Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Rebel in Town (1956)

REBEL IN TOWN is a Western distinguished by fine performances, though I can't say I cared very much for the somber storyline.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, renegade Confederates Bedloe Mason (J. Carrol Naish) and his sons (Ben Cooper, Ben Johnson, John Smith, and Cain Mason) are robbing banks in the West. Shortly after arriving in a small town, one of the Mason boys hears the click of a little boy's toy gun and instinctively shoots and kills the child.

When young Gray Mason (Cooper) wants to return to town to check on the boy's condition, the brother that pulled the trigger stabs him in the back. Gray is found by John Willoughby (John Payne); John and his wife Nora (Ruth Roman) nurse Gray back to health. It just so happens that the Willoughbys are the parents of the little boy who died. Although Nora is aware Gray was present when her son was shot, she doesn't tell her vengeful husband, as she fears for his safety and his sanity. Eventually, however, the information slips out.

Payne is excellent as the grief-stricken father who is obsessed with finding his son's killer. Payne plays a man whose pain is understandable yet who is not always particularly admirable. Even before the tragedy, Willoughby is heedless of his wife's concern for his safety when he goes to hunt for renegades, and after his son's death, he doesn't seem to particularly care if his wife is left a lonely widow. Payne bravely plays a complex character who threatens to become as much of a villain as the man who shot his little boy.

Roman is also excellent as the bereaved mother, who has the fortitude to go on, dealing not only with her own sorrow but her concern for her husband.

The Mason father and sons remind me a bit of the Cleggs, the villains in John Ford's WAGON MASTER (1950). The comparison is a bit ironic in that Ben Johnson, one of the heroes of WAGON MASTER, here plays one of the bank robbing sons. Ben Cooper is fine as the young Mason with a conscience, and Naish has a very interesting role as a man who leads his sons in a crime spree yet is also thoughtful and philosophical.

James Griffith does a nice job as the calm town marshal. Bobby Clark plays the child who dies near the start of the film. The cast also includes busy child actress Mimi Gibson; among her other films were THE OKLAHOMAN (1957), THE MONSTER THAT CHALLENGED THE WORLD (1957), and HOUSEBOAT (1958).

This was the next-to-last film directed by Alfred L. Werker. The black and white cinematography was by Gordon Avil. Danny Arnold wrote the screenplay for this film, which runs 78 minutes. It was produced by Howard W. Koch and Aubrey Schenck for Bel-Air Productions.

REBEL IN TOWN was released on DVD-R by MGM last year.

It has also been shown on Turner Classic Movies, which has a trailer on the TCM website.


Blogger James Corry said...

Laura, knowing of your aversion to seeing films with "children in danger" I'm somewhat surprised that you would watch this picture. Even a rather "jaded" old film-watcher like myself was taken by surprise (especially given the era in which this film was made; the 50's) at the shocking, although accidental, killing of a little boy. I liked "Rebel In Town" because it didn't flinch at all (but then most of the Bel-Air films have a real "hard-edge" to them)in it's view of prejudice and forgiveness. And seeing good 'ol John Payne play a near-psychotic was rather shocking too! And, unlike "Riders To The Stars" which, I felt, had a ridiculous title-song, "Rebel In Town" had one of the best (although totally unknown) title-songs I've ever heard, by the late-great Les Baxter (who, along with Paul Dunlap, were "house-composers" for Bel-Air).......Another great unsung Bel-Air Western that you should check out is "The Dalton Girls"....somewhat silly title, great film!

Keep up the great work!




If you don't like "child in danger" pictures, stay well away from "Cape Fear"!


4:47 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Brad!

Although I often "read up" on films in advance of seeing them, I didn't know anything about REBEL IN TOWN and figured John Payne and Ruth Roman in a Western sounded good. Little did I know what I was getting myself into when I started it (grin)...then once started, I figured I may as well see it through to the end. Not something I'll be anxious to revisit, that's for sure.

The tough storyline certainly seemed atypical for the '50s. I have to think that some families who went to see this when it came out, expecting more of a standard-issue Western, might not have been very happy with it.

Thanks for the recommendation and the warning!

Best wishes,

5:08 PM  

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