One Foot In Hell (1960)
Far from what one might expect, this Fox western in Cinemascope casts screen favorite Alan Ladd in what might be his most cold blooded characterization over the course of his leading man career. A role that sees him portray a cunning revenge minded killer with little remorse or goodness left in him by the time this Aaron Spelling scripted oater comes to it’s conclusion. Spelling actually penned this script from his own original story that saw James B. Clark take directing duties. Clark sandwiched this effort in between working with Ladd’s son David on 1959’s A Dog of Flanders and 61’s Misty.
It’s the post Civil War. Ladd and his wife are nearing the next town in search of shelter and a doctor. She’s with child and the baby is due. Ladd gets a cold shoulder from the hotel clerk who demands payment before handing over a room key and refuses to fetch a doctor in the night. Ladd gets her settled and brings in the kindly Doc played by Larry Gates. Both wife and child are in grave danger and when Gates sends Ladd for medicine, the pharmacist is slow and when Ladd has no money left for payment, he withholds the solution prompting Ladd to pull a gun and hurry to the hotel. The clerk quickly rouses town Sheriff Karl Swenson who stops Ladd in the streets for answers. By the time Ladd convinces them of the dire situation, it’s too late. He’s lost both wife and child.
Guilt overcomes the townsfolk when they realize they may have played a part in the deaths and urge Ladd to stay on in town offering him a job as Swenson’s Deputy as a peace offering. Ladd accepts and seems to appreciate the outpouring of affection until he begins to confide in another ex-soldier from the south played by Don Murray. Murray is a drunk that Ladd enlists in an elaborate plan to rob the town of 100,000 dollars that will be on hand when a cattle baron brings his beef through the territory. Ladd also quietly brings in Dan O’Helihy, Barry Coe and a feminine touch as Dolores Michaels poses as his new bride. The split will be 20K apiece should the heist come off as planned.
The cold blooded Ladd surfaces when he shoots down Swenson, covering it up by placing the blame on a pair of horse thieves. This killing and those that follow are quite startling when one is used to seeing Ladd as the stoic Shane and other heroic characters in his many films. The other two marked for death are the hotel owner and the pharmacist and Ladd’s recruits will carry out their executions during the heist which includes explosives acting as a decoy to the murders.
Sounds simple enough and when the heist comes off as planned, we viewers just know there’s bound to be some added drama to the story and when Ladd viciously turns on his four partners, the gloves are off. Ladd was by this time nowhere near the matinee idol he had once been and clearly shows the bloated look that plagued him on screen near the end of his life. Seeing him here as the mad dog killer is quite startling and I had to keep reminding myself of this fact when watching as he is usually cast in a good light while interacting with the members of the town to carry out his charade. Perhaps Ladd was looking to change things up with his on screen persona. It works and if one isn’t familiar with his past roles then you wouldn’t have as hard a time as I did with the evil Ladd on screen.
The film itself is above average with some fine outdoor cattle sequences but I do have to wonder if budget restraints played a factor in a missing scene. Was it filmed and tossed aside or cut out of the script all together? The scene in question is what exactly happens to one of Ladd’s partners in crime. When it’s announced that Ladd acting as Sheriff has killed one of them and rides into town with the body slung over the saddle, I actually rewound the disc to the most recent shootout to see of I’d missed something. I hadn’t which begs the question of why was the actual scene omitted. Never is Ladd shown on camera killing this one particular partner. If you see the film then you’ll pick up on what I’m referring to.
This proved to be one of the rare Ladd titles I hadn’t actually seen but with the film turning up in the Made On Demand market through 20th Century Fox, I’ve rectified that. Worth a look should you be given the opportunity.