If you were of age in the mid to late 1960’s and wanted to see a different side to the laid back King of Cool, Dean Martin, who was always quick with a song, the gals and a martini in hand, look no further than this change of pace role that finds Dino backshooting the good guys and slapping around the leading lady and one of my on screen crushes, Miss Jean Simmons.
But even though Dino is playing nasty here, he still can’t help himself with that carefree smile and likable presence that makes us love him all the same. Even when he’s facing off against leading man George Peppard in the final shootout, you might find yourself shrugging your shoulders and not minding if Dino comes out as the man still standing when the gun smoke clears. From here he could ride on right over to the set of his next western, Five Card Stud, and romance Inger Stevens while sitting in for a hand of poker with Roddy McDowall and we’d be none the wiser.
From the outset, it’s clear that Dino is playing the heavy when he attempts to kill the two men riding a stage towards the frontier town he runs from afar with a long range rifle. He’ll miss the mark but delay the stage and leave the driver, John McIntire, with a leg wound that will lay him up once co-driver Peppard gets them to Miss Simmons who runs the stagecoach business despite the meddling of Dino.
It seems Dino is the town tamer gone bad. A brief bit of dialogue will let us in the fact that he was once a gunfighter/lawman who cleaned up the town for little pay before taking it over. He now owns the sheriff and 51% of nearly every business except Jean’s and he wants both her and the coaches to carry his name.
Peppard’s arrival in town is going to be a major obstacle in Dino’s plans.
McIntire and Peppard are supposed to be Jean’s new partners in the coach business but Peppard likes to play the odds and Dino’s holding all the cards. Luckily for Jean both Peppard and McIntire were noted lawmen in the past and have little taste for what Dino has become.
Now it’s just a matter of how far they’ll be pushed before picking up a gun despite their initial intentions not to.
There’s some fine dialogue in the script credited to Sydney Boehm and Marvin H. Albert from Albert’s source novel.
On finding out Jean is a twice widowed woman Peppard asks, “You’re husbands don’t seem to have much luck.” to which she replies, “They thought different.
Then there’s this one. Peppard asks, “Been a widow long.” Jean responds, “Not long enough for it to bother me so don’t let it bother you.” Yes Varinia the Slave Girl … excuse me Miss Jean is playing it strong and feisty.
Playing alongside Dino is a nasty Slim Pickens who by this point in his career could play it either way. The jovial sidekick or the low down dirty varmint he is here with a lecherous eye towards Jean that will result in a hellacious fight against Peppard once he puts his hands on her.
It’s a fight that leads to another great exchange. This time between Peppard and Dino. Peppard firmly tells Dino the heavy, “A man starts choking a woman is looking to go to hell in a hurry.”
Like many westerns of this plot development, the heavy begrudgingly likes the new man in town. A stoic presence who represents what he was at one time in the distant past. Peppard can’t be bought off and isn’t to be taken lightly. Under different circumstances the two men might have been fast friends. As it is they are heading towards a violent clash against each other.
I’ll let you see how this one plays itself out though I’m sure it’s fairly predictable to one and all. Still, star power goes along way in making this far more enjoyable than I recall not having seen it in many many years.
I still have a hard time excepting Dean Martin as a villain and to see him manhandle Jean Simmons with some violent slaps just doesn’t seem right to me. I’m going to try and banish those memories from my mind. Peppard however is right in his wheel house here and is more than capable of playing the frontiersman one doesn’t toy with.
Miss Simmons will always remain one of my favorite leading ladies thanks to seeing Spartacus as a youngster and instantly falling for her or rather her screen character Varinia in the acclaimed Kubrick film starring Kirk Douglas in the title role. For a closer look at Miss Simmons films and movies ….. click here.
Always a fan of character actors and supporting players who make most every movie they appear in that much better, Rough Night in Jericho, is a treat in that we get both John McIntire and Slim Pickens on screen under Arnold Laven’s direction. McIntire scores a bullseye as the elderly lawman now looking to settle down but won’t be bullied by Dino. Just how an actor of McIntire’s worth could never once have been nominated for a Supporting Oscar baffles me. It’s the equivalent of not seeing Thelma Ritter actually win a Supporting Oscar despite six nominations. On the topic of Slim Pickens I’ll be the first to admit I much prefer him as the good old boy versus the no count heavy he enacts this time out though that fight between him and Peppard is maybe the highlight of the film’s action sequences.
Which brings me to one point I wanted to make. The film as a whole is caught up in the changing times of movies and westerns. It’s far more violent then most of the era with plenty of blood on screen that would set the path for Peckinpah and the 1970’s. And yet there’s a playful sequence between a drunken Peppard and an equally drunken Simmons that harkens to the past but to be truthful doesn’t fit into this movie’s narrative and level of seriousness. Finally I think the movie could have trimmed about ten minutes from it’s 104 minute running time.
Having been a fan of Dean’s since childhood, this still proved to be a welcome revisit thanks to the recent blu ray release via Kino Lorber Studio Classics who have put out a number of the Rat Pack member’s westerns as of late including Showdown (1973), Something Big (1971) and Texas Across the River (1966) serving to remind us that Martin was far more than a leading man in comically bent films or showing up as Sinatra’s pally.
The movie poster? If you’ve visited before then you shouldn’t be too surprised that an original half sheet resides here in the vault at Mike’s Take.