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Backlash (1956)

Give me a western and I’m usually a contented fellow.

Now add in Richard Widmark under John Sturges direction with a great cast of well known outlaws and the added bonus of Donna Reed makes me all smiles.

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Widmark plays a cowboy who seems to have a chip on his shoulder. Not uncommon for Widmark’s many portrayals. He’s trying to unravel the mystery of his fathers death along with 5 other men.  It seems that 6 men in a military outfit were ambushed and killed by a group of marauding Apache warriors. In their possession was a fortune in gold. The mystery is that five men were found mutilated. One man missing and no gold.

It seems someone took off to bring aid but never reported in. Widmark wants answers as he searches for the truth behind his fathers death. A father that abandoned him and his Mother when he was still in the cradle.

“There are things a man has to know and has to do.”

Sturges immediately launches  Widmark into the mystery of the plot when he encounters Reed looking for the whereabouts of her missing husband. It seems he was in the troop of dead soldiers as well. The bodies were not exactly identifiable so just who is the missing soldier is anyone’s guess. Barton MacLane shows up briefly to point Widmark in the right direction as a gruff Sergeant who buried the dead.

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Widmark crosses path with a quick shooting fortune hunter and upon bringing the body in to local sheriff Edward Platt he finds himself quickly making enemies with the dead man’s two  brothers. Before the film is over he’ll have to tangle with both Robert J. Wilke and Harry Morgan as the vengeance seeking duo.

Reed and Widmark are not exactly on the same side of things as he doesn’t trust her and thinks she’s strictly a fortune hunter and the deeper they get into the mystery it’s just possible that the man who made off with the cash and saved his own hide is her husband. Reed is quick to point out that the man Widmark’s hunting just might in fact be his own father.

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Released through the home of the fifties western, Universal-International in Technicolor this plot could easily be transported to something like the gangster genre or the murder mystery in general. Widmark will encounter plenty of obstacles along the way to finding the truth including a fast gun for hire in William Campbell who continually goads Widmark towards a showdown.

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Also turning up with a mysterious background of his own is the rock solid John McIntire. McIntire is one of those actors I love to feature and brag upon. There isn’t a false note in his many roles and he could play everything from police chiefs to lovable old codgers or nasty unsavory characters (The Far Country is a great example). His career was a long one closing down with Turner and Hooch opposite Tom Hanks in 1989.

Fans of both Gunsmoke and Universal Monsters take note of Glenn Strange also appearing in a minor role.

Perhaps the best thing about catching this film recently is that it allowed me the opportunity to sit down and watch it with my own Dad. Something that should never be taken for granted. He happened to be visiting from the east cost and we both love the genre, so why not catch a Richard Widmark title.

Our banter always picks up as if we just caught a film the night before. I’ll be quick to point out that Widmark is a hell of a fast draw with a six shooter and Dad will jump in with, “I wouldn’t want to tangle with him.”

widmark in backlash

What’s not to love?

I finally scored a copy of Backlash with the arrival of my TCM Vault Collection (Western Horizons) by mail. It’s one of the rare Widmark titles I hadn’t actually seen. Mr. Widmark has long been one of my favorite actors of both the genre and the era in which it was produced.

15 Comments »

  1. A good movie. With Widmark and Sturges it should be more widely known, but it isn’t for some reason. I like the episodic way the plot moves forward, and there are plenty of good performances in there.

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