Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Tonight's Movie: Woman They Almost Lynched (1953)

The colorfully titled WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED (1953) was released by Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray earlier this year. Having read a number of good things about this Republic Western, I'd really been looking forward to it, and it did not disappoint.

Joan Leslie plays the title character, but that near-lynching comes at the end, and I'll leave it to viewers to discover for themselves how the movie acquired its title.

As the movie begins, Sally (Leslie) is a proper young woman whose parents have passed on, so she is on a stage to the rough frontier town of Border City to join her brother (Reed Hadley). Along the way her stagecoach is overturned by Quantrill's Raiders, led by Charles Quantrill (Brian Donlevy) and his wife Kate (Audrey Totter), along with Cole Younger (Jim Davis) and Jesse James (Ben Cooper).

Sally finally makes it to Border City, only to discover her brother doesn't own a respectable hotel, he's a saloon owner -- who hasn't seen her in so long he doesn't recognize her and thinks she's seeking employment in his establishment! Needless to say, all of this comes as a shock to Sally, but there are more surprises in store.

Said brother had once planned to marry Kate, who was kidnapped by Quantrill and has become his wife -- and one mean gal. Kate stirs up trouble, and Sally's brother ends up dead. Sally, who is broke, has no choice but to continue to run her brother's saloon, try to pay off his debts and then hope to sell it.

At least there's a mighty handsome mine manager, Lance (John Lund), to make staying in Border City a little more pleasant.

The bare bones of the plot may not sound that interesting, but the unpredictable lead female characters make the movie; they're played with enthusiasm by a pair of favorite actresses.

Joan's Sally may be every inch a lady of quality, but she's also a crack shot, as Lance learns in an amusing scene. (It reminded me a bit of the two women who demonstrate their shooting skills to Robert Taylor near the start of WESTWARD THE WOMEN.) Faced with cold, hard reality, Sally dresses up like a saloon gal to run the business, and she doesn't hesitate to brawl with Kate when necessary, even though she's embarrassed afterwards. Best of all, when she hears Kate has it in for her Sally doesn't sit and wait but goes gunning for Kate.  A shootout between two ladies sure isn't something you see in your average Western.

The evolution of Sally and Kate's relationship from the point of their shootout is fascinating, with Totter superb in a scene where she recounts to Sally how she ended up as a wild Quantrill. Kate's relationship with her husband is interesting; he's a tough man who could stop her in her tracks, but he pretty much lets her stir up trouble as she pleases, being rather entertained by it, then calmly cleans up whatever mess she's made as a result. As he says, he can't decide if she's exciting or something a little more unpleasant. It's a smaller role but Donlevy is well cast.

For that matter, with the women front and center John Lund's role is relatively small too, but I always enjoy him, finding him appealing and quite underrated. As a side note, I couldn't help thinking how his character could make the movie a target in this current era of hyper political correctness; he's the hero -- and he's a Confederate soldier. Ban movies and TV shows with Confederate flags, and soon you'll be sliding down the slope toward taking out what we might see today as films with "inappropriately heroic" characters. Where will it stop? A bit of food for thought, but anyway...

Jim Davis makes an impression as Younger, who takes a fancy to Sally and decides he's going to kidnap a wife just like Quantrill did. Otherwise, just as with the leads, it's the supporting women who make the biggest impressions, including Nina Varela's bossy town mayor and the trio of saloon gals who befriend Sally, played by Virginia Christine, Ann Savage, and Marilyn Lindsey (whose first film was WESTWARD THE WOMEN).

The supporting cast includes James Brown, Ellen Corby, Minerva Urecal, Gordon Jones, Nacho Galindo, Frank Ferguson, and Jimmy Hawkins.

WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED was written by Steve Fisher, whose name has come up very frequently in viewing of late, most recently in JOHNNY ANGEL (1945).

The movie was directed by Allan Dwan and filmed in black and white by Reggie Lanning. It runs 90 minutes.

The Olive Films DVD is a nice crisp print, as is typical for Olive releases.

WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED is quite different from your average Western, and I found it a lot of fun. Recommended.


Blogger john k said...

Lovely review Laura and it's great to see you continue to support these
lovely Republic Westerns.
Very interesting comment regarding the P.C.Police who seem determined to infest
every aspect of out lives these days.
Saw another Republic Western the other night TOUGHEST MEN IN ARIZONA also
starring Joan Leslie.
I had low expectations of it because the leading man was bandleader/crooner
Vaughn Monroe.
The film was very good a strong adult themed Western with a harrowing Indian attack
and a prolonged gunfight during a thunderstorm.
Joan Leslie was very good but less strident than in some of her other Westerns.
I also watched another Monroe Republic Western SINGING GUNS and that one was
very good as well.
Ella Raines was Monroe's leading lady in this one and she was both sexy and
strident.In one scene Vaughn tries to steal a kiss and Ella burns him in the
back of the neck with her cigarette!
There's a lot more to some of these Republic A Westerns than some folks think.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks so much for your comments, John, as well as for the feedback on additional Republic Westerns. I have so many yet to see! I know I have at least one of these on a VHS tape recorded from Encore Westerns a few years ago. Need to get it out and finally watch it!

Best wishes,

10:12 AM  
Blogger Mary-Catherine said...

I second John's recommdations, TOUGHEST MAN IN ARIZONA in particular!

Regarding Confederates, I'm not ashamed to say that some of my personal heroes "wore the gray," but I receive the impression that those in power today will not be satisfied until the remains of every last Confederate is dug up, burned, and scattered to the four winds (actually, I don't really think this would satisfy them either, but it might do for starters.)

I think most folks who would take umbrage at positive portrayals of Confederates, ex or otherwise, probably won't be watching old westerns anyway (other than the Oxbow Incident.) It seems to me that the Western hero is frequently depicted as an ex-Confederate. Here are some guesses as to why: 1. He can be a Texan. 2. It fits in with him being a displaced loner ..."nothing left after the war." 3. Shane was a Southerner, so was "The Virginian". 4. A "lost cause" is more romantic than the winning team. 5. Did I mention that "Texan" sounds neat?

1:20 PM  
Blogger John G. said...

I knew you'd like it, Laura! I thought Joan Leslie was great in this one.

2:52 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I've tried to keep my mouth shut regarding this subject, but Laura's brought it up a couple of times now and I'm going to weigh in. That subject is censorship within the Hollywood and especially the home-video formats. And one of the worst purveyors of this practice is the Disney Studios. "Make Mine Music!", "Melody Time" and "Fantasia" have all been censored. You will never see a legitimate home-video release of "Song Of The South" doesn't matter that Uncle Remus is a wise, kindly, loving father-figure. You're not going to see it. On the WB DVD discs of the "Popeye" cartoons there is an embarrassing "disclaimer/lecture" (that you can't scroll or fast-forward through)from some unknown "thought policeman" about how these cartoons were a product of their time and they were wrong then and they are wrong today, yadda, yadda, yadda....Well, I don't need some corporate guy telling me what's right and what's wrong (I've even heard rumblings that some people actually want to "do away" with "Gone With The Wind"....although I don't have any idea how they're actually going to do that....)and I don't need Disney pretending that these films were either never made "that way" or that these things never existed. It seems that there is always SOMEBODY who is pissed-off about something that happened in the past. Well, these films were, and are, what they are, and I don't believe that it's right that they be censored because somebody or some group "doesn't like it"....if you don't like it then don't buy the damn thing. If things keep going like they're going pretty soon we'll be censoring or outright banning "Birth of A Nation", "King Kong', "Trapped By The Mormons", "Tales Of Manhattan" John Wayne Westerns, ALL WWII propaganda films, or anything else that some guy doesn't like (even though they've probably never even seen them). Any other thoughts on this? We're all film buffs/enthusiasts that read Laura's blog and I, personally, want to see classic (or not-so-classic) older films the way they were crated and not monkeyed around with by some studio because they are afraid of a possible negative reaction. Excuse me for "venting" but I really get ticked-off by this kind of stuff.


