Tuesday, March 03, 2020

Tonight's Movie: The Badge of Marshal Brennan (1957)

I watch a great many Westerns, and part of the fun in doing so is hunting for unexpected "hidden gems," such as the films I recently wrote about for Classic Movie Hub.

While probably not quite on a par with the trio of films I wrote about in that piece, I found THE BADGE OF MARSHAL BRENNAN (1957) to be an unexpected surprise which wholly engaged my attention from start to finish. To be sure, it has some oddball aspects, but in the end I think the film's more unique features contributed to making it memorable.

As the film begins, an outlaw (Jim Davis) is being chased by a posse. They quit when he rides into Indian territory, saying that even with the bounty on his head, "he isn't worth chasing into Apache land."

It's a spooky ride for the outlaw, including fending off a small gang of attacking Indians, after which he comes upon a dying man (Douglas Fowley). He moves the "old-timer" to a more comfortable spot and learns the man is Marshal Brennan. They spend time talking, but eventually the outlaw realizes that while he was explaining his situation, the Marshal has died. In a touching moment, the outlaw sighs, "That's the way it's always been, Marshal. Nobody ever stayed around long enough to hear my side of the story."

The outlaw takes the Marshal's badge with him, and when he arrives in the next town circumstances lead him to assume the Marshal's identity, becoming "Marshal Matt Brennan." He aids the local sheriff (Carl Smith) and doctor (Harry Lauter), who are dealing with an epidemic the doctor traces to a diseased herd owned by the powerful Colonel Doniphan (Louis Jean Heydt) and Doniphan's son Shad (Lee Van Cleef). The Doniphans are concerned only with keeping their herd from being put down, regardless of how many local people die.

"Marshal Brennan" keeps trying to "check out" and move on, but his conscience -- and the love of cafe owner Murdock (Arleen Whelan) -- pull him back to help finish the fight with the Doniphans.

This was quite a unique film, starting with the score by Ramez (Ramey) Idriss, which the opening credits note is played "on Fender guitar." It wasn't quite as odd as the organ score in the recently seen crime film FINGERPRINTS DON'T LIE (1951), but it was definitely unusual. Early on I found the music, described by one IMDb reviewer as "eccentric," a bit hokey or distracting, but I have to admit it grew on me as the film went on. It gives the movie quite a different feel.

The film has an almost mystical touch in the early sequence with the outlaw and the Marshal, an encounter which ultimately causes the outlaw to turn his life around. The movie has other interesting aspects, such as an experimentally shot scene where Van Cleef takes a vial of blood from the doctor and hurls it toward the camera -- where the blood spatters and drips down the screen. While I'm not sure it really works in the sense that it calls attention to the fact the viewer is looking at the scene through something blood can run down, I give the filmmakers props for trying it. I also felt it showed they were trying to take the time to do some things to elevate the film above the norm.

There are a couple other nicely shot scenes, such as a shadow on the ground, which I really liked. More significantly, although it was a fairly low budget Allied Artists film, the company traveled to Kanab, Utah, for extended location filming. Fans of WESTWARD THE WOMEN (1951) will recognize the locations seen in THE BADGE OF MARSHAL BRENNAN; the fact that much of the film was shot outdoors in this location gives it a majestic look and feel that raises it above your typical "B" or "C" Western shot at Iverson Ranch or Corriganville.

The cast is notable insofar as two huge country stars, Carl Smith and Marty Robbins, are in the supporting cast, though neither sings during the course of the story. Smith, who had divorced June Carter Cash the previous year, acquits himself extremely well as the canny, observant sheriff, and his portrayal brings a needed touch of lightness to the story. I liked that he's tipped off to the "Marshal's" true identity early on, but he lets things play out and gives "Brennan" a chance to prove himself. A moment near the end where he said Brennan's word was good enough for him was quite moving. I thought Smith was really good, and I also liked his singing of the song "Man on the Run" during the credits.

Robbins has a smaller role as a Doniphan ranch hand, Felipe, who is part of a shocking scene when Shad (Van Cleef) realizes Felipe has fallen ill with the disease. It's a jaw-dropping moment which underscores Shad's evil; I gasped out loud in disbelief.

It's always great to see both Van Cleef and Heydt turn up in films like this. Heydt has an atypical mustache in this and his appearance almost seems to be channeling Paul Kelly, but when he speaks his very distinctive voice assures the viewer it's definitely Heydt.

Davis's typically taciturn, stoic personality was just right for this role, and it also contributes to a profound moment midway through the film when Murdock (Whelan) is watching him and he suddenly smiles. It's so unexpected, it's as though the sun comes out.

Another of the film's curiosities is that the leading lady is only referred to by her last name, Murdock -- she in turn calls the "Marshal" only by his last name, Brennan. This was one of the last couple movies in Whelan's 20-year film career, which began in 1937. Along the way she costarred in two John Ford films, YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939) and THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT (1953); a decade before this film she had starred with Joel McCrea in the very fine Western RAMROD (1947).

