Sunday, March 20, 2016

Tonight's Movie: The Desperado (1954) - A Warner Archive DVD Review

THE DESPERADO (1954) is a most enjoyable Allied Artists Western available from the Warner Archive.

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.


Blogger Jerry E said...

Hi Laura!
Coincidentally, I watched this film myself only this week and was reminded how enjoyable it was also. Although one of a 'series' that Wayne Morris made for Allied Artists this film definitely has the feel of a 'special'.

The film develops quite nicely, with good pace and some solid performances. I would echo your singling-out of Dabbs Greer, who brings real strength of character to the final scenes, and Beverly Garland who always has the ability to make you believe in the characters she plays so well. It really is Wayne Morris's film though. He brings an authority and gravitas to this role that he had perhaps rarely displayed before.

Another really pleasing western from that golden period, the middle 1950s.

12:43 AM  
OpenID fiftieswesterns said...

Glad you liked this one, Laura. I watched it again since I wrote about it and liked it even more.

Coming across one of these jewels among the tons of Westerns made in the 50s is one of the things that makes this genre so much fun.

You're right about Dabs Greer. He really shines in this one.

8:29 AM  
Blogger Blake Lucas said...

I too like this one. I know I've posted that somewhere before this, likely at 50 Westerns. I enjoyed it back in 1954 and saw it again on TV later. Not my idea of a series Western and I guess it's just thought of that way because Wayne Morris did a series, most of them much shorter than this. The only other one I've seen is The Marksman but only vaguely remember it now.

I recently caught up with Cole Younger, Gunfighter--and I believe it's a pretty close remake at least as far as the script. It played well but didn't really gain anything from 'Scope and color and I think The Desperado is the better movie in my mind. Not to discourage anyone from seeing it--I like director R.G. Springsteen and I love Frank Lovejoy, who stepped into the Morris role (and it's Lovejoy's last film) but Thomas Carr and Wayne Morris make more of it I believe. I will say that the casting of those twin bad guys was pretty good, given how ideal Lee Van Cleef was in this--they got Myron Healey, another first rate bad guy who I've always liked too.

Laura, is it my imagination or have you gotten to like Wayne Morris much more than you did earlier on?

1:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

5:17 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you all so much for adding your feedback! I hope all the positive comments regarding this film will help encourage others to try it out.

Jerry and Toby, delighted that you also particularly enjoyed Dabbs Greer in this. He so often had small parts, it's really a joy to seem him get a significant role like this and make the most of it. Jerry, my dad is a big Beverly Garland fan also. :)

Toby, you're so right, I love the thrill of finding something that's a little more "special" among all our viewing. This title will be a great candidate for my 2016 "favorite discoveries" list.

Blake, wonderful to hear from you also! I pulled out my copy of COLE YOUNGER, GUNFIGHTER yesterday, not sure how soon I'll watch it but was most interested in your comments. As you know I also love Frank Lovejoy -- yet it's hard to imagine the story being done any better than it was right here. Fun to hear Myron Healey got the Van Cleef role(s!).

Blake, I've always had kind of a soft spot for Morris, yet not found him an especially colorful actor. That said, I enjoyed spending time with each of his recent Warner Archive releases, which says something positive about him right there, and I definitely felt a sense of re-evaluating his ability while watching THE DESPERADO. He played the role with flair, and I really appreciated his performance. It would have been less of a movie without it. Makes me want to try even more of his films.

Best wishes,

10:19 PM  
Blogger Maricatrin said...

Interesting review, thank for writing it! Particularly interested by your comments about Jimmy Lydon, who is somewhat typecast in my mind as the lovably goofy Henry Aldrich, from the excellent (and sadly, unreleased) Paramount series. I have seen him on a few TV westerns, and he was fine, but seeing him toting a gun always takes some getting used to (lol).

8:21 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks, Maricatrin, glad you enjoyed it!

I was dubious about Lydon in this kind of role, going in to watching this film, but I think he did a fine job. If you see it I'd love to know your thoughts.

Best wishes,

1:21 PM  

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