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Tuesday, September 10, 2013

THE VIOLENT MEN (1955)

Adapted from Donald Hamilton’s novel*, this is one of those ambitious Westerns that sniffs around for Greek Tragedy, but settles for an itchy neurotic edge. Glenn Ford’s an injured Civil War vet who’s finally well enough to sell the ranch and ‘Go East’ with his fiancée. But the only guy bidding is Edward G. Robinson, a crutch-bound empire-builder who’s been forcing all the little ranchers & farmers out for chump change. Barbara Stanwyck’s his uptight, power-mad wife; and she’s been cuckolding the old man with virile brother-in-law Brian Keith, right in front of their daughter. The film stays in idle too long, laying out the crisscrossing allegiances & motivations in single-file style. But once it ditches a subplot involving Ford’s venal girlfriend, it finds its footing and builds some tension. (Too bad, she’s a nasty piece of business and the most original thing in here. But the scripters seem afraid of her.) Rudolph Maté’s helming would be a lot more effective in a sharper print, a double stampede of cattle & horses can’t hit its potential in the slightly faded visuals, but most of the action if neatly laid out. Ford uses his usual slow-burn act to reach for his character’s darker side, waiting it out until Robinson & Stanwyck get the Third Act screen time to show their true colors. Young Brian Keith is out of his league against these guys, but would soon improve. Which is more than can be said of the sub-par supporting girlfriends who’d all quickly transition to tv.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Apparently, Broderick Crawford got injured on location and Eddie G. got the rush call to replace him. A good decade too old for the role (27 yrs older than ‘kid brother’ Keith), the role probably helped him get his role in De Mille’s THE TEN COMMANDMENTS/’56 which finally pulled the liberal-leaning, art-collecting Robinson out of Hollywood's ‘Grey-List’ limbo.

DOUBLE-BILL: *The other big Western from a Donald Hamilton novel is William Wyler’s underrated THE BIG COUNTRY/’58. Wyler’s masterful use of space & airtight control of pace lose a lot without the BigScreen presentation they were designed for, but much is made up if you have a sound system decent enough to do justice to Jerome Moross’s phenomenal score. In its variety and grace, it retains an epic feeling for size, something Max Steiner's auto-pilot score strives too hard for here.

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