Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Hell's Crossroads (1957)

HELL'S CROSSROADS (1957) tells the story of a member of the Jesse James gang looking for a way to go straight.

Vic Rodell (Stephen McNally) was a Southern raider during the Civil War; after the war, as a defeated Southerner having trouble making a living, he fell in with the James gang.

Increasingly troubled by the James gang's violence, Vic explores ways to make over his life, encouraged by Paula (Peggie Castle), a widow who had been in love with Vic before her brief marriage. Paula also happens to be the sister of James gang member Bob Ford (Robert Vaughn), who is looking for a way to receive a pardon.

HELL'S CROSSROADS is a very average Western, with nothing particularly unique to distinguish it, and yet I must say that I enjoyed it. It's plain, sturdy Western "comfort food." Perhaps it's more for the most devoted Western fans or those such as myself who like Stephen McNally and Peggie Castle, but while recognizing its artistic limitations, I was interested in it to the end and satisfied with the conclusion.

Having now seen McNally in a number of Westerns, including WINCHESTER '73 (1950), APACHE DRUMS (1951), and THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK (1952), he has become a welcome face. While not one of my top favorite Western actors -- he seems to have a somewhat limited range, but he does "pained" very well -- McNally is familiar and has a solid track record of appearing in entertaining films. His name in the credits now prompts a nod of pleased recognition at the prospect of seeing him again.

McNally does a good job as Vic, wordlessly conveying with a look his unhappiness when Jesse says he's glad he shot an older man at their last robbery. It's clear at that moment that Vic is done.

This isn't as good a Western role for Peggie Castle as she found in COW COUNTRY (1953) or TWO-GUN LADY (1955), yet she plays her role with an attractive intelligence which elevates the part above simply being a hand-wringing, concerned leading lady. She recognizes Vic's issues but, quickly embracing her renewed attraction to him, she does what she can to give their love a chance, even making a solo visit to the governor to plead for a chance at amnesty.

Robert Vaughn makes a good Bob Ford, with an edge of opportunistic sliminess, yet he also comes through for Vic when it counts.

The solid supporting cast is led by Henry Brandon as Jesse James. Brandon was a Western veteran in everything from one of George O'Brien's best "B's," THE MARSHAL OF MESA CITY (1939), to playing Chief Scar in John Ford's THE SEARCHERS (1956). Brandon is almost unrecognizable behind Jesse's beard, until one looks at his eyes and clearly sees "Chief Scar."

Frank James is played by another reliable Western veteran, Douglas Kennedy. Barton MacLane, Grant Withers, Myron Healey, Harry Shannon, Frank Wilcox, and Morris Ankrum round out the cast.

HELL'S CROSSROADS was filmed on Southern California locations including the Iverson Ranch. It was directed by Franklin Adreon, who mostly worked in television. It was filmed in black and white by John L. Russell, Jr. The movie runs a quick 73 minutes.

HELL'S CROSSROADS can be streamed via Amazon Instant Video at no extra charge to Amazon Prime members.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Never heard of this one but it sounds good,Laura.
I like Stephen McNally and Peggie Castle.
Stephen was usually on the wrong side of the law.

12:37 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Hi Laura,

So glad that you chose to review this little-known little seen Western from Republic's last days.
I always liked those cheap black & white widescreen Naturama Westerns from the tail end of Republic.
and others.
I like them at least as much as those RegalScopw Westerns that Toby & co like so much (me Too!)
I would be very interested to know if the version that you saw was in fact in widescreen.

6:27 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

I have had to break down these comments a bit because I wrote one of my "epic" replies and lost it.....
totally my fault!
Anyway regarding HELL'S CROSSROADS it's kinda spooky because only last night I enjoyed Henry Brandon
in THE LAND UNKNOWN. I just got the German Blu-Ray and it cost me a small fortune. I must say though
it's just about the best transfer that I have ever seen of an old black & white movie with stunning
sound as well.Henry plays an explorer who has been stranded for years alone in a prehistoric
"lost World" Naturally when Jock Mahoney and co stumble upon him poor old Henry is half-crazed!
A very powerful performance I thought of a man trying to hold onto what marbles that he has left.
I think I read somewhere (imbb?) that in later years Henry's long time companion was one of Judy
Garland's ex husbands, At any rate he is an actor I really like especially in Westerns and I thought that his portrayal of Jesse James was interesting,to say the least.

6:38 AM  
Blogger john knight said...

Even spookier that on the previous night I watched a very young Robert Vaughn in an outstanding
BRONCO episode from the excellent Warner Archive 1st series. This episode was directed by Harmon
Jones and is very similar to Jones's excellent Western A DAY OF FURY.
Vaughn is excellent in this episode and his tormentor is William Reynolds. (THE LAND UNKNOWN)
I think this was my favourite episode followed a close second by one where John Dehner and
James Coburn plot to loot the bodies of those who fell at Little Big Horn. Bronco,is having none
of it I might add. A very strong first series I thought.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura,
Great that you reviewed this little-known western. I saw it only recently for the first time (not in wide-screen unfortunately) and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it! I also like McNally and (especially) Peggie Castle but it was a good cast generally. Henry Brandon did a fine job.

Funnily enough, and further to John's last post on Henry Brandon I saw him today as the guest star in an episode of the western TVer "Stories Of The Century" starring Jim Davis and produced at Republic. An under-rated actor.

I will add my recommendations to John's for you to catch up with "BRONCO" (you and I discussed this previously) as I think you would enjoy the series and I would think Warner Archive have done a fantastic job with the reissue.

Best wishes,

9:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Vienna, John, and Jerry! It's such a pleasure to write about a movie like this and know that others find it of interest as well!

Vienna, hope you can see it. I thought Stephen was an especially good bad guy as "Dutch Henry" in WINCHESTER '73.

John, this Naturama movie was in widescreen for the opening credits but then unfortunately the Amazon streaming print went to full screen. I stuck with it anyway as I was intrigued by the cast, and although there were a few scenes where it was bothersome for the most part it was OK. It's a title I'd definitely purchase if some enterprising company would release it on DVD in widescreen.

I'm glad you mentioned MAN OR GUN, John! I've found a lot of neat Westerns thanks to Netflix and Amazon streaming -- in addition to MAN OR GUN, titles like COPPER SKY and THE STORM RIDER. There are so many really interesting relatively unknown movies waiting out there to be found.

Appreciated all the feedback on other films and BRONCO. A number of interesting actors mentioned here! I have put BRONCO on my wish list thanks to the strong feedback from both of you, John and Jerry. Thanks!

Best wishes,

11:06 AM  

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