(KINO/Lorber) 1955. B&W. 83 mins. AR: l:85:1Director: Richard Wilson. Screenplay, Wilson and N. B. Stone Jr. Producer: Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Music by Alex North. Cinematography by Lee Garmes. Art Direction by Hilyard Brown.With Robert Mitchum, Jan Sterling, Henry Hull, Leo Gordon, Claude Akins, Angie Dickinson. “Town Tamer” is the moniker for Clint (Robert Mitchum) Tollinger’s considerably less than legal profession. As the land barons and the city dwellers clashed over Western territory, it’s entirely likely that he, or someone just like him, would be approached to remedy the situation by wiping out the other team. In other words he’s an early American merc, and he does his job quickly and dispassionately, leaving town as rapidly as possible. Mitchum can do that role with his eyes closed. And in fact he may have, but it doesn’t matter, the part is a good fit for his persona. (The trailer, which is included on the Blu-ray, notes that he had previously made NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, wherein he played a bogus, psychotic preacher. This reference suggests that he isn’t exactly playing a good guy here.)
Clint has been tracking down a former lover (Jan Sterling) with whom he had a daughter. He wants to see the daughter, but he accepts payment for dispensing with the other villain of the piece (again, at best Clint is an anti-hero, at worst, a villain), one Dade Holman, the wealthy landowner who sends his soldiers into town periodically to freak out the inhabitants, though he rarely makes an appearance himself. One by one, Tollinger is challenged by Holman’s men, and we see why he has such a lethal reputation. Still, he begins to feel that he’s been there too long, and we worry about the climactic showdown as the townspeople, sensing the final confrontation is near, talk nervously about Holman’s ‘army,’ which is readying itself for battle.But when the third act kicks into gear, Holman’s ‘army’ consists of one gunman and the obese land baron himself, who rides into town on a foolish, flimsy-looking buggy. What became of the money to hire actors to play Holman’s gang? Well, it was Samuel Goldwyn Jr.’s first film as producer, and Richard Wilson’s first as director, and I suspect that the studio bigwigs went cold on the film sometime during production and eliminated the ‘army,’ forgetting to take out the references to it.
Wilson had a spotty but creative career, starting as a radio actor for Orson Welles’Mercury Theater. Many years later, at the other end of the arc of his career, he was involved in the restoration of Welles’ never-completed IT’S ALL TRUE. Alex North’s score has many elements that, five years later, could be found in his brilliant soundtrack for SPARTACUS. Westerns are known to behave like that (eg. Dimitri Tiomkin’s 1959 RIO BRAVO score, excerpted and expanded in 1960’s THE ALAMO; Edit from David Rosler, Harryhausen's The Valley of Gwangi, a "dinosaur western", has a theme which could have been lifted - and may have been - from The Big Country scored by the same composer, Jerome Moss - NO difference at all). The cinematography is adequate but feels like TV despite the presence of Lee (SHANGHAI EXPRESS, NIGHTMARE ALLEY, DUEL IN THE SUN) Garmes.Back then (the ‘50s), sub-textual reflections of the McCarthy witch-hunt could be read into every third film that hit the screen, including MAN WITH THE GUN.
But what of today? Is the bellicose solidarity of women across the country being reflected as subtext in what we’re seeing projected on the screen? I don’t recall there ever having seen so many great female performances in one year. Lady Gaga in A STAR IS BORN. Natalie Portman in VOX LUX. Glenn Close in THE WIFE, Anna Kendrick in A SIMPLE FAVOR. Melissa McCarthy in CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME? Kiki Laynein IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK. Maggie Gyllenhaal in THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER. All three actresses in THE FAVOURITE. All four in BOOK CLUB. Saoirse Ronan in MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS. Jodie Foster in HOTEL ARTEMIS. AndMilla Jovovich in FUTURE WORLD, a post-apocalyptic misfire utterly unworthy of her inspired supporting performance. Nicole Kidman might have been in there for her noir turn in DESTROYER, had not someone made the dreadful decision to put her in Tom Savini-esque zombie make-up, which kept yanking me out of the film. It was as distracting as Armie Hammer’s botch job in the third act of J. EDGAR