A ruthless pirate captures the keeper of a lighthouse, in the most southern city in Argentina. His goal is obvious and horrific. He plans to control the lighthouses signals in a way that the passing ships will be crushed on the rocks.
At a Mexican ranch, fugitive O'Malley and pursuing Sheriff Stribling agree to help rancher Breckenridge drive his herd into Texas where Stribling could legally arrest O'Malley, but Breckenridge's wife complicates things.
Yet another western, though it is made watchable by a few new story angles.
Kirk Douglas had already directed the somewhat terrible Scalawag in 1973, but that previous flop did not deter him from having a second stab at the directing job a couple of years on. Fortunately, Posse is a much more accomplished film than Scalawag in every way: Douglas's own direction is more assured, the script by Christopher Knopf and William Roberts is very literate and clever, and Fred Koenekamp's cinematography has a good, professional look about it. By 1975, one would have thought that there would be little mileage left in the western genre. It seemed that nothing new could be done, but this one comes up with a fresh twist by having the "hero" gradually revealed as an unlikable and ambitious social climber.
Marshal Howard Nightingale (Douglas) publicly announces that he will bring in infamous railroad bandit Jack Strawhorn (Bruce Dern). Although Strawhorn is a criminal of considerable notoriety - and definitely a man who belongs behind bars - Nightingale has an ulterior motive for apprehending his man. For the good Marshal has decided to run for the Texan senate, and believes that if he can nail Strawhorn - painting himself as a hero into the bargain - he will win over plenty of voters. Gradually, more and more people begin to see through Nightingale's selfish and egotistical political plans. His own posse have their doubts about how they will figure in the Marshal's future schemes; a news editor named Hellman (James Stacy) expresses distrust over the Marshal's ludicrously self-important opinion of himself; even Strawhorn eventually realises what his sly adversary is up to. Ultimately, Nightingale loses his posse and his public favour, with a little clever intervention from Strawhorn, and sees his political dreams left in tatters.
The critical response to Posse was much more favourable than Douglas's previous directing attempt, and deservedly so. The western action in the film is good, solid stuff, not too violent (as was the trend in '75), but certainly tough enough to satisfy genre addicts. Douglas gives a strong performance as the absurdly self-obsessed marshal, and Dern is even better as the charismatic, even likable, bandit. The subversive nature of the plot (hero gradually turns out to be villain, villain gradually turns out to be hero) is intriguing and fairly fresh, and helps to add interest to the film. While Posse has occasional lulls, and a few noticeably amateurish performances lower down the cast list, it remains a fresh, interesting, and intriguing addition to a virtually exhausted genre.
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