My Classic Movie Pick: 1955 Western, The Violent Men

During Turner Classic Movies’s Summer Under the Stars in August of 2017, I dvred several movies starring Glenn Ford.  Ford was one of the 31 stars featured that month.  Ford made several westerns in his career and a new one to me was released  in 1955, The Violent Men.   The film is  dramatic with a capital D, set in the rugged west of New Mexico, with a lot of action and plot twists.

 

Columbia Pictures bought the rights of the novel, Smoky Valley, by Donald Hamilton and hired Harry Keiner to write the  screenplay.   Direction was by Rudolph Mate and the  producer was Lewis J.  Rachmil.  The soaring music was by Max Steiner and the film was made with cinemascope for a better look via the widescreen with the added splash of  technicolor.  This film sounds and looks great.   The cast is large, and there are two actresses in it I was not familiar with.  Glenn Ford, obviously the protagonist, plays John Parrish, a former Yankee soldier turned cattle rancher who after a 3 year try, has decided to take his fiancee Caroline(May Wynn-one of the actresses I wasn’t familiar with) back east with him, where they’ll marry and he’ll find something else to do for a living.

Moving east will take money and John tells Caroline, her father, and John’s ranch hands that he plans on selling his cattle ranch to area cattle baron Lew Wilkison(played by Edward G. Robinson-yes! the actor most associated with playing gangsters, is in a western!).  John does add a warning to his announcement, if Wilkison doesn’t offer him what his ranch is really worth, he’ll turn down the offer.  Caroline isn’t happy to hear this, as she wants to get east and urges John to take whatever offer he receives.  The ranch hands are outraged, and tell John that Wilkison has sent his henchmen out and about to harass the smaller ranchers in order to drive them away and they thought John was a better boss, a better man who wouldn’t cut and run.  John is left between a rock and a hard place, and goes off to see Wilkison.

Wilkison has an impressive spread, a small man in size but not in ego. Despite being crippled due to a range war that happened 12 years in the past, Lew Wilkison still inspires a sort of fear amongst the local folks.  Lew vowed to buy up all the land in a large area to please his wife, Martha,(Barbara Stanwyck) so that they would be the leading family in the New Mexico territory.  One would think if one were pursuing a family dynasty one would have a passel of heirs, but no, there is only one daughter, Judith(Dianne Foster-the other actress I wasn’t familiar with.)  Lew worships the ground Martha walks on yet daughter Judith hates her mother-that plot point isn’t given much explanation, but as the story moves forward, we’ll see reasons as to why Judith is right to be wary of her mother.  Lew’s younger brother, Cole(Brian Keith, with dark hair and mustache, not looking like Uncle Bill from Family Affair at all!) helps with running the ranch and reason one for Judith to hate mama: Martha and Cole are carrying on a torrid affair under Lew’s nose!!!  Cole, not a great guy, is two-timing Martha with a Mexican girl Elena(Lita Milan); the phrase that there is no honor among thieves comes to my mind.  A shout out to a young Richard Jaeckel is in order too, as he is his smarmy, snarling best as henchman #1 Wade Matlock, murdering the sheriff in cold blood, under orders from someone at Wilkison’s ranch, but Lew denies giving out any such order when John confronts him about this event.  John, refusing to be charmed by Martha, also refuses Lew’s weak offer for his ranch, and the Wilkison’s new motto(not Judith’s) is to drive John Parrish from the territory and all the rest of the small ranchers trying to hold on to their properties.

Lew and Martha Wilkison, power couple of New Mexico territory

Judith, who hates her mother, Martha

Martha with her lover, Cole

 

John casually confronting Matlock in the saloon.

Edward G. Robinson, the more I explore the films he was in, the more I am impressed with his acting abilities and his talent.  He wasn’t only good at playing an underworld gangster, he played a gentle father in Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, a spoof of his gangster self in Larceny, Inc., a wise insurance inspector in Double Indemnity, and now as ranch baron Lew in The Violent Men.  If you aren’t familiar with all of his films, make that a goal for yourself in 2018!  I will give a tiny spoiler, at the film’s end, Lew accepts  a giant dose of mea culpa and it’s good to see that happen.

Barbara Stanwyck is good in this film, too.  I mentally noted that her character is sort of a western version of Lady Macbeth.  She is power behind her husband’s throne, yet conniving for her own power in several ways, leaving her husband oblivious to her machinations.  She will receive a shock in the film and her just desserts, two more tiny spoilers.

The film may pop up again on TCM this year, and it is available via the TCM Shop and at Amazon.  I’ll end the post with two great posters that advertised the film in Italy, back in 1955.  I find these two posters very artistic.  I also found a great shot of Ford and Robinson on the set, making me hope that there was a great sense of fun and camaraderie despite the film being  a dark drama.

 

Robinson and Ford on set

 

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Aren’t those foreign posters awesome? Always liked this film and of course I’m a big fan of Glenn from this time period when he was in his prime years as a leading man. Eddie as you point out is a wonderful actor and those titles you mentioned are wonderful. I’d also recommend one I just saw recently for the first time, The Red House which I found to be a great thriller. Barbara is good here but was playing this role all too often by this time I think and Keith is suitably vicious which is odd cause I always think of him as a gentle character thanks to his work in family films and TV. Anyway, great selection to feature.

    Reply

    • The Red House, yes I did see that one a couple years ago when TCM aired it and as you wrote, it’s a great little thriller. For The Violent Men, there was a french poster that made me laugh, as it used the word souffle in the title, with a large image of Stanwyck in the forefront. When I see souffle, I think of a culinary dish, not a group of dangerous men!

      Reply

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