The Violent Men (1955)
This classy western from Columbia Pictures featured a top cast of well known names directed by the sure hand of Rudolph Mate’. Glenn Ford peaking in popularity poles takes the lead role of the small rancher being pushed about by third billed Edward G. Robinson portraying the cattle baron with designs on possessing all the land in the valley.
It’s second billed Barbara Stanwyck in what would seem to be a tailor made role for this long time leading lady that allows me to feature this film as part of the Barbara Stanwyck celebrations on line thanks to Crystal over at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Stanwyck is up to no good as the wife of Eddie G. with a taste for his on screen brother played by a quick tempered Brian Keith.
Ford as the small time rancher is prepping to sell out to Robinson who has promised his wife Barbara the whole valley. Ford intends to marry May Wynn and head east. Against the wishes of his neighbours, Ford rides in to see Eddie with a chip on his shoulder. He wants no trouble but isn’t impressed with Eddie having hired killers on the payroll. In this case it’s a nasty Richard Jaeckel who is quick on the draw and not above shooting a man down in cold blood.
The meeting doesn’t go well when Ford spars with Eddie and Brian over pricing and ethics. Barbara stands by as Eddie’s doting wife all prim and proper but a danger lurks beneath her lady like exterior. Once Ford exits, Stanwyck isn’t happy that the men have goaded the quiet Ford character.
“They didn’t make him a Captain in the Cavalry for nothing.”
The camera takes an evil twist when the room empties leaving a crippled Eddie sitting near the fireplace and Barbara turns to look at him from a floor above. The music from Max Steiner turns to an evil pitch as she retreats to Brian Keith’s room and the truth about them comes forward.
Take one of Barbara’s Noir femme fatales and place them firmly in the American west and here she is, hungry for power, money and a man to replace the broken one she has for a husband who is growing weak. Paging Fred MacMurray.
Even when Jaeckel steps over the line murdering one of Ford’s cow hands, Ford continues to dodge any lynch mob tactics that will lead to an all out range war. That doesn’t stop him from seeking his own brand of justice against Jaeckel in what I felt is the movie’s best scene. Ford plays it nervous and low key until the violence explodes and Jaeckel is left dead on the saloon floor.
“Don’t force me to fight cause you won’t like my way of fighting.” This from Ford to Eddie and Brian as he lays down his own law. He won’t be selling and isn’t about to be pushed off his land.
Mixed into the fray is Eddie’s daughter, Dianne Foster who you just know is falling for the strong willed rancher who has the guts to stand up to her father. She is also fully aware of what Barbara and Brian are doing out in the hayloft and hates them for it. She’s a child in rebellion.
The valley erupts when Eddie orders brother Brian Keith to clear Ford and his men out of the valley. Glenn on the other hand runs his men like a military brigade and his wrath will soon be upon the cattle baron and his sadistic brother and conniving wife.
This western is probably one of my earliest recollections of Stanwyck and the character stays with you. Mainly because of a scene later in the film between her and Eddie Robinson. Many of her fifties efforts had her playing hardened female characters. Women that were hard to trust and looking out for number one in many cases. Truth be told, it’s Roustabout that is probably my first Stanwyck film thanks to TV stations playing Elvis movies on a constant basis. Even there she has to be considered a strong, hard women. It wasn’t till I was older that I began to seek out her early thirties films having no idea she was a very sexy dish of the pre-code era.
Peter Ford’s excellent book on his father quotes Glenn as saying in reference to Barbara, “Barbara was so good, so real. One of the best actresses I ever worked with. She was tough, hard working, very professional, but a real woman.”
While Barbara isn’t referred to in the film’s title she undoubtedly fits right in and the plot offers some surprises down the stretch as Glenn goes to war with practically every one else billed above the title.
Director Mate’ had a history with Ford having served as the cinematographer on the classic Gilda that cemented Glenn’s leading man status and also directed the Ford feature The Green Glove. Glenn had apprenticed opposite Eddie back in 1943’s Destroyer while Eddie also served to keep the pressure on Barbara in Double Indemnity, a true classic.
The Violent Men isn’t a western classic and I do wish a couple of ideas had been injected into the script including an extra bit of drama with Barbara perhaps eyeing up Glenn as a replacement for Brian in the bedroom. It’s also a bit too quick and easy at the fade out where Barbara is concerned but still it’s a chance to watch three figures of classic Hollywood spar and go at each other.
Don’t forget to check out the many Stanwyck films being featured as part of the on line blogathon once again from In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. Then sit down and be sure to enjoy a Barbara film of your choosing.