Having recently acquired an original one sheet for this low budget oater produced by Allied Artists, I was reminded that I actually had a copy of the film and since I’d yet to see it, I figured now was the appropriate time.
Based on a Louis L’amour tale and scripted by Tom Hubbard and Fred Eggers the film is chalk full of familiar faces. It’s Noir favorite and professional cad, Zachary Scott, taking center stage as a fast on the draw stranger who rides into the town of Soledad Arizona in the midst of a range war.
Filmed on the cheap, there’s not a range or a steer in sight….. but when it comes to leading lady, Carole Mathews, Scott had this to say…..
“I’m a hard man to please about horses and women.”
Could we be seeing a hint of Yojimbo going on here long before Kurosawa unleashed Toshiro Mifune’s samurai warrior upon the world? Not exactly but let me explain.
One time singing cowboy and Universal Monster’s hero, Dick Foran, is not only engaged to Miss Mathews but he’s plotting behind the backs of cattle barons, Barton MacLane and Charles Fredericks, to send the pair on a path of violence and destruction. The wished for result is to have them “off” each other and allow Foran himself to take over the valley. He’s got a fast as lightning gun hand working in the shadows to help him accomplish his goal played by a clad in black, Lee Van Cleef.
Van Cleef’s appearance alone has me wondering why I hadn’t bothered checking this film out earlier.
So how does the mysterious stranger in town, Zac Scott, fit into all of this? It appears as if he’s trying to settle an old score that had to do with his father being branded an outlaw. To be quite frank, I’m not really sure as the plot gets more than a little mired down in tumbleweeds at various times over the 69 minute running time.
Scott does make his intentions clear though when it comes to Miss Mathews. He intends to make her his bride and is quick to note she isn’t wearing any brand that identifies her as belonging to Dick Foran. With all due respect to Miss Mathews and her fans, I’m not sure what Scott sees in her. A rather dull performance and going one better, Lola Albright, is the cute and lively waitress over at the hotel diner. That’s where I’d be spending my time.
Another key plot point is the fact that Scott owns the water rights to the valley and doesn’t want the water ways to be used for a land baron but rather the townsfolk and incoming settlers.
Hey! Here comes another veteran of westerns and the Universal Monster flicks. It’s Glenn Strange (aka the three time Frankenstein Monster) approaching Dick Foran, “We couldn’t find anybody in the alley, Boss.” And there he goes never to be seen or heard from again.
Getting back to Lee Van Cleef who is featured prominently on the foreign re-release poster once he’d become a marquee draw. He apparently filled a saddle pal of Scott’s full of lead prior to the beginning of our story which has sent the pair on a collision course and when cornered about it, Van Cleef delivers a line that sounds totally believable based on his screen persona, “I’ve killed a lot of people’s friends.”
But can he kill Scott? I’ll leave that to your imagination though I must say Scott is far faster on the draw than I ever gave him credit for. Still, he’s no Glenn Ford.
Yes there’s still a big shootout to come at the fadeout and keeping in line with the overall production, it’s poorly choreographed and I’m surprised anyone was left standing at the end considering it was filmed in a saloon the size of a phonebooth.
Sure I’m poking fun this time out as the film is a disjointed affair with Scott, MacLane and Foran taking center stage nearer the end of their careers. Jobbing actors I guess and there’s no harm in that. Making an educated guess I should think that it’s Lee Van Cleef who is the best remembered today thanks to the Leone films and his emergence at a later age as a recognizable face world wide. It’s notable that on the stand alone DVD release from Timeless Media Van Cleef’s standing in the film was upped to top billing much like the foreign poster above.
Known for his (at times) melodramatic delivery, there were a number of scenes with Scott that I couldn’t help but recall Harvey Korman’s lampooning of him as Monte Beragon in Mildred Pierce. Korman hilariously sent up Scott’s most famous role on the Carol Burnett Show in Mildred Fierce. Too bad that Scott who passed away at 51 years of age in 1965 wasn’t around to partake in the 1980 comedy classic, Airplane, as his style and delivery would have fit quite nicely alongside those of Peter Graves, Lloyd Bridges and of course, Leslie Nielsen.
There’s a TV feel to this western and considering the director, Frank McDonald, had been steadily employed helming episodes of The Gene Autry Show and The Adventures of Wild Bill Hickock with Guy Madison in the title role it shouldn’t come as a surprise. McDonald began directing back in 1935 and would be working with Ruby Hills actor Dick Foran the following year in 1936’s Treachery Rides The Range. He’d also work with Barton MacLane on a number of films in the Torchy Blane series making Ruby Hills somewhat of a reunion film amongst men who’ve been at the trade a good twenty plus years.
I had picked the film up ages ago in a 6 pack of western titles from Timeless Media and yes, it got buried in the dozens of discs I have lying about here in the movie room. Maybe I’ll check out a couple of titles that I have yet to see in the set.
That film poster I picked up? Not bad shape and nice to have a Scott number here in my personal collection.