Dawn at Socorro (1954)
Though this Universal International western quickie may not be overly memorable it has one outstanding exchange between an extra portraying a railroad station master and Rory Calhoun. When word is out someone is gunning for Rory the station master asks, “Who’s coming after you?”
Rory’s answer is a bleak one …… “My past. Every dark miserable day of it.”
Pure western poetry!
Rory stars here as a gambler/gunfighter who seems to be doing his best at coughing himself to death. Sounds a lot like Doc Holiday in character but this time the name has been changed to Brett Wade. Rory owns and operates his own saloon where he takes on all comers in the art of poker.
From the outset Rory is quick at making enemies. First up is smooth and slippery David Brian. The two tangle in a high stakes poker game where Rory winds up the victor and Brian heads back to the confines of his own saloon in Socorro. Things get ugly when Rory backs a very Wyatt Earp like James Millican in a gunfight leaving Skip Homeier dead and a vengeance sworn against Rory and company.
This leads to another very similar event in the life of Doc Holiday. A shootout down by the corral where a nasty Lee Van Cleef is the only survivor of the opposition and promises to return before the final fadeout.
Wisely listening to his doctor, Rory retires and catches a stage bound for Socorro and from there he plans to head for California. It’s on the stage that he meets our leading lady played by the young ingénue Piper Laurie. Rory is easily taken in by the fresh off the farm beauty with no idea she carries a dark secret.
Old enemies pop up on the trail including Lee Van and awaiting Rory in Socorro is Mr. Brian looking to even the score at the poker table and maybe even in the streets before the final fadeout. On hand in Socorro is Edgar Buchanan as an honest town sheriff who wants no gunplay between our leads. Not an easy thing when both seem to want to rule at the poker table and claim the hand of lovely Piper.
Piper Laurie was by this time a featured player opposite many young heroes of the day for her home studio of Universal. She had already appeared with other young stars Tony Curtis and Rock Hudson as well as seasoned veterans Tyrone Power and Victor Mature. This was her only film opposite western favorite Calhoun. Like many movies of the day, the script does everything it can to side step the fact that Piper just might be turning to the life of a saloon prostitute without ever actually stating the obvious.
Rory was a steady leading man in the B category and has plenty of fun titles to his name. By this time he had already headlined a number of films and would continue to do so with occasional stops on the A budget projects though not always in the featured role. River of No Return being perhaps the best example.
There’s an above average cast here behind Rory and Piper with Lee Van Cleef the most notable thanks to the cult that would develop around him in the ensuing years. Mara Corday turns up as a saloon girl who has had a past romance with Rory and Alex Nicol who would like nothing better than to put a bullet in Rory’s back.
Long time genre director George Sherman handles the director’s duties here with an above average style including a standout overhead shot as two of our leading men face off on the streets of Socorro at dawn. Sherman’s career encompasses westerns from the Mesquiteer flicks of the thirties to the popular Big Jake in 1971 and plenty of other sagebrush tales along the way.