Starring: Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Richard Widmark
Directed by: Edward Dmytryk
Fonda plays a heartless but honourable gunslinger hired to marshal in ‘Warlock’ – a little town plagued by a gang of bandit cowboys – whilst Quinn provides support as his devoted and crippled gambling friend. Widmark is cast, as an ex-bandit come good, in the role of a Deputy Sheriff desperate to preserve law and order. This obviously becomes difficult when a hired gunslinger and a gang of rootin’ tootin’ cowboys are on either side of you.
There are numerous other sub-plots in the movie which we won’t delve into here but watch out for DeForest Kelly (Bones from Star Trek) as the bandit’s court jester, Curly.
No overly violent western by any means, much of the movie concentrates on the moral challenges faced by the individual leads (Fonda, Widmark, Quinn) and displays the upmost contempt for the lynch mob mentality possessed by the somewhat colourless inhabitants of the town under siege. As the film develops we learn the surprising truth behind Fonda’s reputation as a ‘great’ gunslinger and watch Widmark wrestle with the pains of going against his own kith and kin.
What really stands out in this movie for me is the dynamic between Fonda and Quinn. Dmytryk charts the decline of their unusual but mutually beneficial relationship superbly; against a visual backdrop of hailing thunderstorms and a fog of gunsmoke, leaving the audience with an inevitable but perhaps unexpected feeling of empathy for these two abhorrent but dependent characters.
The film is not full of the set-pieces which would come to characterise the westerns of the sixties but its focus on individual characters and the motivations for their actions is a welcome break from the run of the mill western shoot ‘em ups that we are all so familiar with. This is an adult western which is, at times, quite sad to watch . The direction is not indulgent, allowing the characters to develop without being constrained by over the top spectacular visuals.
In a nutshell if it’s a typical western you want, you probably won’t enjoy this but if you want a thought-provoking character study of the disintegration of relationships, set in the West, then it’s for you.
Unfortunately there aren’t too many westerns in this ilk, but if you want a darker Western with good performances, I’d gun for Unforgiven (1992).
hotdog rating: 8/10