The Lawless Breed (1953)
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The story begins with Hardin (Rock Hudson) being released from prison after serving 16 of 25 years for murder. He goes to the local newspaper and presents the editor with a hand written story of his life. The film then flashes back to his youth where young "Wes" is practicing his fast draw. His father, Preacher J.G. Hardin (John McIntyre) takes a whip to him, condemning his life style. Wes decides to leave home and pursue his dream of earning enough money to buy a small horse ranch for himself and his sweetheart Jane Brown (Mary Castle).
The rest of the film can be summed up with the phrase, "I never killed anyone who didn't try to kill me first". He is forced to gun down gambler Gus Handley (Michael Ansara) which brings upon him the wrath of his three brothers, Ike (Hugh O'Brian), Dirk (Lee Van Cleef) and Ben (Glenn Strange).
While trying to escape a posse, Hardin hides out with his uncle John Clements (McIntyre again) and his sons Jim (Dennis Weaver) and Joe (Richard Garland). When he returns home to fetch Jane, she is killed during his escape from the farm. Hardin takes solace in the arms of "saloon girl" Rosie (Julia Adams) whom he later marries.
Ready to surrender to the law after his planned marriage, Hardin is double-crossed and...........................................
Rock Hudson, on the verge of becoming a super star, turns in an excellent performance as the troubled Hardin. He plays the character over a 20 year period. This was one of his first starring roles. He benefited greatly from the direction of the veteran director Raoul Walsh who managed to expose his real talent for the first time.
As in most of Universal's fast paced little eighty minute color westerns, there is plenty of action and beautiful Technicolor photography. It also had the benefit of a cast of recognizable supporting players, most of whom had appeared in countless "B" westerns. In addition to those already mentioned above, Steve Darrell appears as Sheriff Jenkins, Robert Anderson as Wild Bill Hickcock, Dick Wessel, Emory Parnell and I. Stanford Jolley as various bartenders, Francis Ford (brother of John) as a saloon sweeper and George Wallace as a saloon bully.
An entertaining western.
It is based on the life of the famous Texan John Wesley Hardin. His youth was shaped by the Civil War and by his preacher father. When his father forbids him to practise shooting young Wes reckons its about time to leave home and seek his fortune. Almost immediately he kills a local gunslinger and plunges into the life of a rootin tootin cowboy, gambler and outlaw.
It has a classic opening a dignified man walking out of the prison gates, shaking hands with the warden and sniffing the air of freedom. It has an equally recognisable ending, back at the ranch to see how his wife and family have managed during the long years of incarceration.
The final scenes of the film are lovely, it won't spoil the film to say he learned from his experiences and lived a long and happy life.
There is nothing new in this film. Although it claims to be an autobiography, it is one of countless 1950's Westerns with a theme of a young man seeking adventure and finding redemption. The real strength of the movie is its star Rock Hudson, barrel chested and manly, who shoots, rides, kisses, gambles and drinks as well as any of his contemporaries. One of the baddies is a young Lee Van Cleef who easily steals scenes from his fellow wrong-doers.
It won't change your life, the way "Shane" might have done but it won't hurt you to watch it, and to remember Rock Hudson in the way he should be remembered.
Story is based around the life of outlaw John Wesley Hardin (Hudson), itself adapted from his own memoirs. It finds Hardin released from jail and recounts his life outside of the law and his time on the run. It proclaims that Hardin was very much a victim of circumstance, his life spiralling out of control after killing a man in self defence.
OK, forget the proud boast from the makers that this is a true story, this is Hollywood and its best so take in the film as a piece of entertainment only. Where, in truth, it's rather good stuff for the Western fan to gorge on. A tacked on "happy ending" aside, this is mostly interesting narratively speaking, and as a production it is always easy on the eye. Hardin's time on the run throws up a number of scenes to pump the adrenalin, letting some fine stunt work come to the fore in the process. Be it escaping from "Texas Rangers" laid traps, or well constructed horse races (Hardin was a well renowned gambler), Raoul Walsh and his team work real hard to keep this out of B movie territory.
