In this little Western, the bad guy doesn’t announce his presence by kicking a little boy’s dog . . . he shoots the critter! And in the opening scene! Chalk it up to inexperience from the debuting producer, director & writer, working the old standby plot of a powerful rancher running the bad side of town and now trying to run new settlers off the territory. Robert Mitchum, with NIGHT OF THE HUNTER out the same month, plays an itinerant ‘town tamer,’ a sort of temp sheriff, paid to clean up violent towns with deadly force. He’d really stopped off to ask his ex (Jan Sterling) about their 5-yr-old daughter. But if you’re the right man, at the right place, at the right time; might as well get the job done . . . right. Director/co-scripter Richard Wilson, long-time Orson Welles associate on his first solo flight, doesn’t give himself much to work with until the third act when the town saloon catches fire and he sets up a complicated fugal shoot-out. If only he had the technical chops to make it sizzle, or to get more from his supporting cast. (Though an unexpected treat’s on hand in young Angie Dickinson, fine, dandy & uncredited.) Worth a look for Lee Garmes’ gorgeous, textured cinematography, with frames within frames, shot thru various layers of screens, curtains & veils for a range of grain densities, often within a single composition. Less successful, Alex North’s ill-suited score. Something newbie producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr. should have taken care of; along with the poor dog. (Note better title on our Brit Poster.)
DOUBLE-BILL: Mitchum’s has many strong Westerns from his early years. Nifty programmers like NEVADA/’44; psychologically tortured in PURSUED/’47; with a literary slant in THE RED PONY/’49; or as musical as RACHEL AND THE STRANGER’48. But try Robert Wise’s BLOOD ON THE MOON/’48 (not seen here) for another Cattlemen vs Homesteaders tale.
ATTENTION MUST BE PAID: This looks like one more film from early WideScreen days shot in Academy Ratio (1..37:1) but probably cropped a bit (to 1.66:1?) for a theatrical run. Kino Lorber’s DVD is anamorphic, unstretching to 1.85:1, and making the framing look noticeably tight.