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Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

Here’s a title that I really had no idea even existed until happening upon a blu ray copy issued forth by Olive Films. It’s a black and white oater from the prolific director Allan Dwan. It actually precedes the “female” western Johnny Guitar by a year. Meaning Audrey Totter and Joan Leslie play it rugged and are really the stars facing off against each other in this Herbert J. Yates release through his Republic Studio Pictures.

woman-lynched-half

The American Civil war is nearing it’s end and through a montage of clips from other westerns, our plot is set up for a story in the Ozarks. A neutral town run by Nina Varela sees to it that no fighting forces are allowed within the city limits and as Mayor, Nina will hang any wrong doer from either side if given the chance. The town is a neutral one due to the fact that the borderline of the North and South runs right thru it.

When a stagecoach on the trail to town is attacked by a force of Rebel outlaws commanded by the vilified Brian Donlevy starring here as the Southern exile Quantrill at the head of his raiders, they kill the Union soldiers and the stage drivers before running it into town themselves. The one surviving passenger on the stage is Joan Leslie. Befriending her on the final leg of her journey is a young cowboy under Donlevy’s command played by Ben Cooper. Cooper is starring here as the soon to be western legend Jesse James. Also appearing here is Jim Davis as Cole Younger and as Donlevy’s wife, Audrey Totter.

audrey-totter-woman-lynched

The seemingly gentle Leslie has traveled west to reunite with her brother, Reed Hadley. Injecting some drama into the plot is the fact that Reed was once romantically involved with Totter before she took off with Donlevy. In what amounts to very little screen time, a drunken Hadley behaves like a mad dog when Totter taunts him forcing John Lund to shoot him dead. This suddenly leaves Leslie  alone and the owner of her brother’s saloon. It’s a role she wants nothing to do with but when ostracized by the women of town, she turns her attentions back to the saloon and finds herself toughening up with Lund playing watchdog on her behalf.

donlevy-totter-leslie

Army spies are abound while Donlevy and his troop become a threatening presence in town. While the war time sympathizers choose sides, mean spirited and trail hardened Totter goads Leslie  into a fight only to realize that Leslie isn’t the dainty woman of the east she thought her to be. Not only can Leslie out brawl her, but she can outdraw her as well. The pair will become firm enemies for the balance of this story adapted from a story in the Saturday Evening Post. That is until fate and choosing sides in the war will intervene.

leslie-lynched

A “B” picture this may be but what surprises here is that the women take the lead roles in what is the focal point of the story. Even having the heavyset Varela as the town Mayor handing out judicial punishment comes as a surprise. A couple other ladies that turn up one may be sure to recognize are Ellen Corby and Virginia Christine.

Playing mostly bad guys over the course of his career, Brian Donlevy is actually cast here for the second time as the Rebel leader, Quantrill. He had just enacted the part in 1950’s Kansas Raiders. In that film it was a young Audie Murphy who starred as Jesse James. Ben Cooper playing the role here had a very Audie Murphy like quality to him as well on screen and would actually go on to star opposite Audie in a pair of sixties oaters as the genre was winding down. Cooper would also play along in the more widely known, Johnny Guitar which might be the quintessential western pitting women at odds.

ben-cooper-draw

While billed fourth, Leslie is the real star of the film. She does well as both the gentle newbie to the west and as the firm handed woman with a gun. While looking over her credits it suddenly dawns on me that she played Velma, the object of Bogart’s gentle side in the classic High Sierra. She starred in plenty of Warner’s titles as a contract player including Yankee Doodle Dandy before moving on to television once the medium was underway. Totter is course known by most fans of Noir for her work in the genre. Classic examples include The Set Up, Lady In The Lake and even the “B” flicks such as The FBI Girl.

leslie-and-totter

While this may not be the most memorable western one is to see from the decade, it does offer viewers a slightly slanted film in the favor of the female actresses within.

10 Comments »

  1. What a crazy title…I’d expected to find that attached to a film from the ’30s! And funny seeing Audrey in Western garb after I’d seen her in so many noir films.

  2. Another nice pick, Mike. I bought this when it came out unseen on the strength of the director, the cast, and the promise of a slightly unusual plot. And I still haven’t watched it. It’s a film I’ve been keeping for a notional rainy day, but I may have to crack it open a little sooner.

    • Here I thought maybe I had come across one you hadn’t yet heard of…..lol. I picked it up during the local boxing week sales around here and like you took a flyer on it. Enjoy and I’ll look for your review when posted.

  3. Nice choice especially when it’s another Allan Dwan flick.
    Colin and myself often beg to differ what exactly is a B picture-in my book WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED certainly is not one.
    For starters the films 90 minute running time for me places it firmly in the A picture frame.The film was a product of Republic’s A picture unit as opposed to their
    B pictures starring the likes of Roy Rogers,Rocky Lane, Monte Hale and many others.
    I like Dwan’s film very much and share your appreciation for underrated Joan Leslie whom I like in virtually everything.
    The men certainly take second stage in this film and Dwan’s fast pacing make it a most entertaining Western.

    • As for the B vs. A I can understand the comparison you make yet other than the films of Ford or Duke, I guess I generally find myself looking at the studio itself as a producer of B flicks though that may not necessarily be fair in all instances. Monogram they weren’t.

  4. No they weren’t Monogram who overall only made B movies and programmers.
    In the Fifties,in particular they attracted lots of A list talent Welles and Nick Ray to name but two.
    Stanwyck,Ray Milland and Fred MacMurray were still A list stars when they worked for the studio.
    Sadly many of Republic’s big budget films like THE MAVERICK QUEEN,THE JUBILEE TRAIL and FAIR WIND TO JAVA have been denied even a DVD release.
    One can track down Euro “bootlegs” of some of those films. Furthermore none of the excellent A Westerns starring the likes of William Elliott,Rod Cameron
    and Forrest Tucker have been released-sure Elliott did make B Westerns for Republic,but people overlook the 10 excellent A Westerns that he made for
    the studio. If more of these films found their way to an “official” DVD release ( or better still Blu Ray) I feel the studio would gain far more respect from buffs.
    I generally consider,say, the Fifties Universal Westerns of Audie Murphy,Joel McCrea,Rory Calhoun and Jock Mahoney as “programmers” and I might add that the
    McCrea films in particular played as main features, in the UK at least.

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