The Silver Whip (1953)
Looks like a “B” picture. Sounds like a “B” picture. The cast list resembles a “B” picture. In reality I found this western tale from 20th Century Fox and director Harmon Jones worthy of an “A” production.
Resembling another film titled Try and Get Me, this turns into a somber tale of a lynch mob and the repercussions of what an angry mob has reaped. At the heart of the film is a very good role for the apprenticing Robert Wagner under the studio system. He’s young and brash. Working for James Millican’s overland stage outfit, Wagner wants to be top dog and drive the stage. Millican relents to give Wagner an important run with Wagner’s kin tagging along. The senior Uncle Ben played by the familiar Burt Mustin and his sharp shooting cousin clad in black, Dale Robertson. Robertson gifts the youngster with a silver handled whip to drive the team of horses, hence the title.
When a gang of outlaws bushwack them at a rest stop, Wagner doesn’t heed the advice of Robertson. This results in the death of Mustin and passenger Lola Albright. The gold shipment being transported is also stolen due to Wagner’s hesitation. When Wagner brings word of the hold up to town, Rory Calhoun as sheriff leads a posse including our young star Wagner into the territory to round up the killers. By the time he arrives, Robertson has been dealing his own brand of justice by killing all those responsible. All except two. One of which Calhoun takes alive against the wishes of Robertson who wants to string the killer up on the spot. Get a rope and find a tree.
It’s when cornering the final outlaw that Rory has to pull a gun to keep Dale from dropping his quarry with his rifle. Not on Rory’s watch. A fair trial and an inevitable rope is Rory’s style. Upon arriving back in town, the outlaws are locked up safely. Much to the chagrin of John Doucette who is sure to get the locals fired up for a lynching. Robertson who many of the townsfolk look to will have none of it. Rory wants a fair trial but when the District Judge isn’t going to be in town for a few days, Dale broods and along with Doucette will want justice served.
Taken from a novel by Jack (Shane) Schaefer and adapted screenplay by Jesse Lasky Jr., it’s Wagner who’s going to have to decide who is right and wrong. What’s legal and what isn’t. Fired by Millican for not handling the stagecoach robbery according to the book, Calhoun has given Wagner an opportunity to prove he can grow up and follow orders. When Calhoun is grabbed by the mob and left tied in the local stable, Wagner is going to have to decide whether to open the jail cell and let the mob have their way or take the stand Calhoun expects of him. To serve and protect until a legal trial has been carried out.
This black and white entry from Fox turns out to be a good role in the star making machine for young Robert Wagner. The studio wisely put Robertson and Calhoun in here with him offering solid support. Both of whom easily found a home in the western genre. Director Jones helmed a number of entertaining “B”‘s before moving into television. Titles including Target Zero, Gorilla At Large and the musical Bloodhounds of Broadway. All titles of different genres which should say something for the director’s versatility.
For fans of The Rifleman, Chuck Connors, he’s apparently in here somewhere according to the IMDB. I didn’t spot him on my first run through so might have to have another look. Feel free to send me the time and scene if you’ve noticed him on your watch.
An easy western to recommend and one that’s available through the MOD DVD market if you want to get a look at it.