Shot in vivid Technicolor out of Andy Jauregui and Janss Conejo ranches in California (some exteriors also filmed at Vasquez Rocks), film always feels airy, something that's not exactly at one with what should be the claustrophobic feel of an outlaw constantly on the run and looking over his shoulder. There's also a big ask of the audience to accept that Hardin is pretty much indestructible, which is OK once or twice, but more?
However, the film is ultimately about entertainment and forgiving it its irritants is not hard to do. Character interactions always remain of interest, and cast are doing more than decent work. McIntire stands out in a dual role, Hudson is stoic and Adams beguiles with her beauty and sexuality. This is one of the better productions for bringing the radiant Adams to the attention of red blooded lusters. A better pair of legs in Westerns there is not, and in one scene she induces wolf whistles and heart palpitations in equal measure. With prolific Western scorer Gershenson providing easy listening and photographer Glassberg keeping the colours rich, The Lawless Breed rounds out as a better than average viewing experience for the Western buff. 7/10
John Wesley Hardin(1853-1895), one of the most notorious of bad men in the old west was also one of the few who actually got to put his story down for posterity. The film that you see is based somewhat on some of the incidents in Hardin's life. He was not as noble a character as The Lawless Breed would have you believe, but a whole lot of things attributed to him were probably pure hokum. The dime novels of the day worked their way into the popular culture for just about every character of the old west, good and bad.
As shown here, the real John Wesley Hardin was shot in the back in a saloon after his release from prison. But the story goes that during a preview of the film, the audience reaction was so negative to seeing Rock Hudson shot down like a dirty dog that Universal felt compelled to tack on a happy ending. The film was really supposed to end with him dying on the floor of the saloon telling his son played by Race Gentry not to follow in his footsteps. What was added on was a scene with wife Julie Adams and Gentry loading the wounded Rock on the back of a buckboard and after a bit of dialog they ride off in the sunset.
So one western legend got scrapped to start the career of a movie legend. Only in Hollywood.
John McIntire has a nice dual performance as Hudson's circuit riding preacher father and as his uncle, a cattle rancher. And there was a gang of brothers that Hudson kept tangling with the entire film, the Hanleys played by such western familiars as Lee Van Cleef, Michael Ansara, Hugh O'Brian, and Glenn Strange.
It's not a bad film despite the obviously tacked on happy ending for Rock's fans. John Wesley Hardin probably would have liked how it came out.
The Lawless Breed supposedly chronicles the career of real-life outlaw John Wesley Hardin. It announces itself as the result of "new research", and just as they used to say in Police Squad, only the facts have been changed. Hardin's two love interests, the names of people he killed, the number of children he had, not to mention his general character are all completely made up. Writers William Alland and Bernard Gordon have essentially invented a fictional character and given him Hardin's name. But the point of this is not to tell it as it really happened – this is a classic Western after all. The point is to give you a picture of the Old West and a typical Western hero as posterity has remembered them.
And this is what makes it the sort of project Walsh would really get his teeth into. For Walsh, there was romance and nostalgia in the open plain. Look at how he begins the picture with rather confined shots of the town, with foreground business and buildings bordering the frame. Then when we cut to Hardin's childhood we are hit with the beauty of the wide open spaces. As opposed to the yellows and browns of your average Technicolor horse opera, this is an abundantly green West, and Walsh seems to have worked closely with cinematographer Irving Glassberg and art directors Bernard Herzbrun and Richard Riedel to bring this tone to the fore. Green here represents freedom, hope and the good life, and it either covers the screen or retreats to a distant corner as appropriate, even worked in as a reminder during indoor scenes, such as the tree outside the window when he visits Jane by night. In his monochrome pictures Walsh would often use lighting to chart the hero's rise and fall (They Died with their Boots on (1941) is a good example), and here he uses colour to the same effect. The bold greens give a warm and homely feel to Hardin's cherished dream of a farm, and whenever he drifts away from that dream we turn to stark off-whites.