The movie was written by Tom Hubbard and directed by Albert C. Gannaway. It was filmed in black and white by Charles Straumer.

The exact same filmmaking team, including most of the cast, appeared the same year in RAIDERS OF OLD CALIFORNIA (1957).

Sadly, this film isn't on an authorized DVD, but it turns up in various places such as streaming services, YouTube, or "gray market" DVD dealers. I watched a very nice print.

Western fans looking for something a little different should definitely check this one out.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

A very welcome review of a western I am pretty fond of, Laura. As you know, I have always liked Jim Davis as an actor, especially in westerns. As they say, "he could wear the hat"!
Carl Smith is a revelation here, which you felt too, as well as being a favourite singer of mine. After divorcing June Carter he married another country singer, Goldie Hill, and they enjoyed a long and happy marriage. Smith retired from music eventually and he and Goldie devoted themselves to ranching.

My (very nice) print of this film came from Hollywood Scrapheap who did a nice job with it.

11:26 PM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

A new title to me and I can't thank you enough for the introduction.

5:49 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

That sounds like a movie I'd love to see. I've been looking at various youtube and other sites but can't find it. Somebody drop me a hint where I can dig it up please.
I checked Hollywood Scrapheap, which I've never even heard of before, they have it. But can I find it online?

7:19 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Hi Margot,
Hollywood Scrapheap have an easy ordering system online. I have quite a lot of their releases which are region-free; they mailed them to me in the UK, no trouble.

8:18 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Jerry! So glad to know you have seen and enjoyed this one as well, I hope your added endorsement will encourage others to check this out! I love that you also found Carl Smith so enjoyable in this. Thanks for adding the additional background on his life! I'm more of an '80s country fan so much appreciate you sharing that.

Caftan Woman, my pleasure! Hope you can check it out soon.

Margot, it's interesting this one isn't currently on YT but the "sister" film made with the same cast, RAIDERS OF OLD CALIFORNIA, is currently there. I checked my cable system's streaming library and it's interesting that it also currently has RAIDERS OF OLD CALIFORNIA but not MARSHAL BRENNAN. MARSHAL BRENNAN used to be on Amazon Watch Instantly but is currently unavailable there as well. It could reappear one of these places in the future!

Like Jerry, my copy comes from Hollywood Scrapheap. It's a very nice print and I felt was worth the investment. I have found H.S. is a good source for "not on DVD" films, they seem to take more care providing decent prints than some "gray market" DVD sellers.

Best wishes,

8:46 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Jerry and Laura, thanks for the tips. Hollywood Scrapheap seems to have many good titles for a decent price.
Unfortunately many of these gray market sellers are not too good. Loving the Classics is a seller I haven't had much luck with. Most prints they sell are pretty mediocre.

9:57 AM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Margot, I can only tell you that pretty well all the films I have bought from the guy who runs H Scrapheap are very decent prints of Republic and other films that are hard to find. Several Rod Cameron and Bill Elliott films in my collection came from HS.
I owe the guy my vote of thanks.

12:18 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi again Margot and Jerry!

Margot, I have also purchased from Loving the Classics, although not for several years now -- while some of the prints (THE SLEEPING CITY comes to mind, before Universal put out an authorized copy) were good "off-air" recordings from sources like AMC (from its commercial-free days), as you say many prints were mediocre. After a couple particularly bad prints I stopped rolling the dice with them, though I'm glad that in the past they had made possible my seeing rare titles like RULERS OF THE SEA, THE FOREST RANGERS, and WIFE, DOCTOR AND NURSE.

I have only watched a handful but so far everything I've received from H.S. (including WYOMING with Bill Elliott) has been very good quality. And he seems to do a good job removing titles (i.e., NAKED ALIBI) once they come out in an authorized print, which is smart for multiple reasons.

Best wishes,

1:45 PM  
Blogger Vienna said...

Sounds a good plot. Will be checking out Hollywood Scrapheat. Thanks.

12:48 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Vienna, hope you get to check out the movie! I'd be interested in your feedback on both the movie and Hollywood Scrapheap.

Best wishes,

11:43 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Just watched it and liked it very much. Good cast and it's nice to see Jim Davis in a lead role. Another actor who usually had to play second fiddle to other actors.

Only the music drove me mad. The problem is not long ago I actually stooped so low and watched the Ed Wood movie Jail Bait. Oh dear, it was awful. I'm mentioning it because it had the same strange guitar music as the Western. Not a good thing! I don't know who thought the soundtrack was a good one.

But all in all fun.

7:24 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Margot!

I'm so glad you got to watch this and enjoyed it. Was very interesting to hear your opinion. I've never seen JAIL BAIT but that was an interesting music comparison! I can see why the music got to you even though it kind of grew on me as the movie went on. It's definitely way out there -- the only score more odd I've heard this year was a '50s crime film with an organ score! LOL.

Thanks so much for letting me -- and everyone -- know your thoughts!

Best wishes,

11:16 PM  

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