Monday, February 12, 2007

Tonight's Movie: Yellow Sky (1948)

YELLOW SKY is a terrifically atmospheric piece starring Gregory Peck as the leader of a band of outlaws who stagger across Death Valley as they escape after a bank robbery. Near death from thirst, the outlaws stumble into the windswept ghost town of Yellow Sky, which is inhabited only by an old prospector (James Barton) and his feisty granddaughter (Anne Baxter). Soon the outlaws are tangling with each other over gold and the girl.

The film is in the tradition of Western films of the era such as ANGEL AND THE BADMAN (1947), FOUR FACES WEST (1948), and BLOOD ON THE MOON (1948), in which an outlaw or gunslinger with a conscience is redeemed by the love of a good woman. Anne Baxter's gun-toting heroine calls to mind Barbara Bel Geddes in BLOOD ON THE MOON, released the same year as YELLOW SKY. That said, each of these films has a unique look and mood, and YELLOW SKY is no exception.

Director William Wellman and cinematographer Joe MacDonald make great use of the film's Death Valley and Lone Pine locations, with many striking black and white shots of cloud-filled skies over the Alabama Hills. The line of outlaws riding toward the camera across Death Valley is another memorable scene. MacDonald also filmed MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and this is right up there with CLEMENTINE in terms of beautiful visuals. Alfred Newman contributes a memorable score, though it is sparingly used; often the only thing heard on the soundtrack is the wind.

Gregory Peck is excellent as Stretch, the handsome antihero outlaw leader with a streak of fairness running through him, while Richard Widmark is also memorable as Dude, the well-dressed villain who constantly tests the other outlaws' loyalty to Stretch. (According to a book on Peck by Tony Thomas, Peck considered YELLOW SKY to be among his finest roles.) Charles Kemper, Harry Morgan, a young John Russell, and Robert Arthur comprise the rest of the gang.

Anne Baxter's "Mike" (aka Constance) is an interesting character; Baxter doesn't play a typical beautiful heroine, but Mike is courageous and mighty good with a rifle, and the lonely girl's attraction to Stretch is believable, particularly once he develops a healthy respect for her shooting ability.

YELLOW SKY runs 98 minutes. It's available in a fine print on DVD. The disc includes a nice selection of production stills and publicity materials, as well as the trailer.

I love discovering wonderful movies for the first time, and this was definitely a film I'll be revisiting in the future.

June 2015 Update: Here is a post about seeing the film at UCLA, introduced by William Wellman Jr., with a photo gallery of stills from the movie.


Blogger J.C. Loophole said...

Interesting...this will be one I'll be adding to my Netflix queue. Thanks for the tip and review!

10:52 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did. :)

Best wishes,

10:57 AM  
Blogger rtm said...

I just discovered this recently as part of my Gregory Peck marathon. Western isn't my genre but I was curious to see Peck played a rogue again after seeing how believable he was as a cad in Duel in the Sun. I must say I LOVE this film, I saw it a second time last night and appreciated the story even more.

I wish Peck had done more bad boy roles and look disheveled like this one, I think he's far more attractive this way. But those who like him clean cut also get to see that in this one :D

Thanks for this great review!

11:27 AM  

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