Sunday, September 21, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Quantez (1957)

QUANTEZ (1957) is the name of a small town near the Mexican border where a group of robbers expect to change their exhausted horses and resupply before crossing the border as they attempt to elude a posse. What the robbers find, however, is a recently deserted, rather spooky ghost town and, consequently, a very uncertain future. And most of the group doesn't even know about the nearby Indians ready to attack.

The group includes a really bad man (John Larch) who killed someone and would be happy to do it again. He's brought along his girlfriend (Dorothy Malone), who has a low self-image but knows she'd be better off with one of the more gentlemanly men in the gang (Fred MacMurray and John Gavin). Gato (Sydney Chaplin, son of Charlie) is the fourth man in the group, a white man who was raised by Indians.

As the long night passes, decisions are made and new alliances are forged. And then comes the momentous dawn...

A disparate group of travelers banding together to fight off a common enemy is one of my all-time favorite Western themes, whether the film is about a stagecoach, a wagon train, or a group journeying on horseback. However, the execution in QUANTEZ, a Universal Western, fell a little flat for me, though it does have its strong points.

The opening and closing of the film have some fantastic location photography, shown off to fine effect on the beautiful Universal Vault Series DVD. Carl E. Guthrie shot the film in Eastman Color and CinemaScope, and these exciting exterior action scenes look terrific.

Fred MacMurray is excellent as the "wise man" of the group, the one who knows how to care for failing horses, how to make it over the border, and who repeatedly serves as peacemaker. How a man with his qualities ended up as a robber is one of the film's mysteries, never fully explained, but as the story of his redemption, the film is quite satisfying. I also particularly liked John Gavin, in one of his very earliest screen roles.

Where I felt the movie struggled, however, was in its long middle act. The late-night interior scenes are beautifully lit and shot, with rich blues and oranges, but it feels rather like a filmed stage play dropped into the middle of an action movie. The characters talk and talk and then talk some more, walking in and out of the building as they gather in different configurations. I don't consider myself an impatient viewer, but I was more than ready for that sunrise!

The final action scenes are excellent, with some unique location work I really appreciated. (I haven't yet found out where the movie was shot; my best guess would be the Tucson area.) Ironically, the moment of redemption is done and over so quickly that I was a bit stunned when "The End" came on the screen, leaving me to wonder about the characters momentarily saved yet stranded in the middle of nowhere.  A more evenly paced script with less talk and more doing would have made better use of the film's strengths, in my estimation.

James Barton and Michael Ansara round out the cast. This 80-minute film was directed by Harry Keller. The screenplay by R. Wright Campbell was based on a story he wrote with Anne Edwards.

For a deeper look at QUANTEZ, please visit Toby's review and the ensuing discussion with several knowledgeable Western fans at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

My great appreciation to Blake Lucas for lending me his copy of this film!


Blogger Elisabeth Grace Foley said...

That's a curious coincidence, your mentioning the theme of disparate travelers banding together as a favorite—I just wrote a post on that plot device last week, using Stagecoach as the basic model and exploring how it shows up in all different genres! Quantez sounds like another good example of it.

This review also reminds me of another pretty good Western I saw last year, Hangman's Knot with Randolph Scott and Donna Reed. Have you ever seen that one?

6:24 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Elisabeth! Thanks so much for the link to your post. :) It's really the perfect format for a good story.

I haven't yet seen HANGMAN'S KNOT but it just so happens I have the DVD here on loan from my dad. Hope to catch up with it before too long -- even more interested now that I know you enjoyed it. Thanks!

Best wishes,

10:35 AM  

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