Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tonight's Movie: Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend (1957)

SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND is a bit of a curiosity, as far as Randolph Scott Westerns go; it's a fun little black and white Warner Bros. movie which sometimes plays more like the studio's classic TV Westerns than a feature film.

The "TV feel" is accented by the presence of a young pre-MAVERICK James Garner as Scott's righthand man. Indeed, the movie's director, Richard L. Bare, worked on many of the Warner Bros. TV Westerns of the late '50s, including MAVERICK, LAWMAN, CHEYENNE, and SUGARFOOT. The movie was largely shot on the same Warner Bros. backlot used by the TV shows. (I suspect, however, that the interior of one of the general store sets was shot over at MGM.)

Scott plays Buck Devlin, a former Army captain who plans to settle with two war buddies (Garner and Gordon Jones) near his brother's ranch. Buck and friends arrive at the ranch just after his brother has been killed by Indians, unable to defend himself because he'd been sold worthless ammunition. Buck and Co. head for Medicine Bend to avenge his brother's death and help the local settlers purchase quality ammunition and other goods.

The former soldiers are robbed on their way to Medicine Bend; even their uniforms are stolen, but a group of Quakers come to their rescue. The men arrive in Medicine Bend clothed in Quaker garb and quickly realize what better way to ferret out the crooks than to lay low, dressed as mild-mannered, peaceable religious folk?

Angie Dickinson is young and cute as the storekeeper's niece who takes a shine to Buck; later in the '50s she'd star in the classic Western RIO BRAVO (1959).

I didn't recognize the name of Dani Crayne, who plays the saloon girl sweet on James Garner; this was her next-to-last movie. After doing some Googling I realized I'm more familiar with her by the name Dani Janssen, the well-known Hollywood hostess and widow of David Janssen.

SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND is a fairly fast-moving story, clocking in at 87 minutes. It's enjoyable seeing the ways the ex-soldiers find to beat the bad guys at their own game, with little need for gunplay. Some of the movie's themes, including cowboys mixing with religious pioneers and one of the men falling in love with a woman with a dubious past, call to mind the classic WAGON MASTER (1950); however, while WAGON MASTER is a work of art, SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND is simply a pleasant piece of entertainment.

The large supporting cast is headed by James Craig as the man who owns most of the businesses in Medicine Bend. The cast is filled with familiar faces including Ann Doran, John Alderson, Don Beddoe, Trevor Bardette, Myron Healey, Harry Harvey, Robert Warwick, Nancy Kulp, and Syd Saylor.

This movie isn't out on DVD or VHS, but it can be seen on Netflix Watch Instantly. It's also been shown regularly on Encore Westerns Channel.

SHOOT-OUT AT MEDICINE BEND is amiable entertainment likely to be enjoyed by fans of Westerns and the lead actors.

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