A TIME FOR KILLING is a 1967 film set near the end of the Civil War. Based on the novel THE SOUTHERN BLADE by Nelson and Shirley Wolford, it concerns a Union prison camp in Arizona and the pursuit of a group of rebels that escape, heading toward Mexico.
Glenn Ford plays Major Tom Wolcott, second in command of the prison, an officer who tries to treat the Rebel prisoners with some kind of dignity. They hate him as a Union officer, but afford a certain respect as a man. George Hamilton is Captain Dorrit Bentley, ranking officer among the prisoners, a Southerner from the deep South ravaged by Sheridan and harboring an intense hatred of that and his inability to do anything about it. Inger Stevens is a missionary, Emily Biddle, from Massachusetts visiting the camp to do her duty to give aid and comfort to the enemy.
Some of the other key roles in the film are, on the union side, Kenneth Tobey(he of THE THING fame), Paul Peterson(the son on The Donna Reed Show), and a very young actor near the beginning with only a couple of lines(maybe a half dozen words) billed as Harrison J. Ford. On the Rebel side, Harry Dean Stanton and Max Baer, Jr.(who chews up the scenery as a laughing, homicidal killer, a far cry from dim bulb Jethro Bodine)named Luther. There’s also a host of that unsung corp of actors, those “faces” you know, but just can’t remember a name.
At about the time the escape is going on, Inger Stevens is leaving on her wagon with an eight man escort. Major Wolcott doesn’t want to pursue the escapees. He knows from dispatches that the war is near an end and figures “we’ll just have to turn them loose as soon as we catch them.” What is the point in risking the lives of men on either side? The camp commander doesn’t see it that way. “How will it look on the report that I couldn’t hang onto prisoners?” he threatens to court-martial anyone who refuses the mission.
So the chase is on.
When the Rebels intercept and kill the missionary escort, taking Emily Biddle prisoner. Captain Bentley had seen a close relationship starting to build between Wolcott and Biddle and focused his hatred of the rape of the South into something closer to him now.
Wolcott is a man who wants to just follow orders until he finds Biddle in the back of a cantina just vacated by the Rebels. They find a Union dispatch rider murdered with an empty pouch. Only Bentley, Biddle, and Luther know the truth and none of them are talking.
As these things go, a violent finale is sure to follow.
I enjoyed this one. The only jarring note I finally overcome. The sight of seeing Jethro laughing and giggling as he killed, hacking one Union soldier up with his sword put me off for a while. Baer was a better actor than he ever got credited. After all, he made us believe so much in his portrayal of Jethro on The Hillbillies that it virtually ruined his career. I’m as guilty as any in buying into that, but, as I said, I overcame that as the movie rolled. Yes, he overplayed the laughing a bit here, not sounding real at times. He finally won me over though, especially the death scene.
I give this one a B. Worth a look, if not going out of the way to find it.