Friday, October 23, 2009

Tonight's Movie: A Man Alone (1955)

This was a night for revisiting movies not seen in years, first HERE COMES MR. JORDAN and then one of my favorite Westerns, A MAN ALONE.

A MAN ALONE was shown frequently on TV when I was growing up, and I liked it so much I watched it several times over the years. Then it seemed to disappear. A few years ago I bought a used VHS copy of the movie when I discovered it had had a video release, but the print was quite poor. When I saw the movie was airing on the Encore Westerns channel, along with my favorite TV series MAVERICK, that was inducement enough for me to sign up to try out the Encore package. I was thrilled that the print I recorded is in beautiful shape -- and what's more, somehow it even managed to escape the station's perpetual onscreen corner logo.

The movie was as gripping as I remembered, causing me to stay up far too late! It's a relatively little-known Western which is an absorbing, engrossing film which deserves to be more widely seen. Ray Milland not only stars in the film, he also directed; his first directorial effort is a compact, neatly plotted Western romance with echoes of favorites like ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947) and YELLOW SKY (1948). (Update: There are also some similarities with 1948's FOUR FACES WEST.)

Gunslinger Wes Steele (Milland), stranded in the desert after his horse breaks a leg, happens across the scene of a stagecoach massacre. Things go from bad to worse when Wes rides one of the stagecoach horses into the nearest town and is immediately forced to shoot the trigger-happy deputy sheriff (Alan Hale Jr.) in self-defense. In a short period of time Wes not only learns who was behind the stagecoach massacre, but he has another murder pinned on him by the man responsible for all the carnage, the town banker (Raymond Burr).

Wes escapes from a posse of townspeople during a dust storm, hiding in the cellar of a quarantined home which just happens to belong to the sheriff (Ward Bond). The sheriff has yellow fever and is being nursed by his daughter, Nadine (Mary Murphy). When Wes helps the exhausted Nadine at the risk of his own life, she quickly realizes that Wes couldn't be a murderer. But the quarantine will soon be over and there's a posse on the hunt for Wes...

The first third of the film has almost no dialogue, and what exists is spoken by supporting actors. Wes Steele is truly "a man alone," in the middle of a waking nightmare. Milland's expressive performance, particularly his reaction to seeing a murdered mother and child, needs no words to engage viewer sympathy.

The middle third becomes a two-person character study as two lonely people, each with their own problems, overcome their wariness and help one another. Murphy -- who looks rather like Shirley Jones as she appeared in OKLAHOMA! and CAROUSEL in the same time frame -- is excellent as Nadine. She and Milland have an immediate rapport; indeed, Milland's Wes is charmed with what he sees of Nadine before they ever speak. I very much enjoy their interplay as she is unexpectedly confronted with a chivalrous gunman; is Wes a murderer or her knight in shining armor? I suppose some people might note there's an age difference between the two leads, but it's always made perfect sense to me in the context of the story.

The final third of the film moves into the classic Western confrontation between good versus evil.

The movie was shot in Trucolor and runs 96 minutes. The supporting cast includes Lee Van Cleef and Arthur Space.

The two options for seeing this movie appear to be a VHS tape or cable's Encore Westerns channel, as mentioned above. It's a movie worth seeking out, an interesting and memorable film which I've enjoyed multiple times. I'm delighted I now own a copy which I'll be able to watch again in the future.

2 Comments:

Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, you're absolutely correct. I recorded "A Man Alone" off of teh Encore-Westerns channel sometime back (as I had never seen the film and it looked interesting...). It's unjustly overlooked gem which deserves and DVD release along with another great Republic Western: "Johnny Guitar"....

Keep up the excellent reviews!

Brad

2:50 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I'm delighted to know someone else has seen and enjoyed this favorite movie, Brad. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,
Laura

2:56 PM  

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