Monday, May 11, 2015

Convict Stage

With such a great title, Convict Stage should be a great movie.  Unfortunately, this 1965 black-and-white film does not live up its name.  It starts off with a stagecoach robbery that turns violent with the murder of the driver, shotgun messenger, and a young, female passenger.  The joking by the robbers, two young brothers named Jeb and Johnny Sims, shows their callousness.

Unfortunately for them, the young woman they gunned down was the sister of Ben Lattimore, a gunfighter married to a woman who doesn’t approve of guns, who is played by Harry Lauter.  Ben is the star of Convict Stage and the rest of the movie follows him as he attempts to exact justice for his sister.  His initial adversary and eventual ally is Marshal Jethro Karnin, played by Donald Barry.  Lattimore wants to just kill the Sims brothers but the marshal has a sworn duty to get them to trial so he is taking them by stage from Apache Wells to Prescott, a 24-hour journey.  One interesting point about Lattimore is his clothes: He wears a suit and regular shoes instead of cowboy duds.

Naturally, there are a few civilian passengers on the stage as well, since the stage company has a business to run.  Just like Stagecoach Seven, there are eight people riding the stage.  But this time, it’s the two women who ride up top—because it’s safer than being inside with the two murderers, even though they are handcuffed.  The man, a drummer, is forced to ride inside instead and he is none too happy about that, the mirror opposite of the TV episode.  Convict Stage introduced all these people rather quickly and it was at first confusing to keep them straight because not enough background information about them was given, but it became clearer as the movie went on.

Naturally, the stage encounters one problem after another.  Unbeknownst to the marshal, one of the women is actually the mother of the Sims brothers.  Played by Hanna Landy, she is the best part of Convict Stage.  Amoral and a crack shot in her own right, she apparently led her sons into a life of crime as the leader of a gang and is now dead set on rescuing them.

Faced with a bridge that was blown up and no way to cross a river, the stage heads instead to Calico, a ghost town they passed earlier, to hole up and prepare for the showdown Lattimore and the marshal know is coming.  The audience sees Ma Sims, who pretends to be a demure little old lady, playing the other people as she, too, prepares for the showdown by the other members of her gang. 

She and the other woman, who turns out to be Lattimore’s wife although that isn’t known by the other people, cook a dinner of beans for everyone but before the older woman is allowed to bring the food to the prisoners, the marshal says she has to be searched, which reminded me of the scene in The Day They Hanged Kid Curry, when Penny (Belinda Montgomery) was asked to search the old woman played by Walter Brennan in drag.  As in the TV episode, the young lady in this movie missed the gun hidden in the stocking of the old lady, although unlike ASJ, here it was an unintentional oversight.

The shootout at the end of Convict Stage was the best part of the movie.  It was well done and had enough uncertainty to keep me watching and wondering what would happen next.  I won’t give any spoilers but I will say I noticed a few similarities to the gunfighting scenes in Stagecoach Seven.

Throughout this movie, I kept thinking of 3:10 to Yuma.  The premise of Convict Stage was the same—get a shackled prisoner from one place to another for trial and face a series of obstacles along the way.  However, each of those versions is a much better film than this 71-minute movie.

One of the bonus features was interesting, though: Besides stills and lobby cards for the movie, and trailers for five other Westerns, there was also a “Pressbook Gallery” feature that contained newspaper articles about the film and the actors in it; the background information was informative.   

Convict Stage was filmed entirely on location in Kanab, Utah, and the landscape definitely helped raise the movie up a notch.  As a B-movie, Convict Stage is just about acceptable but it certainly won’t be winning any awards from me.