50 Westerns From the 50s. I finally caught up with it tonight and absolutely loved it.
RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO stars Audie Murphy and Dan Duryea as polar opposites who form a strange friendship. Murphy plays Clay O'Mara, a railroad surveyor who returns to his hometown to solve the murders of his father and brother. He becomes deputy to Sheriff Fred Kenyon (Paul Birch), who is actually one of those responsible for the deaths of Clay's family.
Sheriff Kenyon sends Clay off to bring in notorious gunslinger Whitey Kincade (Duryea), assuming Kincade will easily kill Clay and he won't have to worry about him investigating the murders further. Clay shocks everyone, including Whitey, by being faster on the draw and bringing Whitey in for a trial. This begins a curious relationship between Clay and Whitey; Whitey can't quite believe the upright young Clay, who orders water in a saloon, is for real and continues to find reasons to hang around Clay, ultimately helping Clay track down the real killers.
The interplay between Murphy and Duryea is simply terrific. The quiet, strangely trusting character played by Murphy is a perfect counterpoint to the genial, perennially laughing gunman who's constantly looking for excitement; Whitey jokes that while some people run to fires, he runs to shootings! It's a great role which surely must rank as one of Duryea's best parts. That isn't to take anything away from Murphy, who is also excellent as the surprisingly competent surveyor-turned-deputy; his low-key strength provides a needed contrast to Duryea's scene-stealing role. The two men share some very well-written dialogue and are a pleasure to watch together. They later costarred in NIGHT PASSAGE (1957) -- more on that film here -- and SIX BLACK HORSES (1962).
Susan Cabot plays the sheriff's niece Laurie, who's initially engaged to a lawyer (William Pullen) who was also involved in the killings. Cabot is a good match for Murphy, and I liked the straightforward way Laurie and Clay's relationship develops, with Laurie immediately returning her fiance's ring once Clay kisses her. Murphy has two excellent partners in this film with Cabot and Duryea.
Cabot, also seen by me in TOMAHAWK (1951) in 2011, was also in the Murphy films THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952) and GUNSMOKE (1953). She's charming. Off the screen it appears she led a tragic life, killed by her son when she was 59. Reading her story, I couldn't help thinking of another Universal actress of the '50s with a similar first name, Suzan Ball (YANKEE BUCCANEER), who also had a sad life.
RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO was directed by Jesse Hibbs, who also directed the most enjoyable John Payne Western RAILS INTO LARAMIE (1954), which also costarred Dan Duryea. James Griffith, who played the marshal in RAILS INTO LARAMIE, plays the conductor in the final scene of RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO.
The cast also includes Russell Johnson (GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) as one of the bad guys; I especially liked him in the previous year's LAW AND ORDER (1953), playing Ronald Reagan's hotheaded brother. The cast also includes Abbe Lane, Denver Pyle, Lane Bradford, and Jack Elam.
RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO runs a fast-moving 80 minutes. This is a well-paced, well-made Western.
The title card seen above is from the great Movie Title Stills Collection website which is a "must visit" site for fans of Universal Westerns.
There are some nice screen caps from the film at Dan Duryea Central.
RIDE CLEAR OF DIABLO is one of four films in the TCM Vault Audie Murphy Westerns Collection. I watched it on an older VHS tape.
Highly recommended. Westerns fans should love it.