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Friday, June 7, 2013

THE BEST OF THE BADMEN (1951)

The title sounds like a clip compilation: Great Bad Guys of the Old West!! But there’s really a pretty decent story here with Robert Ryan as a straight-arrow army officer who becomes a reluctant outlaw when he shoots a paid provocateur to keep the peace after he’s received his discharge papers. Robert Preston is the venal bounty hunter behind the violence and the story’s loose cannon is Preston's vengeful wife, Claire Trevor. She shows up to help Ryan make his escape as these two join up with the Confederate Sympathizers (ex-Quantrill Raiders) who were the cause of the original complaint. And that's how Ryan goes off-the-ranch to work with these villains, taking down Preston’s security firm by robbing banks that are under his security company’s protection. Hey!, that’s a dandy storyline; and Ryan’s dandy playing Man-In-The-Middle. Too bad nobody’s got the budget or the movie-making chops to pull it off. (Where’s Anthony Mann or Budd Boetticher when you need ‘em?) There’s a decent cast as the Younger Brothers & the James Boys (Walter Brennan, Bruce Cabot, Lawrence Tierney), and the unrefined TechniColor comes up sharp & clear. But they sure cut some narrative corners before making an abrupt finish.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Nearly a decade after his debut in Howard Hughes’ infamous ‘camp’ Western, THE OUTLAW/’43, Jack Beutel finally returns to the screen as Bob Younger, still playing 'the kid,' now with an unrequited crush on a rather mature Claire Trevor. Eight years back, Jane Russell’s cleavage kept OUTLAW off the screen for three years, but Beutel’s unrequited crush was directed toward . . . Walter Huston’s Doc Holliday. No kiddin’. And THE OUTLAW is such a spectacularly inept (and downright odd) film that it’s hard to tell if this was Hughes’ intention. In any event, the idle decade had taken the lean sheen off Beutel’s pretty-boy looks. He’s charming, but his career never recovered.

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