THE DESPERADO is one of several Wayne Morris films recently released by the Archive. I've previously reviewed the Morris Westerns SIERRA PASSAGE (1951) and DESERT PURSUIT (1952), along with his Alaskan adventure ARCTIC FLIGHT (1952). I liked them all but I think I might class THE DESPERADO as the best of the bunch.
THE DESPERADO was a real treat, providing Morris with an excellent role, a highlight in his career.
Morris plays Sam Garrett, a weather-beaten gunslinger who mentors young Tom Cameron (James Lydon). Tom is a Texan on the run from despotic Union "Blue Bellies" who cruelly run his home town, ultimately killing his father.
Garrett takes a liking to young Tom when they meet on the trail and quickly realizes he's a man who can be trusted, even though Garrett preaches not to trust anyone. He teaches Tom some tricks of the trade for staying alive, which come in handy when they tangle with a horse thief and his identical twin brother (both roles played by Lee Van Cleef).
Tom is eventually betrayed by his one-time friend Ray (Rayford Barnes), who frames Tom for the murder of two Blue Bellies; Ray, who has been seething with jealousy, wants Tom's fiancee Laurie (Beverly Garland) for himself.
However, when it's time for Tom's murder trial, Ray isn't counting on the influence of a cagey marshal (Dabbs Greer) who has a respectful relationship with Sam.
THE DESPERADO was a nice surprise, starting with Lydon in a sure performance as Tom. I wouldn't think of him as a Western leading man but he really is quite good. He and Garland bring some real passion to their performances as the separated young lovers.
Greer, best-known to so many of us as Reverend Alden on LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, is simply excellent as an upright man who's not quite what we expect. He brings Tom in for trial but quickly comes to realize that there's another story.
I'd add that it's also fun to have Lyle Talbot turn up as the judge in the final scenes. No part was too small for that hard-working actor, and he brings some nice gravitas to the part. And how great is it to have not one but two villains played by Van Cleef?
Best of all is Morris, who I think knew he had a great part and ran with it. Morris completely inhabits the part of the grizzled, worn but still fast-drawing Garrett. He has many wonderful scenes, with one of my favorites coming when Lee Van Cleef approaches, wanting to shoot him for killing his twin brother, and Morris keeps on eating his breakfast while quizzing Van Cleef. Morris and Greer combine to just about steal the last scenes of the movie, a terrific cap to a very good film.
THE DESPERADO was directed by Thomas Carr. The black and white cinematography was by Joseph M. Novak. The film runs 80 minutes.
The script was by Daniel Mainwaring (aka Geoffrey Homes), who wrote many excellent film noir and Western scripts, most famously OUT OF THE PAST (1947), which was based on his own novel. THE DESPERADO was based on a novel by Clifton Adams. Just four years later Mainwaring's script was reused for COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER (1948), starring Frank Lovejoy and James Best.
The Warner Archive DVD is a nice widescreen print. There are no extras.
My fellow Western fans will want to check out THE DESPERADO. Recommended.
Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this DVD. Warner Archive releases are MOD (manufactured on demand) and may be ordered from the Warner Archive Collection at the WBShop.