2:58 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

I have this Olive Films release sitting there in the "to be watched -soon" pile but still have not got around to it. After reading your review, Laura, I have just got to bring it up to the top of the pile. Sounds like yet another great little western from those guys at Republic Studios who so knew their way around good westerns.

Plus, I've never seen either of those Vaughn Monroe films. John makes them sound pretty attractive, especially "Toughest Man In Arizona". Good to know there are always good westerns still to discover!

3:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Maricatrin, John, and Brad, thanks to each of you for weighing in! :) Maricatrin, I obviously need to pull out TOUGHEST MAN IN ARIZONA!

Brad, I agree; for those who didn't see my previous comments on this subject, scroll down in my link roundup a couple weeks ago: You know I love Disney but it's very frustrating that the studio censors (i.e., digitally removing cigarettes from cartoons) and suppresses their films. I was really hopeful that SONG OF THE SOUTH might be shown on TCM as part of the TCM Vault series, with Leonard Maltin providing an introduction, but that seems unlikely in the environment which has stirred up in recent weeks. More's the pity, as James Baskett in particular is wonderful.

I've been particularly sensitive to noticing "outdated" ideas in films recently, musing at how they could make the films targets for suppression at some point, and this one especially caught my eye in that regard given what's been going on with THE DUKES OF HAZZARD and GONE WITH THE WIND. I'll repeat what Will McKinley wrote, which is at the link: "Anything that’s old is going to include portrayals and perspectives that may be problematic to contemporary sensibilities. Instead of burying beloved classics on the Internet or in museums, let’s watch and learn from them."

Back to the movie on hand -- it was really a good time, John, and I'm looking forward to watching it again in the future. :)

Best wishes,

3:16 PM  
Blogger Jerry E said...

Let me add my support to the comments above re censorship. Apparently everybody should suffer because some trigger-happy moron guns down innocent people at prayer. I understand that the Civil War was (relatively) recent history and sensitivities remain but to try to expunge all reference to the past instead of using it to learn for a better future is ridiculous and plain arrogant. They really need to get some perspective.

3:24 PM  
Blogger Kristina said...

This looks neat, always love to see women in strong roles like this. I'm a Lund fan too, agree about him being underrated. And hear hear to the comments against PC/censorship/speech codes imposed on art in the name of civility. Free speech and open expression means being offended sometimes.

4:00 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, I'd love to know what you think of WOMAN THEY ALMOST LYNCHED. I hope I don't "oversell" it, but I really thought it unique and well done.

Jerry and Kristina, thanks for your comments. What's interesting is I suspect that the same people who advocate putting GWTW in museums (where guides can instruct their audiences on how to feel about it?) or yanking a show like DUKES off the air because of a car's paint job would be horrified at the suggestion of censoring or suppressing books, and publishers would be up in arms. Why is it noble to reject censorship of books, yet with visual media the attitudes seem to be far different?

Make everything available and then we can all evaluate, share opinions, debate, and learn. None of that can happen if the shows are stuck in a vault because rights holders or broadcasters are afraid of giving offense. Unfortunately we may be entering an era where even more films are restricted from legal public viewing. Hopefully my concerns will prove to be unfounded over the long run.

Best wishes,

6:57 PM  
Blogger James Corry said...

I think my final concern about the censorship, "not wanting to give offense to anyone" type of mindset that the home-video market has gotten themselves into (plus a lot of other institutions) is: Where does it stop? How long does this go on? Do we get rid of all the "Tarzan" movies, or many others I could name? Where does it end?


6:30 AM  
Blogger Shay said...

" As a side note, I couldn't help thinking how his character could make the movie a target in this current era of hyper political correctness; he's the hero -- and he's a Confederate soldier. " The hero of HBO's current oater, Hell on Wheels, is a former Confederate soldier.

5:51 PM  

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