Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tonight's Movie: Badman's Country (1958)

Last weekend I watched George Montgomery in THE TEXAS RANGERS (1951), which found him hunting down outlaws including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

In tonight's movie, BADMAN'S COUNTRY (1958), Montgomery is once again up against Butch and Sundance. The movie has a lower budget, but Montgomery plays a more prestigious character, famed lawman Pat Garrett, and what BADMAN'S COUNTRY lacks in production values, it makes up for with sheer fun.

Garrett has quit law enforcement and headed for Abilene and his fiancee Lorna (Karin Booth); he intends to marry Lorna and move west to California, where hopefully bad guys who would love to end his life will be less of a concern.

Things change when the Sundance Kid (Russell Johnson) and four other outlaws arrive in Abilene and go looking for Garrett; Garrett has to subdue the whole gang with help only from elderly Buffalo Bill (Malcolm Atterbury) and the initially reluctant town marshal (Dan Riss).

Garrett sends for Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe) and Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) to transport Sundance and the surviving outlaws out of town for trial, but by the time Earp and Masterson arrive in Abilene, a huge gang headed by Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) is on the way too, planning to hijack a shipment of gold.

Unfortunately the townspeople of Abilene don't seem inclined to defend themselves; indeed, the mayor (Morris Ankrum) wants to set Sundance loose! So the three lawmen, aided by Buffalo Bill, make plans to face down the Cassidy gang on their own.

I found this quick little 68-minute film delightful. It's quite low-key, and I suppose some might even say Crabbe and Walcott don't offer very scintillating performances, but I thought their dry, subdued portrayals of lawmen added a touch of realism; you might call them the Friday and Gannon of the old West! I especially liked Crabbe and the way his Earp faced down a bunch of ornery townsmen.

Montgomery has plenty of charisma to carry the picture, and of course he's wearing one of his fantastic black hats in this one, too! He effectively conveys a man with enough sense to be scared, but the courage to do what needs to be done and the skill to carry it off. There's a great scene where Garrett has ordered the marshal to go cover a couple of outlaws in the street, and the protesting marshal says he's scared, to which someone says of Garrett, "Don't you think he's scared too?"

I also particularly liked a sequence where an offhand comment by the telegraph operator causes the lawmen to realize that one of Cassidy's men is on the other end of the telegraph line, so they use that to feed Cassidy erroneous information.

The film reunited Montgomery with his CRIPPLE CREEK (1952) costar, Karin Booth, in a story that has some overtones of an earlier Booth film, TOP GUN (1955) with Sterling Hayden. In each film the townspeople are reluctant to stand up against a gang of murderous outlaws.

One of the curious things about Booth is that, while she was born the exact same year as Montgomery and Hayden, in each film she seems just a bit too old for them. Other than that quibble, she's fine in the role of Garrett's supportive sweetheart. Booth's career in the '50s mostly consisted of Westerns and other action pictures, and she would make only a couple more feature films before retiring from the big screen in 1959.

This is another '50s Western featuring Russell Johnson, who passed on last week; you can read more about Johnson's Westerns at 50 Westerns From the 50s.

The film has a couple other connections with my viewing of the past few days. The film's director, Fred F. Sears, was a former actor who appeared onscreen as a police detective in THE CORPSE CAME C.O.D. (1947). Morris Ankrum, who plays the appeasement-minded mayor in BADMAN'S COUNTRY, played an Indian Chief in DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER (1954).

BADMAN'S COUNTRY was filmed by in black and white by Benjamin H. Kline. It was shot at Southern California movie ranches.

This film does not appear to have ever had a VHS or DVD release, but it's been shown in the past on the Encore Westerns Channel.

There's a bit more discussion on this film in the comments of a 2012 post at 50 Westerns From the 50s, where regular John K calls BADMAN'S COUNTRY "a totally charming piece of nonsense." I concur. I rank it in the top half of the Montgomery Westerns I've seen to date, and I'll definitely want to watch this one again in the future.

Previous reviews of George Montgomery Westerns: THE TEXAS RANGERS (1951), CRIPPLE CREEK (1952), GUN BELT (1953), THE LONE GUN (1954), MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), BATTLE OF ROGUE RIVER (1954), ROBBERS' ROOST (1955), CANYON RIVER (1956), and GUN DUEL IN DURANGO (1957).

May 2015 Update: For more on this film, please visit Toby's post at 50 Westerns From the 50s.


Blogger Jerry E said...

I agree, Laura, about George Montgomery's hats - fine, striking affairs. He obviously favoured that particular style and wore similar in his starring TV series "Cimarron City" (1958-9).
As one who also enjoys B-westerns or more accurately, Series Westerns, I did enjoy finding Buster Crabbe turn up in "Badman's Country", lending a certain authentic air.

8:53 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry! I just got CIMARRON CITY recently and am looking forward to checking it out -- I'll be watching for Montgomery's hat!

Glad to know you felt that Crabbe's portrayal had a feel of authenticity to it. Really liked him in this one.

A very enjoyable hour plus of entertainment.

Best wishes,

9:46 AM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Robber's Roost. A while back we had a conversation regarding your review and my opinion. Finally, I looked a second time, and if you are trying to make me, and others, into George Montgomery fans, despite his limitations, you have succeeded. But, I think the picture is complete mess of missed dramatic opportunities and this goes to the script, with its many unmotivated fights, conflicts, loyalties and seductions, not to mention the missed directorial opportunities that would not have been missed, in my opinion, on any Gene Autry western, or at Republic in anything. It happens that I have read Zane Grey's novel, and while there are always swollen moments, he tells a helluva story. Often, these Grey stories are adjusted, as in Western Union, or mutilated, as in Red Canyon, which was published a Wildfire, but the writing on this thing takes the cake and proves only one thing, all the hands associated with the telling have seen other movies. Now, about Sidney Salkow. Of course, he knew what he was doing. There is a temptation to protect him from criticism because in his personal life he was such a grand guy and great teacher. Despite all my negative comments and thoughts, by the time Robber's Roost had concluded, I was on side, somehow. All of the actors, Sylvia Findlay excepted, have been in many other and better projects, and they have not failed. As for Sylvia Findlay, her weaknesses are apparent but she has something. She could have "been a contender". Usually I know something about the players, but not in this case. She came, she went and disappeared. Very attractive lady, wish here well. T

Three cheers for George.

6:51 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Oh, and of course, Sylvia wasn't born in 1904. IMDB is fun, but...

9:05 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Barrylane, I'm delighted to know that you have found some of the same enjoyment I have in George Montgomery's films. I've seen quite a number in recent months and the more I see, the more I like. They're not all perfect, but all are entertaining.

Best wishes,

12:35 AM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Laura, I hope you enjoy "Cimarron City" once you start watching it. We got it here on our TV screens in 1960 so I was already very familiar with George's co-star, John Smith, from the "Laramie" TV series even though "Cimarron City" pre-dated it ( we got it late). It was quite a good series but did not live up to expectations really. For me, the first episode is by far the best.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I appreciate the feedback on CIMARRON CITY, Jerry! I'll be interested to check it out. A perusal of the guests who appeared on the show is impressive so if nothing else it should be fun for spotting favorite faces! When I have the chance to see a few episodes I'll try to post something about it.

Late last year I also picked up two other older short-lived TV shows which look interesting, MACKENZIE'S RAIDERS with fave Richard Carlson, and HARBOR COMMAND with Wendell Corey. Just need to make the time to open them up and start watching! :)

Best wishes,

12:05 PM  

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