Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Tonight's Movie: Showdown at Boot Hill (1958)

Watching relatively obscure films can be akin to treasure hunting at times, which is a lot of the fun -- you just never know when something really interesting will come along.

Such was the case with SHOWDOWN AT BOOT HILL (1958), which is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Olive Films.

My dad sent me his DVD after liking it, and it did indeed prove to be a most enjoyable movie, with a story not at all like something I'd expect from a film starring Charles Bronson.

This was an early lead role for Bronson, who had spent years toiling in small roles under the name Charles Buchinsky (or sometimes Buchinski). He plays Luke Welsh, a federal agent and bounty hunter who shows up in a dusty Western town; he's looking for a wanted man, Con Maynor (Thomas Browne Henry, last watched in a bit role in the previous year's DOMINO KID).

Maynor forces Welsh into a gunfight and is killed. Things get strange, however, when the townsfolk all refuse to identify Maynor so that Luke can't collect the "dead or alive" reward.

Luke may be fast with a gun, but he's also shy and has a bit of a complex about his short height. He sees a kindred spirit in lonely hotel waitress Sally (Fintan Meyler), who is mortified her estranged mother Jill (Carole Mathews) works in the saloon. (A crack Jill makes about men and boots was a bit startling for the era.)

Luke's attempts to have Maynor identified while simultaneously gently romancing Sally are subtly helped along by the town barber/undertaker/preacher/doctor (John Carradine) and a shopkeeper (Argentina Brunetti).

I've only seen bits and pieces of MARTY (1955) but this movie almost felt to me like it was that sort of story, as two lonely people unexpectedly find kindred spirits and begin to open up and share their lives with one another.

There is some very sweet acting and writing, as the inarticulate Luke tries to break past Sally's reserve; her delight when he asks her to a dance is touching.

Carradine and Brunetti are wonderful in support, with Bronson and Brunetti sharing a couple of the best scenes in the film, as she remembers her late husband and encourages Luke to woo Sally. I knew Brunetti from her longtime supporting role on GENERAL HOSPITAL years ago, so it was wonderful to see her in such a good role earlier in her career.

My only real criticism of the film is that the opening is confusing, as Maynor is rude to Sally, which makes it hard to understand why the townspeople want to protect him in death. Perhaps that scene was partly to show that Sally is uncomfortable dealing with men, but it didn't seem to connect well with what came afterwards.

I think it could have been made a little more clear early on why Maynor was held in esteem by his neighbors, despite his having killed a couple of men elsewhere.

The supporting cast also includes Robert Hutton, seen last weekend in THE YOUNGER BROTHERS (1949).

SHOWDOWN AT BOOT HILL was directed by Gene Fowler Jr. from a script by Louis Vittes. It was shot in black and white RegalScope by John Nickolaus Jr. The running time is 72 minutes.

The Olive Films DVD is a beautiful print.


Blogger Jerry E said...

A most interesting review, Laura, of a 1950s western that I have yet to see. I have seen some very mixed opinions of it too! One reviewer will describe it as an under rated little gem while another will call it cheaply-made and of no great value.
Now I think I am getting to know your tastes quite well by now and generally find them to harmonise well with my own. So....a very useful review for me and a prompt to get on and buy that Olive Films release!!

3:38 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

I liked this one too, and I thought of it a few days ago after reading your column on DOMINO KID. You mentioned that Tom Browne Henry only appears in the last 30 seconds of that one, so I immediately remembered this film, in which he only lasts a few minutes into the beginning of the movie.

Somewhere out there is 70 minutes of western footage, a lost epic starring Tom Browne Henry, and it's missing its opening and closing.

Well, maybe not, but I can dream, can't I?

11:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, we do seem to have very similar tastes in Westerns to I hope you'll enjoy this...I'd really like to know your thoughts when you see it!

Rick, you gave me such a smile!!! Love that!!! It is so great to hear from my fellow Western fans, both here and on DOMINO KID, who all appreciate the character actors!

Glad to hear you liked this one too, and hopefully that will encourage Jerry and others all the more to give it a try.

Best wishes,

11:35 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura,
I hope you will forgive me doing "a John Knight" and hijacking this entry briefly??

I wanted to let you know that my wife and I went to see "BROOKLYN" today. This was totally on your recommendation in your review a few weeks back (it might not have occurred to me in all honesty). What a terrific film! An inspiring story right enough but also a film that brings out the goodness in folks generally, as so many films today do not. These were mostly good people but also very real people. The acting was impeccable and we laughed a lot at Julie Walters' performance as Mrs. Keogh, the boarding house owner.A very interesting contrast of environment between the old world and the new.

The other film I wanted to mention was "SLIM CARTER" which we both watched last night. I have been unable to pin down any reviews of this film on the blogs (I could have missed it!). I have known of this film since 1957 when it was released by Universal-International but this was my first ever viewing.
I know you have been increasingly picking up on Jock Mahoney (Blake and I are keen admirers and extol the virtues of his films, mainly westerns). I have never seen Jocko like this before though - didn't know he sang, and sang well too - and it is a modern-day parable about western film-making and the building of a star by the studios. Julie Adams plays opposite him and they make an enjoyable team. The film is both charming and entertaining and recommended to you!
Again, apologies for the eulogy.

12:19 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, you -- and John! -- can do a "John Knight" anytime!

I was absolutely thrilled you loved BROOKLYN. It's a privilege for me to be able to share my thoughts on films here, and I'm honored when people like you make the effort to try a movie based on my recommendation. And then hearing that it also brought you enjoyment -- wonderful! BROOKLYN is a film I look forward to seeing again.

Thank you so much for the recommendation of SLIM CARTER! I happen to have it, thanks to our friend John, and have recently sent it to my father, so he'll have first crack at watching it. I'll be sure to put it in my "hot stack" when it returns!

Thanks again for your most enjoyable note!

Best wishes,

7:08 PM  
Blogger LĂȘ said...

I watched this film a few weeks ago, when the cult TV channel decided to air "poverty row" westerns. It was a surprise to see shy Bronson, and the film was overall a delightful way to spend my Monday evening. My favorite thing about it was John Carradine with so many professions!

5:35 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Le, I'm glad you got to see it also! Carradine's character was definitely fun. Thanks for taking the time to share your positive impression of the movie!

Best wishes,

1:57 PM  

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