The Man From Bitter Ridge (1955)
There is something about the Universal-International output of fifties westerns that I find keeps me coming back for more. They’re mostly “B”s featuring a cast of recognizable character actors surrounding a second tier star or two in most cases. This outing is no different and like so many others from the studio, totally watchable.
Thanks to youbtube I caught up with this color feature from famed director Jack Arnold. The all too familiar plot involves the likes of Lex Barker, Stephen McNally, Mara Corday and John Dehner as the principle leads.
From the outset we find a stagecoach robbery in action and a passenger gunned down. The gang rides off stage left. Entering stage right and looking like a model for a GQ ad atop a horse is clean cut heroic looking Lex Barker in a red shirt and black hat. As he rides through some brush he gets bushwacked by veteran western star Ray Teal. Teal swaps horses and rides off.
Lex has been left a lame horse and quickly finds himself in cuffs. It seems he’s been mistaken for Teal thanks to the horse and arrested for suspicion of murder and the robbery. By the time he’s brought to town the lynch mob is gathering and wouldn’t you just know it, John Dehner turns up demanding a quick trial and hanging.
Dehner as we can expect isn’t too trustworthy and in a role he can play in his sleep he’s a power hungry hombre in a suit running for sheriff and looking to lay the blame for the recent spat of stagecoach heists on Stephen McNally and his group of homesteaders who have herds of sheep.
Soon enough Lex is proved innocent of any wrong doing and to Dehner’s chagrin turns out to be an undercover agent looking to bust the ring of thefts. Barker knows exactly what’s going on, he just needs the proof to put Dehner and his hot headed brother Warren Stevens away.
Turning to McNally for help, Lex comes into contact with Mara Corday. Naturally he’s smitten and quickly finds himself at odds with McNally over the fair ladies hand. All this leads to one of those great exchanges that gets me chuckling involving our trio of stars.
Barker : “As long as she’s got a miss in front of her name I figure she’s open range.”
McNally : “I put a fence around her long ago.”
Corday : “The next thing you’ll want to do is put a brand on my flank.”
McNally : “Not a bad idea at that.”
By the time we have our showdown featuring plenty of gunfire and corpses the love triangle will be rectified and Dehner put in his place.
Fantasy film fans know director Arnold from the slate of thrillers he did including the now classic Creature From the Black Lagoon but he did plenty of other titles during his association with the studio in question including the above average Man In The Shadow where he directed Orson Welles.
A nice bit of trivia is that leading lady Mara Corday years later turned up in long time friend Clint Eastwood projects. She’s the lady in Sudden Impact who puts a little too much sugar in Clint’s coffee. “A lot of sugar.”
Barker makes a decent leading man in westerns and fit other genre’s just as well. Tarzan the most prominent name on his resume. McNally fits in the western frontier perfectly as he did in Noir and gangland titles. It’s always a pleasure to see him turn up and when I came across this on youtube it was his name that nudged me to press play.
If westerns are your thing then here’s another variation on the same plot done repeatedly but with an energetic cast of favorites making the exercise fun and refreshing.