Edward G. Robinson is another of those actors I just never thought of in a western. I think of gangster films as milieu. I’m sure that’s not all he did. I mean here’s THE VIOLENT MEN and I expect there probably were others. He gets third billing here after Glenn Ford and Barbara Stanwyck. Brian Keith, Dianne Foster, and Richard Jaeckel are the principal players in the film based on the novel ROUGH COMPANY by Donald Hamilton.
Glenn Ford is John Parrish, an Easterner who came west for his health after the war. A cavalry officer for the Union, he’d taken a bullet through the chest in a battle and had really thought he was coming west to die. he’d bought a small ranch in a valley and found he wasn’t much of a cattleman, though his men were loyal. He hated what the war had done to the country and didn’t want any part of the building tensions. His health had returned and he planned to sell the ranch and move back east after marrying a young woman, Caroline Vail(May Wynn), who’d made him promise to take Lew Wilkinson’s offer and not fight. He’d stood and watched the old sheriff shot down by a hired gun, in the back, and did nothing. To his own disgust.
There had been a war in the valley a dozen years before over land. Lew Wilkinson(Robinson) had won, but lost the use of his legs in the process. Martha Wilkinson(Stanwyck), his wife secretly despises the half man he is now. A scheming woman who only married him for his wealth, she harbors a desire for her brother-in-law, Cole(Keith), and had in fact ditched him twenty years ago for Lew. he’d been brought from Texas to ostensibly help run the ranch, called Anchor, at Martha’s urging. But she was pushing for violence to fulfill her ambition to own the whole valley, pushing “nesters” and the last few small ranchers in her way. Once that was done, she wanted her husband out of the way and Cole in his place.
Parrish plans to take the ridiculous offer until Martha gets impatient and sends Cole to “push” him a bit. One of Parrish’s hands is beaten and killed and the law warns him against doing anything. His hand had named his killer with his dying breath, a hired gun named Wade Matlock(Jaeckel), but the sheriff is in Wilkinson’s pocket and Parrish knows it’s a set-up to give then an excuse to murder all his men. Threatening to fire anyone who goes over there, after explaining what’s really going on, he goes himself, taking his murdered hand’s pistol in his belt(he’s known for not wearing a gun) and pushes the killer until the man goes for his gun, then kills him.
It’s on then.
The next day he goes to Anchor and delivers the killer’s pistol, “the one you said you’d tossed off the ranch,” and warns Wlikinson “that you won’t like the kind of war I’ll fight.”
And he’s right. A trained cavalry officer, he takes his men into the hills and begins a guerilla war that inflames the valley. It’s Anchor against the small ranchers and the farmers. with Martha pushing more and more. I almost forgot her daughter, Judith(Foster), The few scenes with Ford early in the film sparkle with chemistry as the joust with each other. She, though they had never met, is disappointed that Parrish seems to be capitulating to her father’s will. All she’d heard about him had told her different. We know where this is going so I won’t make more of it.
A darn good western.
A final word about the Hamilton novel, ROUGH COMPANY, the basis for the film. Not likely to ever read this one unless some sort of new edition comes out. Prices on the used sites are outrageous. I found one for seventy-eight dollars, but the rest were in the four hundred dollar range, several, and the sen hundred dollar range, several more. Plus sixteen bucks shipping and handling.
For more overlooked movies, see Todd Mason on Tuesdays over at SWEET FREEDOM.