TENSION AT TABLE ROCK is a 1956 western based on the novel “Bitter Sage” by Frank Gruber.It’s the tale of a man trying to flee his past, a past that follows him everywhere he goes because of a song written about him that paints him as a back-shooting coward. You see, he supposedly shot his best friend in the back for the $10,000 reward. Richard Egan plays Wes Tancred, the man in the song.
That wasn’t how it went though. His “friend” tried to shoot him in the back as he was leaving. Tancred was just faster. His friend’s woman(Angie Dickinson in a small part), rejected by Tancred, lied about it and he was thus hung with the coward title. Unknown to everyone, he tore up the voucher for the reward. Tancred is beaten and scorned by the townspeople and so leaves town, adopting a new name, John Bailey.
When he comes up on a small stage depot, run by a man named Miller and his son, Jody, he takes the job of horse hostler. A day or two later, three men ride in and take the depot. They plan to rob a stage due in a few hours. The depot master is killed when he pulls a hidden gun and Tancred ends up shooting the three.
Again, he refuses a reward and takes the boy into the town of Table Rock where the boy’s uncle, Fred Miller(played by Cameron Mitchell) is Sheriff. Table Rock is concerned because a trail drive is due in in a few days and the one the year before had produced a lot of damage, one man shot, and the Sheriff beaten nearly to death. Now he’s a scared man, though to proud to admit it.
Tancred intends to move on, but when Jody keeps running away to follow the man he idolizes, he hangs around to give the boy time to get used to the Millers.
You know how these things go. The trail herd rides in, trampling a farmer’s crops who lies in their path, then later in town, a drunken hand murders the farmer, the ramrod planting a gun in the dead man’s hand and claiming self-defense. Two people saw the truth. Tancred and the Sheriff. The Sheriff plans to let it lie until Tancred speaks up at the inquest and when he speaks eloquently about how lonely life becomes when a lie takes over, admitting who he really is, the Sheriff steps up and this sets the trail drovers, led by actor John Dehner as Hampton, the trail boss, against the town. They promise if their man is not released the next day they will take him out of the jail.
I liked this one. There’s not anything new here, but it’s a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. A young DeForrest Kelly, he of Leonard “Bones” McCoy fame, has a small part as a gunman hired by a sleazy saloon owner to kill the Sheriff, a man who happens to be an old friend of Tancred from their Quantrill days during the war.