Thursday, June 8, 2023

The Deadly Companions - 1961 Movie

Image shows DVD cover of movie. Director Sam Peckinpah's name is at top, underneath is picture of 3 main actors looking serious. Movie title is in center of image and in small text below is a description of the film. At the bottom are the actors' names Brian Keith and Maureen O'Hara.

The Deadly Companions, based on the novel of the same name by A. S. Fleischman, is a short 92-minute movie from1961.  It was the first movie directed by Sam Peckinpah and stars Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith.


As with many Westerns of this era, The Deadly Companions opens with a shot of a man, who turns out to be a Union solder, walking into a saloon in a nameless town.  He orders tequila, looks around and see a group of men playing cards, and then sees another man, accused of being a “five ace card player,” with a noose around his neck struggling to keep his footing. 


The soldier is about to save the other man when a young guy, with two saloon girls hanging on his arms, shoots the rope instead.  All three men quickly leave.  The young guy is Billy (played by Steve Cochran) and he was supposed to be looking out for his friend, the man he saved whose name is Turk (played by Chill Wills).  They’re Southerners so they call the soldier Yellowleg (played by Brian Keith).  


It looks like Billy and Turk were planning to rob the bank but Yellowleg by force of will convinces them to go to Gila City instead.  Is the name of that town a foreshadowing of the poison that is soon to overwhelm them all?  


They arrive in Gila City, where a group of boys are playing in the street and a lone boy is on the roof of a building playing a harmonica.  Yellowleg tells Turk to see to the horses and he and Billy enter the saloon to satisfy their thirst.  Yellowleg and Billy manage to get served but Turk is out of luck because it’s being transformed into a church and no liquor can be served until the service is over.  Turk insists, though, and gets his way.


The townspeople enter the saloon and sit on the benches set up for them, warily eyeing the strangers on the other side of the room.  A woman (played by Maureen O’Hara) and the boy who played the harmonica enter and the other women start gossiping about her morals, or lack thereof.


The reverend reminds all the men to remove their hats.  That’s a problem for Yellowleg who, for some unknown reason, refuses.  He leaves the saloon and goes to a doctor instead, who seems to recognize who he is.  Yellowleg asks about getting a bullet removed from his shoulder but when told he’d be laid up for a while, decides against the operation.  He does, however, tell the doc he’s in town to get revenge though doesn’t reveal any details.


After the church service ends, Billy forcibly kisses the woman the others were talking about.  She slaps him.  Billy and Turk prepare to rob the bank in that town but other bandits beat them to it.  In the mayhem that follows, someone is killed.


The remainder of The Deadly Companions is about revenge, redemption, and revelation.  The movie is a series of adventures where anything that can go wrong does, and even a good guy does bad things.


Filmed at Old Tucson Studios, its trademark three mountain peaks are visible about halfway through.  Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith work well together and the final scenes of the movie are satisfyingly tense.  The Deadly Companions is certainly an apt description of the trio at the center of this taut, well-acted movie.