So: Robert Taylor and Richard Widmark are ex-outlaw buddies. Taylor (Jake) has gone straight, gotten engaged, and has a job. Widmark (Clint) is an outlaw who was tried, found guilty, and condemned to hang. For old times’ sake, Jake busts him out, but Clint isn’t quite content to let things lie just like that. Clint wants his share of an alleged twenty thousand dollars. And Clint wants to know what Jake’s been doing since they parted company…and, oh, by the way? Jake’s new job is: US Marshal.
You see, Jake and Clint, they was friends back in the day. Rode together in the war. Kept riding together, in the same gang, afterwards. Clint liked Jake, you see, and Clint, well, he don’t like very many people. And then one day, just as they finished knocking over a bank, Jake all of a sudden sprung a conscience and rode out on them. With the $20,000. And friends, Clint figures, don’t do that sort of thing to friends.
There’s also been some bad trouble with the Indians, up in the hills. It doesn’t last very long, but it does get rid of the rest of the gang. So now it’s just Clint and Jake. (Also Kidnapped Fiancee and That Other Guy [played by DeForest Kelly], but they’re not particularly important.) What is important is these two men and their battle, and how fair or not the fight is going to be, and who is going to win. Because it’s not nearly as clear-cut as it might be,
Highlights: Clint smoking menacingly (it’s a lost art); Jake spotting Clint as he snipes out an Indian lookout–but neglecting to mention the rest of the war party; and Widmark’s line when it’s revealed that Jake has been bluffing him with an empty gun: “….but then, it might’a gone off like a canon. And then think how silly I would’a looked.” It’s a rare villain who can crack a joke at his own expense. Or, in the setup to the final faceoff, Jake (now having the upper hand), throws Clint’s gun down the length of the street. Clint’s expression of astonished betrayal and wondering, “I was gonna hand you yours!” is just perfect.
Robert Taylor is The Man. Is there a movie he hasn’t been cool, commanding, and tall in the saddle in? I didn’t think so. Widmark is just as excellent, cool as a cat and twice as malicious, commanding respect from the other thugs because he’s three times as badass as anyone else there and they know it–but not quite able to get it, anymore, from Jake. DeForest Kelly and Henry Silva, as girl-menacing thuggish henchmen, are good enough at their roles to make it very satisfying when they bite it. Patricia Owens gives an adequate performance in a nondescript part. Mostly, it’s the guys’ show. And boy, do they go for it.
Rated: Five cigars out of five.