The 20th Century-Fox film POWDER RIVER is a colorful reworking of the Wyatt Earp story, starring Rory Calhoun.
Calhoun plays Chino Bull, a former marshal turned gold prospector, who returns to wearing a badge when his partner is killed. He patiently bides his time, waiting for the opportunity to bring in the man responsible for his friend's death.
While serving as marshal, Chino is sometimes aided by foe-turned-friend Dr. Mitch Hardin (Cameron Mitchell), a fast draw who suffers from a brain tumor. Mitch is having an affair with saloon owner Frenchie (Corinne Calvet). Then Mitch's former fiancee Debbie (Penny Edwards) comes to town...
OUT OF THE PAST (1947), THE TALL TARGET (1951), and a little Western I admired quite a bit called ROUGHSHOD (1949).
The movie is strongest in the early going, particularly in some very well-written and performed action sequences which incorporate humor along with the gunplay. A scene where Chino's can of peaches is shot and he's sworn in as a temporary deputy in the midst of a gunfight is delightful, especially as at the time Chino has given up wearing a gun and handles the situation in an unorthodox fashion. These scenes actually made me think a bit of a much later favorite film, SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL SHERIFF! (1969), written by another great Western/noir writer, William Bowers.
FRONTIER MARSHAL (1939) and MY DARLING CLEMENTINE (1946). The characters have been renamed and the situations are changed, but the basic outline is there until the story veers off the traditional course near movie's end.
I think the film would have been stronger if it had continued in a more original vein, as the familiar elements of the story were the least interesting. Anyone who's seen Nancy Kelly or Cathy Downs look lovingly around Doc's empty hotel room really doesn't need to see Penny Edwards do it again. It doesn't help that Edwards (TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD) is a fairly pallid heroine whose character doesn't contribute much of interest. It's a bit hard to see why Chino is drawn to her, other than her china doll looks.
Additionally, John Beradino is a card dealer, and actors such as Carl Betz, Mae Marsh, Robert Foulk, and Doodles Weaver can also be spotted in supporting and bit roles.
Rory Calhoun is a fine, confident Western lead and is one of the best things about the movie. His initial confrontation with Mitch is another of the film's very well-done early scenes. Calhoun and the filmmakers do a good job creating a character who uses brains instead of guns whenever possible, one of the film's more unusual and appealing aspects.
THE HIGH CHAPARRAL in the late '60s, where he created one of TV's most lively and indelible Western characters. Maybe any other part would seem a little too bland by comparison!
Corinne Calvet added some oomph to the film, in more ways than one, although her accent at a couple of points was almost too heavy to be easily understood. Her wardrobe was nicely done by Travilla, with a blue and green dress a particular standout.
The film was shot in Technicolor by Edward Cronjager; there's some lovely bright and sunny location work. (IMDb is silent on where the film was shot.) The movie was directed by Louis King, brother of Henry. It runs 78 minutes.
POWDER RIVER is available on DVD-R from the Fox Cinema Archives line. It's a very nice-looking DVD. It can be rented from ClassicFlix.
For more perspectives on this film, it's been previously reviewed by Toby at 50 Westerns From the 50s and Colin at Riding the High Country.