Saturday, June 11, 2011

More Dead Than Alive

If Kid Curry had gone to prison for twenty years and then was released towards the end of the nineteenth century, his life might have resembled that of the main character in More Dead Than Alive. Clint Walker plays Cain, who served eighteen years in an Arizona prison for murder, then is released and has to find his way in a very different world.

More Dead Than Alive starts off with a hanging and then there is a prison break attempt, but Cain, also known as Killer Cain for the twelve men he shot (“I was hired to use my gun and I did”), refuses to take advantage of the opportunity. He makes the right choice, as a prison guard uses a Gatling gun to greater effect than the one in Last Train to Brimstone.

A number of ASJ actors appeared in More Dead Than Alive: Harry Lauter (the sheriff in Smiler with a Gun) is the doctor who certifies the men who were hanged are dead; Clarke Gordon (Charlie Wells in A Fistful of Diamonds, Sheriff McWhorter in The Man Who Broke the Bank at Red Gap, the shopkeeper in High Lonesome Country and the eponymous McGuffin), is Carson, whom I recognized but couldn't place while watching this film; and Orville Sherman (Hank in The McCreedy Bust) as a barber, whom I didn't recognize at all.

Later that year, Cain is released and the warden says he is a changed man. Cain finds himself in the town of Las Rinas and sees, for the first time, a bicycle and a telephone. He appears perplexed by the changes that have taken place while he was incarcerated.

He also comes in contact with a “traveling shooting show,” owned by Mr. Ruffalo (played by Vincent Price), which is similar to Doc Snively’s Medicine Show in Witness to a Lynching, except that here, the star attraction is Billy (played by Paul Hampton), a youth who is an expert sharpshooter and who is jealous of Cain’s notoriety. More Dead Than Alive uses the conflict between Billy, who does all he can to provoke Cain into a shootout, and Cain, who wants nothing more to do with a gun but finds he is unable to earn an honest living without resorting to using it.

More Dead Than Alive shows the difficulty an ex-convict had at that time adjusting to life on the outside. Cain wanders all over Arizona searching for work but despite his best intentions, his identity is always discovered and, as a result, Cain is fired from the jobs he had or else someone comes gunning for him.

In an abandoned town, Cain meets an artist from Boston who came West to paint the “local color” before it is all gone. As the romantic interest in More Dead Than Alive, Anne Francis becomes attracted to Cain but not even her love can save him.

It is easy to think that Kid Curry, with a comparable background, would have had similar experiences. Ultimately, More Dead Than Alive is a very appropriate title for this 101 minute 1969 movie.