In the leading role Rock Hudson is a middling success. He's just too steady and self-assured to convince as the young, hot-headed outlaw. On the other hand, he develops very well into the older and wiser Hardin, and as he would later show in Giant (1956) his forte seems to have been playing middle-aged. As is typical in a Walsh Western, the rest of the cast are an appropriately motley bunch, with no shortage of dusty faces and grizzly whiskers. Even though their performances aren't exactly outstanding, John McIntire hits the right notes in his dual role as Hardin's father and uncle, and Julie Adams is tough and unglamorous enough to portray both the saloon lass she starts out as and country wife she becomes. Also worth a mention is a young Lee Van Cleef, in one of his numerous third-baddie-on-the-left appearances before he became a big star in Italy. Although Hugh O'Brien is ostensibly the leader of the Hanley clan, it's clear Van Cleef's menacing presence was being noticed, as he is given all the most threatening lines and bits of macho business.
There's no escaping the fact however that as written The Lawless Breed is a rather lacklustre affair. The dialogue throughout is either corny or simply dull. A set-piece like Hardin continuing to play cards after being given an hour to get out of town doesn't seem able to decide whether it is being played for tension or for laughs. And yet there is a precious handful of moments which Walsh has been able to stage with pure and compelling visuals, such as the confrontation with the Hanleys on a windswept street or the ageing hero's bittersweet return to his home and family, and these are absolutely stunning. And such is Walsh's devotion to the feel of the picture even the most boring of scenes looks nice and fits in with the tone of the whole piece. The story may be a poorly-written rough-shod ride over the truth, but in its imagery The Lawless Breed has a beauty that is engaging and sincere.
*** (out of 4)
Solid Western has John Wesley Hardin (Rock Hudson) walking out of prison and handing over a book with his life story in it. A publisher then reads the story, which starts as a young Hardin battles with his preacher father (John McIntire) and soon he's on his own and on the run from the law. If it's history you're after then you will want to stay away from this film as it turns the cold-blooded killer into a misunderstood, nice guy and the film even goes as far as to change a real-life ending (apparently test screenings didn't like the truth). With that said, if it's entertainment you're after then this here is a real gem as we get to see the young Hudson in his first top-billed performance. It was smart for Universal to surround him with some great character actors but to also put a veteran like Walsh on the film. We're dealt a pretty typical story in terms of Westerns but Walsh brings some nice style to the production and certainly keeps it moving a lot better than it deserves. One of the best moments in the film happens early on as Hardin is about to get in a shoot out with a large gust of wind blows dust all over the place making it hard to see what's going to happen. This was a wonderful little sequence as was the made up ending. What really keeps the film moving are some wonderful performances by the star-studded cast. Hudson is terrific in the lead role and you can view this and see why he would become a major star. The character has some dark moments, which the actor captures just fine but the sweet side is where Hudson really shines. He really does make this a complete character and makes Hardin someone to care for. Julie Adams plays the woman he eventually marries and does a nice job even though she doesn't have much to do. The Hanley family are the ones Hardin does battle with early on and we have Lee Van Cleef, Glenn Strange and Hugh O'Brian playing the brothers. McIntire, Forrest Lewis and Richard Garland also turn in fine performances. We even get a young Dennis Weaver in a small role. Once again, those who are wanting a history lesson are going to hate this film due to have many facts it twists and turns but either way, the movie is solid entertainment that has enough going for it to make it worth seeing.
A young woman, Jane Brown, was an orphan, so was raised by the Hardins. She and John hoped to marry soon. However, she is accidentally killed in a gun battle outside the Hardin home. So, John soon develops a romantic relationship with a saloon entertainer: Rosie(Julie Adams) They move around quite a bit to avoid the law, before settling down on a ranch, where they get married and have a boy before John is caught by Texas Rangers. He's sentenced to 25 years in prison, of which he served only 17. When released, he meets his son, who has an unhealthy interest in guns and quick draws, the elder Hardin thinks. After an argument, young John rides to a saloon, with Hardin following him. An argument ensues and Hardin is badly wounded. But, unlike the real Hardin, he survives his wound to ride off into the sunset.
For a time, Hardin has a bad relationship with the Hanley brothers, played by Lee Van Cleef(Dirk), Hugh O'Brian(Ike) and Glen Strange(Ben). Uncle John and his boys help Hardin in several scrapes with these men.
