In the introduction to ALONG THE GREAT DIVIDE on Turner Classic Movies, Tom Mankiewicz talks about Kirk Douglas’ rising star after WWII. He was in drama and noir films. But any young, healthy actor of the times would star in the most popular movie genre of the time. This was Kirk Douglas’ first western.
He plays Len Merrick, the new Federal Marshall in the territory. He breaks up a lynching with his two deputies, Billy(John Agar) and Lou(Ray Teal, Sheriff Roy Coffee from Bonanza), by the Roden clan, a rich ranch family led by Ed Roden(Morris Ankrum). They’d caught Timothy “Pop” Keith(Walter Brennan), a homesteader, with a dozen rustled cattle and had found Roden’s oldest son murdered alongside the trail left by the cattle. Pop admits to the rustling, but swears he never saw the son, let alone killed him.
Roden and his other son, Dan, along with a “posse” of other ranchers were about to lynch old Pop when Marshall Merrick stops it, nearly coming to a gun battle over it. The other ranchers want nothing more to do with a lynching when a Marshal is witness. Roden sends them all away and goes to get his son, Merrick following and offering to help. He is of course refused by the grieving old man, who loads the body on a horse and rides off. Merrick finds a silver pocket watch on a chain near where the body lay and calls after Roden who is too far away to hear.
All about the law, Merrick is determined to get Pop to a town where he can be tried for the murder. He cares not what happens, his job is to deliver the prisoner. It’s a court and jury’s job to determine his fate.
The journey won’t be easy. Roden and his men pursue them, along with Pop’s daughter, Ann(Virginia Mayo) across the desert they decide to risk, hoping to throw off Roden. It doesn’t work.
Dogged by Roden and his men, the extra water gone when Ed Roden shoots the water skin on the pack horse, Billy shot by another of Roden’s men, Merrick captures Ed Roden and carries him along for insurance that Roden will back off. He is soon alone against everyone else. The water hole they finally reach has bad water, Lou wants to head south toward a river on the border, which is were Pop wants to go also, and Ed Roden is trying to make deals with everybody but Merrick. If Pop can just get across the border…he likes Merrick but promises him if he turns his back… To complicate things further, feelings are growing between Merrick and Ann. She, too, promises she will free her father however she can. A trial is waiting at the end of the trail, one Merrick has come to regret. But he is all about the law. One time in the past, he forgot that and it cost him someone dear to him. It still haunts him.
I liked this film even though I figured out who the real killer was early on. Likely reading this, you can see it also. Too easy.
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