Wednesday, January 17, 2007


An above-average western with a detective movie slant, given A-film treatment (including lovely Technicolor) by Paramount. Alan Ladd is the title character, a railroad cop who is back in his old frontier home town on the trail of the notorious Barton brothers. In a big shoot-'em-up, Ladd guns one down, but is seriously wounded by the surviving brother (Murvyn Vye), who escapes but remains in hiding nearby. Ladd is taken care of by his old friend, railroad worker Robert Preston, and his wife, Brenda Marshall, who was an old flame of Ladd's. On the surface, Ladd's homecoming is just peachy for all, but Marshall lets Ladd know that Preston has changed since he's been friendly with shady rancher Donald Crisp. Ladd wonders how Preston can afford the recent expansion of his ranch on a railroad worker's pay, and soon we find out that Preston and Crisp are in cahoots with Vye in carrying out train lootings. When Preston is caught by the railroad boss carting away too much undamaged booty from an accident scene, he's fired; he gets his revenge (with some help from Crisp's men) by embarking on a series of nighttime derailments and thefts. Ladd lets Preston know that he knows what's going on and gives him a chance to disentangle himself from Crisp's influence, but Preston doesn't take it, sealing his fate in a final showdown. The actors are all good here; Ladd makes for a particularly laconic gunslinger, reminding me a bit of Jack Beutel in THE OUTLAW (except Ladd has more talent and personality); Preston has energy to spare as a nice guy gone bad, who seems to still have a genuine affection for his old buddy; Marshall, in one of her last starring roles before retiring at the age of 35, is good if a bit underused. A strong supporting cast includes William Demerest and Fay Holden (Andy Hardy's mom) as wise old friends of Ladd's, Will Wright as an ineffective sheriff, John Eldredge as the unlikable railroad boss, and Frank Faylen, completely unrecognizable under a grotesque blond wig as Crisp's chief (and very creepy) gunman. [TCM]

No comments: