Vic Rodell (Stephen McNally) was a Southern raider during the Civil War; after the war, as a defeated Southerner having trouble making a living, he fell in which the James gang.
Increasingly troubled by the James gang's violence, Vic explores ways to make over his life, encouraged by Paula (Peggie Castle), a widow who had been in love with Vic before her brief marriage. Paula also happens to be the sister of James gang member Bob Ford (Robert Vaughn), who is looking for a way to receive a pardon.
HELL'S CROSSROADS is a very average Western, with nothing particularly unique to distinguish it, and yet I must say that I enjoyed it. It's plain, sturdy, Western "comfort food." Perhaps it's more for the most devoted Western fans or those such as myself who like Stephen McNally and Peggie Castle, but while recognizing its artistic limitations, I was interested in it to the end and satisfied with the conclusion.
Having now seen McNally in a number of Westerns, including WINCHESTER '73 (1950) and APACHE DRUMS (1951), he has become a welcome face. While not one of my top favorite Western actors -- he seems to have a somewhat limited range, but he does "pained" very well -- McNally is familiar and has a solid track record of appearing in entertaining films. His name in the credits now prompts a nod of pleased recognition at the prospect of seeing him again.
McNally does a good job as Vic, wordlessly conveying with a look his unhappiness when Jesse says he's glad he shot an older man at their last robbery. It's clear at that moment that Vic is done.
This isn't as good a Western role for Peggie Castle as she found in COW COUNTRY (1953) or TWO-GUN LADY (1955), yet she plays her role with an attractive intelligence which elevates the part above simply being a hand-wringing, concerned leading lady. She recognizes Vic's issues but, quickly embracing her renewed attraction to him, she does what she can to give their love a chance, even making a solo visit to the governor to plead for a chance at amnesty.
Robert Vaughn makes a good Bob Ford, with an edge of opportunistic sliminess, yet he also comes through for Vic when it counts.
The solid supporting cast is led by Henry Brandon as Jesse James. Brandon was a Western veteran in everything from one of George O'Brien's best "B's," THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), to playing Chief Scar in John Ford's THE SEARCHERS (1956). Brandon is almost unrecognizable behind Jesse's beard, until one looks at his eyes and clearly sees "Chief Scar."
Frank James is played by another reliable Western veteran, Douglas Kennedy. Barton MacLane, Grant Withers, Myron Healey, Harry Shannon, Frank Wilcox, and Morris Ankrum round out the cast.
HELL'S CROSSROADS was filmed on Southern California locations including the Iverson Ranch. It was directed by Franklin Adreon, who mostly worked in television. It was filmed in black and white by John L. Russell, Jr. The movie runs a quick 73 minutes.
HELL'S CROSSROADS can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video at no extra charge to Amazon Prime members.