Sunday, February 11, 2007


An odd little western, based on a novel by Pulitzer Prize winner MacKinlay Kantor; the plot shows potential, but full development of characterization is lacking, and I'm guessing that the Production Code may have hampered things a bit. Set in 1901, the story follows a U.S. Marshal (James Craig) who is sent to Oklahoma in disguise as a hobo to investigate a train robbery in which a load of federal money was stolen. Rumors and clues point to the Goss boys (Henry Morgan and Paul Langton), seemingly friendly guys who live with their loving mother (Marjorie Main). Craig is befriended by the family when he gets in trouble with the local sherrif (Barton MacLane), a nasty and corrupt man whom the boys believe is responsible for their father's death. Donna Reed, a new girl in town working as a waitress until she can raise money to head home for Missouri, also winds up staying with the Gosses; it turns out that Main herself is trying to raise money to move back there after her Confederate husband's death left her with no resources. We know from the beginning that the boys were indeed responsible for the robbery, which they pulled to get money to give Main, and they don't feel they did anything wrong because their Pa's philosophy was, "Anything anyone can get from a Northerner is fair and square." We eventually find out that Main knows what they did, though it's not completely clear how she feels about it--some critics refer to her character as an outlaw, and she certainly agrees with her husband's thoughts about Northerners, but she also does not seem to actively encourage her boys' banditry. Craig finds solid evidence against the boys, but when they invite him to join them in another robbery, he's conflicted about what to do. His duty wins out and he arrests the boys, but they get the upper hand on him until they all discover that MacLane has shot Main. Craig and the boys work out a deal to take care of MacLane and then give themselves up. Things don't quite work out so smoothly, although ultimately Production Code justice is served, and Craig and Reed go off in the sunset together. In a somewhat modern touch, the movie's tone changes from warmhearted and comic at the beginning (scenes of Main talking to herself while she makes breakfast, and she and the boys greeting a portrait of the father as though they were saying hello to a person) to serious and grim by the end (deaths of major characters and a climactic shoot-'em-up). I would have liked more fleshing out of the characters, especially Main and Reed. Some of the names in the movie are a little strange: one of the boys (Langton) is named Violet because Main wanted a girl so badly, and the boys call Main "Mud" and "Muddie." [TCM]

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