Film Review:The Violent Men,
Rudolf Maté, 1955

'Temper's the thing only the very rich or the very strong can afford'. John Parrish

'Out here we just don't take kindly to strangers who come among us and try to use our law to settle their private grudges' Sheriff Martin Kenner (Will Bouchey)

'They're burning the ranch', Ranch Hand
'What did you think they'd do, give it a fresh coat of paint?'. Parrish

The Violent Men

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The Violent Men, Rudolf Maté, 1955

Early in the film John Parrish (Glenn Ford) witnesses Sheriff Magruder being shot in the back by six killers. He seeks to duck the moral issues, but when one of his hands, Bud, is left whipped, terrorised and killed, Parrish, an ex Cavalry captain convalescing in the West, is left with no alternative. Up to this point he has claimed that the Range War is nothing to do with him. He is presented with a moral dilemma, to face up to the bullying which is enabled by the lawless frontier, or to ignore it and get on with his life. His woman is pressurising him to stay out of it, and, having improved his health, to move back east. Even presented with a less than fair price for his ranch, Parrish is tempted to sell out in more ways than one. The subtext includes both leading men, Ford and Edward G Robinson having women who are controlling in the home environment, trying to influence their men. Barbara Stanwyck is typecast as Wilkison's scheming wife.

Lew Wilkison (Edward G Robinson), is the cattle baron behind a lawless imposition of his interests, which are imposed by the bullying gunman, Wade Matlock (Richard Jaeckel). "Here in Anchor, we don't pay much attention to this hogwash about the meek inheriting the earth. One way or the another you're selling out....to us". Wilkison. He is disabled, using crutches and banisters to lever himself around. He has been maimed by bullet wounds that have rendered the 'lower part of his body' unusable. His wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) is as ruthless as he is, and, not prepared to allow the lower half of her body to be similarly unused, takes solace in a smooth operator, Cole, (Brian Keith) who prefers a Mexican girl's company.

The Sheriff wants to stay alive so he gives Wilkison his 'undying' support, but, in doing so he gives us a clear insight into the problem on the frontier when powerful cattlemen dominated the fragile law and order with their power by employing gunmen to enforce their will. As Parrish sardonically observes, "Matlock wasn't the kind to have friends after he was dead".

The script is superb: "Don't force me to fight because you won't like my way of fighting" John Parrish. There is a great scene where Bud's father (the hand who was killed), comes to see Parrish and, despite his grief, offers his other two sons to fight in the struggle against Wilkison.

Great script, great acting and great direction, This is a very good film with plenty to think about.

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© Chris Smallbone June 2012
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