Sunday, May 12, 2013

Duel in Durango

In Duel in Durango, Will Sabre, played by George Montgomery (Curt Clitterhouse in Jailbreak at Junction City), is an outlaw who wants to go straight.  He wears a black hat with silver conchos, was known as the fastest gun around, and was the leader of an outlaw gang which robbed banks and stagecoaches throughout the West.  The other gang members, however, don’t approve of Sabre’s decision to get out of the business.

But at the start of Duel in Durango, the audience does not know this.  What viewers see is a man who finds a young boy beside a covered wagon, his pa dead.  Then the scene shifts to a group of men interrogating a homesteader about the whereabouts of outlaw Will Sabre and, once they get the information, one of the men, apparently the leader, shoots the homesteader dead.  Boyd “Red” Morgan (Augie Helms in The Fifth Victim) has a small role as one of the outlaws and also does some stunt work, according to the credits listed on IMDb. 

Meanwhile, the stranger who found the boy helps him bury his father and when a posse composed of Texas Rangers shows up asking about Will Sabre, both man and boy recognize the name as that of a famous outlaw but they plead ignorance as to ever having seen him.  Shortly after that, the other group of men shows up and finds Will Sabre, who is the stranger helping the boy.  They present him with an ultimatum: Return to the gang within thirty days or else…

Will Sabre adopts the alias of Dan Tomlinson and takes the boy Robbie (played by Bobby Clark) to Durango, where he used to have a girl.  Judy (played by Ann Robinson) is a successful rancher who, although initially angry at Will for leaving her, eventually softens up enough to acquiesce to his request to look after Robbie.  Unlike Clementine Hale, Judy is serious and not at all flighty in her demeanor.  Her home is a lot nicer than Clem’s cabin, too.  Duel in Durango spends a fair amount of time showing the domestic life of this trio that somehow becomes a family.

Dan gets a job as a teller in the local bank.  Before hiring him, the manager asks, “Have you ever done any banking?”  “Well, not your kind,” Dan replies.  Definitely shades of Hannibal Heyes here!  And Kid Curry, too, for Dan tells Robbie, “By the time you grow, [people] won’t be wearing guns.  They’ll live by the law.”  So not exactly an echo, as Duel in Durango was released in 1957, some fourteen years before the premiere of ASJ, but perhaps an ancestor.

But not everything is perfect forever.  Sabre’s old gang catches up to him; there’s a bank robbery and a gun battle on the main street of Durango.  Dan comes under suspicion—the sheriff, played by Frank Ferguson (Mr. Billings, the undertaker, in Bad Night in Big Butte), always did seem to have reservations about him.  And then, something happens to Robbie.  Sabre seeks out his former gang members at their hideout, which is called a “shack” in Duel in Durango and is much more rustic than Devil’s Hole.

Although this film is also known as Gun Duel in Durango, I think Duel in Durango is a better title because the duel refers to more than just the gunfight that occurs about two-thirds of the way through the movie.  Will Sabre duels with his alternate persona, Dan Tomlinson, who is meek as a mouse, as he continuously faces challenges in his attempt to go straight.  He also duels with Judy and with Robbie over matters of the heart and home.  Even Sabre’s verbal parrying with the sheriff was a duel between the law and outlaw. 

Ultimately, though, all these struggles come to a satisfying, if abrupt, end which fans of Alias Smith and Jones will cheer.