Friday, March 23, 2012

The Ride Back

If The Bounty Hunter and the original 3:10 to Yuma crossed each other, the intersection would be The Ride Back.  Starring William Conrad as Hamish, a sheriff on the trail of an outlaw, played sympathetically by Anthony Quinn, this 1957 black-and-white film is a satisfying eighty minutes up until just before the very end.

The peace and tranquility of a typical Western town is shattered by a sudden gunfight and a man on a horse galloping furiously away.  The Ride Back then cuts to William Conrad, considerably thinner here than in his later TV appearances, who arrives at what appears to be the border between the United States and Mexico.  A halting conversation between Conrad, whom the audience learns is a lawman, and the official in charge, occurs in English and Spanish, which is not subtitled for the audience.  I appreciated the lack of translation into English as it created a more realistic feeling and connection to what Conrad’s character was going through.

Eventually, he encounters Robert Kallen, the man accused of murder whom Hamish intends to bring back to the U.S. to face trial—a fair trial, he keeps insisting as The Ride Back progresses.  But there are obstacles in the way before he achieves his objective: Kallen is unwilling to go without a struggle, reminding me of Heyes’ and Curry’s repeated attempts in The Bounty Hunter to escape captivity.  There’s even a scene where the outlaw grabs hold of a weapon and aims it at his captor and discovers…  Well, watch the movie and find out! 

The first problem is Kallen’s Mexican lover, played by Lita Milan, who refuses to stop trying to free him.  She is definitely not a simpering, insipid female of the sort often seen in Westerns!  Another obstacle that plays an important part in The Ride Back is the possibility of an attack by Apaches. 

The way the Indians are portrayed in this movie reminded me of Six Strangers in Apache Springs: They are nameless, mostly faceless, silent, and basically stereotypes.  In the second half of the film, a mute little girl is found and becomes attached to the two male leads.  This allows Hamish and Kallen to discuss various issues on the pretext of helping the child, even though she slows down their journey. 

At one point towards the end, Hamish makes a very moving speech explaining why he's so intent on bringing in the outlaw.  Kallen’s behavior reminded me a lot of the way Glenn Ford behaved in 3:10 to Yuma, especially in the hotel room when the characters were waiting for the train to arrive.  Both William Conrad and Anthony Quinn are excellent in their roles in The Ride Back and it is very interesting to listen to Quinn speaking Spanish.  The audio at times is difficult to hear, however, even with the volume as high as it could go. 

Unfortunately, the ending of The Ride Back is abrupt and completely predictable but aside from the last minute or so, this is a very enjoyable movie of two men on opposite sides of the law who face off against each other and slowly, grudgingly, come to respect each other.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Opening with scenes of such wicked and sinful behavior as beatings and shootings, the first several minutes of Hellfire are shown through vivid red flames that surround the action on screen and highlight the B-movie nature of the film.  Shot in something called Trucolor in 1949, the colors have now faded and the movie would benefit from being remastered as the plot, while melodramatic in places, rises above its origins and holds the viewer’s interest for all its ninety minutes.

Hellfire stars Marie Windsor (Helen Archer in High, Lonesome Country) as Doll Brown, an outlaw on a quest, whom we only meet about thirteen minutes into the movie.  It first focuses on a cardsharp, whom we come to find out is named Zebediah Smith, played by William Elliott.  Zeb is also on a mission and when he encounters Doll, they end up riding together as he tries to help her. 

A young-looking Forrest Tucker (Deputy Harker Wilkins in the Pilot) plays Bucky McLean, a marshal who is friends with Zeb and is on the trail of Doll.  Paul Fix (Tom Hansen in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, Clarence Bowles in Night of the Red Dog, and Bronc in Only Three to a Bed) has a small role as one of a trio of mean brothers out to get Doll.

Additional connections to ASJ abound: There is an interesting discussion about faith, reminding me of Heyes’ line in The Man Who Broke the Bank at Red Gap where he tells Kid, “You gotta put a little more faith in your fellow man.”  Doll’s cynical response: “Faith—you can have it!”  Doll Brown sings in a saloon; however, she is rather more successful at getting the patrons to give her money than Michelle Monet was in Journey from San Juan, and her songs, “Shoofly” and “Bringing in the Sheaves” were a lot more enjoyable.  Zeb preaches to uncaring cowboys and at first is just as unsuccessful as Sister Grace was in Six Strangers at Apache Springs in getting them to contribute to the Lord but at the end of Hellfire, despite his lack of fire-and-brimstone-sounding sermons, he manages to persuade a few people to donate to his cause.

Filmed partially in Sedona, Arizona, I recognized one location shot right away.  Although the angle is slightly different, it's very interesting to see that not much has changed in what the scenery looks like between 1949, when this movie was filmed, and 2011, when I was there.  The top photo at the right is a screenshot from Hellfire and underneath is the photo I took sixty-one years later.

The ending of Hellfire is surprisingly suspenseful and even sad.  The acting is good and the plot, while overwrought at times, contains excellent banter between the major characters.  All in all, this is a movie well worth watching.