inside, so she can collect the reward.(Jesse James's capture topped out at only $10,000. during the same era!). A cat fight ensues, as Colorado tries to keep her from informing the posse. Previous to this, Colorado expertly extracted a bullet lodged in McQueen's shoulder with doctor's tweezer's, as if she had performed many such operations(?), cauterizing the wound by lighting a bit of gunpowder!. Yes, this is a historically legitimate procedure, but has to be done expertly for a good result! Obviously, from this point on, Colorado is the woman McQueen can trust to back him up.
Like Tracy, in "Harry Tracy, Desperado", McQueen tells his girl that he now has to go it alone, knowing that he will resist recapture to the death. Once McQueen is trapped by the posse in what clearly looks like the spectacular Canyon de Chelly(AZ)(which they ominously dub 'The Canyon of Death'), it's pretty obvious he's not coming out alive, especially since he can hold his rifle with only one arm. Unlike Tracy's girl, Colorado feels she must die taking a measure of revenge on the posse.
Before they split, McQueen gives Colorado essentially all the stolen money. She stuffs some in the offering box in the old Spanish mission and hides the rest nearby, before praying at the alter. Presumably, this is what the friar meant in the closing scene when he said this backwater village was renewed by this happy couple who passed through. The posse has no idea where to look for the money, and the friars probably won't find the major part for some time.
Although his past says he's a habitual desperado, McQueen comes across as one of the few characters we can trust, along with Julie's father(played by perennial scene stealer Henry Hull) and Colorado. Julie, McQueen's other partners in the holdup: Reno and Duke, as well as associates Pluthner and Wallace, clearly are untrustworthy backstabbers.
Viginia Mayo is winsome as the knockout fancy-free badman's moll, with cat-like gleaming eyes. She would revisit her passionate tomboy persona in the later excellent Raoul Walsh western "Along the Great Divide", where she has another meaty role in trying to save her father from a lynching or court-ordered hanging as an alleged murderer, as well as rustler.
5 out of 5 found this helpful.
Was this review helpful? Sign in to vote.