In the small frontier mining town of Warlock, rancher Abe McQuown's gang of cowboy cutthroats terrorize the peaceful community, humiliating the town's legitimate deputy Sheriff and running him out of town. Helpless and in need of protection, the townsfolk hire the renowned town tamer Clay Blaisdell, as unofficial Marshal, to bring law and order to the town. Clay arrives with his good friend and backup Tom Morgan. The two men stand up to the ranch gang and quiet the town. Johnny Gannon, a former member of the ranch gang is bothered by the gang's actions, reforms and takes on the deputy Sherrif job while his brother remains part of the gang. The addition of the official lawman to the mix further complicate matters, leading to an inevitable clash of the cowboys, the townsfolk, the gunslingers and the law.Written by
Henry Fonda would go on in 1973 to play gunfighter Jack Beauregard, a gunfighter with a reputation for cleaning up crime in the spaghetti western comedy My Name Is Nobody (1973) (English title My Name is Nobody). See more »
When Blaisedell and Morgan are about to ride into Warlock, they stop to overlook the town from a hilltop. The transition from the foreground with the actors, to the animated background matte painting of the town is quite noticeable, as the foreground moves slightly. See more »
tight, layered, well acted, well filmed Western that rises just a little above the rest
Director Edward Dmytryk is one of those dependable Golden Age mainstays who is pulling off tightly made movies even this late in the game. After many archetypal movies, often just short of greatness, he is still putting on a good game with first rate camera-work (Joe MacDonald) and top shelf actors (Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, and Richard Widmark, all in major roles). And so this is actually a strong, complex movie.
It helps that the plot, even though apparently another retread of Western clichés, is complex and well balanced. That the bad guys are partly very good and vice versa is exactly what the genre needs, and it is filmed so gorgeously--the night and interior stuff especially--it has a feeling of total command. It's a strong if still conventional film, a true Western in the best Anthony Mann sense rather than John Ford.
The plot is too complex to even analyze quickly, but a couple key elements play out. First, Fonda and Quinn play hired marshals who come into towns overwhelmed by some bad guys. They are hired for their ruthlessness because the town has no choice, but when they get to work, the town begins to doubt itself. And then there are all the secret past events that seem to converge here, almost too perfectly, but creating a layered and sometimes confusing backstory that gradually moves front and center.
All three male actors are in top form--I'll assume it's because the whole lot of them were consummate professionals there to get a job done well. While this was made years after the official end of the old studio system, it still is made (on location) with the same general factory ethic--tight production standards, familiar genres, efficient entertainment. It works, and it works better than it should. Certainly not a classic like "High Noon" or "Stagecoach," but a solid entry even for people who think they don't like westerns.
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