In the film, Hardin claims he never shot a man who didn't threaten him first or deserve death. It's very doubtful this was true of the real Hardin, who once killed a man for snoring too loud(Well, he was quite drunk, as he apparently often was during his killings). For all his killing, his punishment was very light, only a long prison sentence. It's a wonder nobody shot him down long before it finally happened. This film makes him look like more of a victim than a perpetrator of gunplay, and probably overemphasizes his prowess as a gambler.
"The Lawless Breed" is loosely based on the life of Western outlaw John Wesley Hardin. I'm no expert, but the way he's portrayed here makes him out to be a somewhat misunderstood hero, all the while attempting to stay one step ahead of the law. Even in this picture, the number of his self-defense victims seemed to challenge the law of averages, and it's probably safe to say that the real Hardin, with over forty dead men to his credit, probably killed a few of them under questionable circumstances.
Rock Hudson, who I generally wouldn't call to mind as a Western movie hero, comports himself well enough in the film's lead role. However his age and matinée good looks probably work against the picture's credibility, as the character he was portraying was supposed to be only about twenty years old at the beginning of the story. Likewise, he seemed to get over Jane Brown's (Mary Castle) death rather quickly, conveniently having saloon gal Rosie (Julie Adams) to run off with when the heat was on.
At least the picture had some of the high points of the historical Hardin's life correct. In 1874, he killed Deputy Sheriff Charlie Webb in Comanche, Texas. Using the alias John Swain, he did open a grocery store, but in Gainesville, Florida, not Polland, Alabama. For Hardin, it was a quick line of work, as he was recognized on the very first day his store was open by a couple of cattlemen.
As the movie depicts, he was captured by the Texas Rangers, spent time in Huntsville Prison, and was pardoned after roughly fifteen years. However he used his prison time to study law, and actually became a lawyer upon release. His practice floundered though, prompting him to write his autobiography. On August 9th, 1895, John Wesley Hardin was shot by a lawman with a grudge, an event the film makers wouldn't put Rock Hudson through with his leading man charisma and future star potential.
The only real minus is that near the end, it begins to slow down a bit, ending with a so-so climax. The first hour or so makes it definitely worth watching though.
Rock Hudson is quite likable in one of his first starring vehicles and leading lady (number two) Julie Adams is quite stunning. One thing I'll never quite understand is why Adams never became a bigger star.
The story itself is unexceptional and cheaply produced, never getting beyond LA area locations. Indeed, this may be the only Western where the indoors is more compelling to look at than the outdoors. The movie does come up with a bunch of up-and-coming supporting players, like Van Cleef, Weaver, Ansara—too bad they don't get more screen time. Then too, McIntire's unusual dual role, both with Old Testament beards, had me confused until I consulted IMDb. I expect there's a backstory to this duplicate casting.
Producer Alland went from here to producing some of the most entertaining sci-fi of the decade— e.g. It Came from Outer Space (1953), Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). I'm just sorry he didn't insist here on sticking with the original ending (thanks, reviewer bkoganbing). A happy ending may have pleased audiences of the time, but the original would have been more memorable.
The film has some fine moments, notably the scene where Rock Hudson shoots Lee Van Cleef down amid a wind storm.
The events are quite predictable and the film becomes eventually formulaic. Veteran Raoul Walsh shows his craftsmanship solving scenes with great economy and pace.
Hudson is less obscure than many of the heroes of his films, and that makes me think what kind of picture this could have been with a less likable actor.
"The Lawless Breed" opens at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas, as an older, but wiser John Wesley Hardin (Rock Hudson of "Bend of the River") leaves jail Sentenced to 25 years, Hardin has been paroled after 16 years. Before he climbs aboard a train to take him back to Alabama and his horse breeding ranch, Hardin stops off at the local newspaper office. He gives the editor a copy of his handwritten autobiography and asks him to read it and get back to him. Consequently, "The Lawless Breed" reverts from a chronological sequence of events to a flashback and remains that way for most of its 83 minutes.
