Thursday, April 13, 2017



We are told that Wyoming Territory in 1867 is a magnet for "lawless hordes" drifting west; however, there are no hordes in this movie, just a small gang of bandits and a mysterious outlaw named The Poet who steals money and gold from Wells Fargo wagons and leaves short poems instead. Jim Wylie (Dennis Morgan) is a gambler who gets into a spot of trouble in Laramie, but instead of getting arrested or run out of town, a Wells Fargo agent asks him to go to Cheyenne where the Poet is supposedly headed and work undercover on exposing him. Jim takes a coach to Cheyenne with the sexy chorus girl Emily (Janis Paige) and the attractive but standoffish Ann (Jane Wyman). Along the way, their coach is beset by small-time bandits, led by Sundance (Arthur Kennedy). Ann berates Jim for not using his gun to stop the robbery, but as it turns out, Sundance and his men wind up with no money, just another note from the Poet. That night, Jim spots two men he recognizes from the gang, follows them back to Sundance's hiding place, and claims that he is the Poet. But his plan is upset a bit when he is surprised to discover Ann negotiating with Sundance on behalf of the Poet—Ann says she's The Poet's wife! She goes along with his deception for her own reasons, but who really is the Poet? And what is it he wants?

That’s about as far as I should take the plot summary because the coming plot twists are what make this worth watching. Some are predictable, some are surprising—a fairly major character is killed off halfway through—so the elements of a crime thriller tend to override the Western genre conventions. The acting is solid; Morgan, Kennedy, Paige, and Bruce Bennett, who plays a Wells Fargo inspector, are all fine. Paige is the very personification of vivacious and when she's off screen, the movie's energy level suffers a bit. Wyman is rather flat, partly perhaps due to the secrets the character is keeping, but even when all that's out of the way, her performance still feels lacking—perhaps in comparison to Paige. Alan Hale has some fun as a sheriff, and you'll recognize Barton MacLane and John Ridgely. Paige (pictured above with Morgan) gets to sing a couple of songs, and Max Steiner wrote chipper but wildly overused theme music that plays whenever we see the stagecoach on the road, which is often. This could use some judicious editing, especially in the last half-hour, but it's certainly watchable. [TCM]

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