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.
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.