During the first half, we learn that John Wesley is a reckless boy who doesn't get along with his preacher of a father that loves to wield a bullwhip on his son. Wes Hardin's father was a preacher and a circuit rider. According to Wes, his father "was a strong, God-fearing man who carried his Bible like a six-gun and fought with the devil wherever he found him." When his intolerant father discovers that his son has purchased a revolver from his winnings at poker, he whips him and then storms out of the barn. An orphan who lost her family during the Civil War, Jane Brown (Mary Castle) has been living with the Hardins and cooking for them. Wes and she grew up together and he calls her as "the prettiest girl in Texas." Wes promises Jane that he wants to get a place of their own with green grass, water that runs all year around and a white painted house.
Later that evening, after curfew, Wes rides into Bonham to sell his law books after his father has given him a whipping. He sits in on a card game with three fellows, among them Gus Hanley, and beats them. Gus objects that he didn't deal him a certain card. Gus (Michael Ansara of "Soldiers Three") pulls his pistol, but Wes beats him on the draw and kills him. Holding the shotgun-toting barkeeper at bay, Wes exits with his winnings. No sooner does he leave the saloon than he runs into trouble from the army of occupation. The Yankee troops try to corner him in town, but he eludes them. Gus' three brothers, Ben (Glenn Stranger of "House of Frankenstein"), Ike (Hugh O'Brien of "Red Ball Express"), and Dirk (Lee Van Cleef of "High Noon") show up to claim Gus' corpse. The U.S. Army vows to bring John Wesley to trial. Dirk steps forward and warns the army officer. "Mister, you ain't going' to need no witnesses," Dirk stipulates," 'cause there ain't going to be no trial." After he escapes from Bonham, Wes rides out to his Uncle John's ranch. John Clements is half brother to John Wesley's father. Wes joins Clements and his sons Jim (Dennis Weaver of "Gunsmoke") and Joe (Richard Garland) on a cattle drive to Abilene. The Hanleys Brothers trail Wes to Abilene and Wes kills Dirk in a gunfight. Walsh stages this brief shoot-out in a way bolsters the drama because the wind is blowing hard and objects attached to the surrounding buildings are making a lot of noise. Afterward, Wes resumes gambling in the saloon while he awaits the completion of a wedding dress for Jane. Wild Bill Hickok (Robert Anderson of "High School Hellcats") gets the drop on Wes, but Wes outfoxes the legendary lawman and Hickok allows him to stay in town for an hour.
An hour later, Wes pulls out and returns to his father's ranch. Jane refuses to elope with Wes because she has promised Wes' father that he will marry them. Wes' father refuses to marry them until Wes is cleared of killing the Hanleys. The Army is pulling out and J.C. Hardin calls on a judge to clear things up. Wes agrees to turn himself in, but Ike prods a lawman, Sheriff Charlie Webb (George Eldredge of "Dead Reckoning"), into arresting Wes. When Wes resists arrest, Webb shoots him in the back. Wes kills him and Ike Hanley and heads back to his father's ranch. Jane refuses to have anything to do with Wes because he is a killer. The posse shows up at the Hardin ranch. The wounded Wes manages to escape but one of the posse kills Jane by accident. Hardin and his new girlfriend settle in Alabama under assumed names and live peacefully until certain Texans decide that Hardin must be found at any cost and incarcerated. Hardin receives a 25-year sentence, but the governor releases him after 16 years.
Presumably, Universal Studios didn't give "The Lawless Breed" a big budget because there are no major set-pieces. The narrative plays out in saloons, ranches, and on the trail, but there aren't any sprawling scenes of carnage, etc. Formulaic pretty much summarizes the narrative. John Wesley is presented as a man wronged for a murder that he did not commit. His youthful vigor got him into later trouble and somebody in his life important to him died when a posse attacked his home.
Here are its good points:
- Old reliable John McIntyre ("Winchester '73) plays a dual role.
- That's it for positives
Here are the bad points:
- I didn't buy Rock Hudson in the role of Western hero for one second.
- Implausible that Hardin was framed for every killing he committed. The guy was a saint, apparently.
- Story is paint by numbers
- Backlot Western. Locations are all San Fernando Valley.
- Typical secular agenda Hollywood Christian bashing
- No Indian or Mexican references.
- No comic relief