I recorded CAVE OF OUTLAWS from the Encore Westerns Channel quite a while back, but like so many movies I'm interested in seeing, it's been in my huge "TBW" (To Be Watched) pile. (So many movies, so little time...) The centennial of star Macdonald Carey's birth today seemed like a good excuse to make this the day I finally caught up with CAVE OF OUTLAWS, and I'm glad I did. I enjoyed it very much.
CAVE OF OUTLAWS is a Universal Western with the standard Universal trappings of the era, including colorful credits, a strong, deep cast -- blink and you'll miss Lee Marvin being knifed in the back in the opening minute! -- and attractive Technicolor. The film has the added benefit of location shooting at Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico, and well-paced direction by future horror master William Castle.
The story begins with a violent train robbery, after which the bad guys head for a cave found by Pete Carver (Russ Tamblyn), the teenage son of one of the outlaws. The crooks come to a bad end, the stolen gold is lost and abandoned in the cave, and Pete is sent to prison for 15 years.
Flash forward 15 years, and Pete has turned into Macdonald Carey. Upon his release from prison, Pete heads back home, tailed by a Wells Fargo agent (Edgar Buchanan) who wants to find the gold in the cave. Pete's got credit from every merchant in town, as they all believe he'll be retrieving the gold and keeping it.
Pete uses his credit to help Liz Trent (Alexis Smith) reopen the newspaper which was shut after her husband disappeared and she couldn't pay the bills. He and the detective hunt for the gold, as well as for Liz's husband, who'd been hunting the gold himself. Wealthy Ben Cross (Victor Jory) is meanwhile up to no good, as he wants Liz and the gold for himself.
This is a tight, well-paced story which runs 75 minutes. It's got interesting characters, with Edgar Buchanan a standout as the wily detective, Dobbs. Dobbs and Pete are friendly enemies who gradually build a relationship.
Carey is good as an ambiguous hero, who seems uncertain himself at first whether he's a good guy or a bad guy. Lovely Liz is good motivation for not risking the possibility of going back to jail. This is one of a number of Westerns Carey made in this time frame, which included STREETS OF LAREDO (1949), COPPER CANYON (1950), and THE GREAT MISSOURI RAID (1951) for Paramount and COMANCHE TERRITORY (1950) at Universal. Several years later he was in a Republic Western I really liked, MAN OR GUN (1958).
Carey and Smith strike sparks together, with Smith nicely fiery as the determined news publisher, and despite being a widow with financial troubles, Liz also has an attractive wardrobe, designed by Bill Thomas. Smith was in a number of late '40s/early '50s Westerns herself, including SOUTH OF ST. LOUIS (1949), MONTANA (1950), and WYOMING MAIL (1950), and a little earlier in her career she'd been in SAN ANTONIO (1945).
It was fun catching up with another of Russ Tamblyn's early roles, having just seen him in person a couple of weeks ago at a screening of GUN CRAZY (1950). The supporting cast also includes Hugh O'Brian, Houseley Stevenson, Hugh Sanders, Raymond Bond, and Robert Osterloh.
I liked William Castle's "B" noir WHEN STRANGERS MARRY (1944) last year, and he was just the right director to film a movie in the spooky Carlsbad Caverns. The caves are beautiful yet claustrophobic, and there's an effective reveal of a body which was the kind of thing that was right up Castle's alley. My only real criticism of the film is that the filmmakers seemed to want to show off all the effort they went to with the location filming by sending the characters on some long, slow walks through Caverns.
The Technicolor cinematography was by Irving Glassberg, who shot many Universal films of the era. The story and screenplay were by Elizabeth Wilson.
I came across a nice review of the film posted a couple years ago at Apocalypse Later, which notes some of the film's strengths, including sharp dialogue. At the time of the author's review the movie was streaming on Netflix, but it's no longer available there.
CAVE OF OUTLAWS does not appear to have had a release on DVD or VHS. Perhaps at some point it will be released by the Universal Vault Series or another "MOD" DVD line; in the meantime, the best bet is to watch for it to show up again on Encore Westerns.