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LAWMAN surprised me when I watched the recording I’d made of it this morning. Released in 1971, I’d expected a good western adventure, a couple of hours of enjoyment, then delete it and go on to the next. It turned out to be much more than escapist fun though.

The three main players were Burt Lancaster as Marshall Jared Maddox, a rigid, straight by the book lawman, Lee J. Cobb as Vincent Bronson, the rich cattle man that had always worked hard and played hard, and Robert Ryan as Marshall Cotton Ryan, an aging lawman, once feared, now living out his days in charge of the quiet town of Sabbath.

Minor roles were filled by Robert Duval, Richard Jordan, Ralph Waite, Albert Salmi, J. D. Cannon, and Sheree North. A number of other of those recognizable faces, but not quite remembered names, populates the town of Sabbath.

The plot is simple. Several months back, Bronson and six men, some his, some small ranchers that had thrown in with him, had entered the town of Bannock, Maddox’s town, to celebrate the end of a cattle drive. Drinking and hoorawing the town, in the shooting and damage, an old man is shot, killed. These weren’t bad men and none knew someone had died as they left town. Maddox had been out of town tracking an outlaw.

Now he rides into Sabbath, Bronson’s town, to arrest the seven men and take them back for trial. Six actually, for one he’d already ran into and had to kill when he was drawn upon.

The once fiery Marshall Ryan doesn’t want any trouble. Bronson owns most of the town. He’s not the “evil” cattle baron one sees in some westerns, but a prideful man that wants to buy off Maddox when he learns what happened, pay for the damages to the town, reparations to the dead man’s family. But both men are equally unbending. Maddox knows how weak the justice system in his town is, knowing they’ll likely get a trial and a fine, but the law must be followed. Bronson and the others don’t have the time to spare.

Robert Duvall and J.D. Cannon are two small ranchers, honest men, Sheree North the woman of Cannon’s character, who just happens to have a history with Maddox. Neither man can spare the time to go through a trial, saying they’d have nothing to come back to if gone more than a day or two. The words are never said about North’s character but from comments made during talks, one gets the impression she’s a former “soiled dove.” Richard Jordan is a young cowman torn between his loyalty to the brand and what he knows is right.

The townspeople want Maddox to leave and approach him armed, trying to force him out. Maddox calmly faces them down, admitting they have enough to kill him, but does anyone have the stomach to be the first one to die.

The story builds as first one, then another tries him, some dying, some arrested, and when the inevitable confrontation at the end comes, it didn’t go at all like I thought.

A different kind of western directed by British director Michael Winner and written by Gerald Wilson, with musical score by Jerry Fielding.

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