Jim Douglass (Gregory Peck) has been relentlessly pursuing the four outlaws who murdered his wife, but finds them in jail about to be hanged. While he waits to witness their execution, they escape; and the townspeople enlist Douglas’ aid to recapture them.
A personal loss, a huge mistake, a beautiful film
Unlike John Wayne Westerns (especially the John Ford ones), a lot of Westerns from the 1950 like the Anthony Mann films are a little edgy and psychological. This one, starring a laconic Gregory Peck, is big and beautiful and classic, and it has some of that darkness to it that makes it more contemporary.
To be sure, it’s still a product of the clichés of the genre. A loner is on the trail of some bad guys, and for much of the movie he hunts them down across some astonishing landscape. A woman from his past gets in the middle of it, at times, and the townspeople aren’t sure what to make of him.
Peck is a great lead, and he’s got a strong, if predictable, supporting cast. The woman in question is a young Joan Collins, more famous for her “Dynasty” years. Also of note is the sets and lighting–if sets is the right word. There are so many gorgeous scenes, both in town and in the wilderness, and they are filmed with such great light, it’s actually worth watching just to watch. And many of the night scenes are filmed with a bold darkness, the color stripped down and everything hard to discern. This isn’t actually Technicolor, but a new competitor, DeLuxe, and the restoration (at least on the Netflix streaming version) is superb.
If you like Westerns, this is one not to miss. If you don’t, I think it’s still really enjoyable, and might just get you looking for more. The director here, Henry King, is a Hollywood stalwart who took his hand at almost everything (from 1915 into the 1960s). And so you see a pro at work here, working within the genre, but intelligently.