Derik Badman's Journal

2020-04-05 08:52

I watched Edward Dmytryk's Warlock (1959) yesterday, which sounds like it'd be a horror or sword & sorcery movie, but it actually a really excellent western. The other day the Criterion blog linked to list at Slant of a top 100 westerns list. I went through it looking for recommendations (I'm picky about westerns but like a bunch of the classics and unusual ones, less so the violent 70s ones). I was surprised that Warlock was not on the list and decided I should rewatch it to see if it held up to a second viewing. It's free on the Roku channel (we use a Roku for our tv streaming device).

I'm happy to say it does hold up. I really enjoyed it again. Dmytryk (who I don't recall noticing in the credits last time) is a director I know from one of the best noirs Murder My Sweet. Henry Fonda is his usually self, playing a hired marshall who's getting a little tired of the gun for hire life. Richard Widmark (the real star), is great as a member of a gang of cowboy troublemakers who leaves the group and takes up residency in the town as the official deputy. Dorothy Malone, who in looking up I realized had one of her first credited roles as the sexy bookstore owner in The Big Sleep, is woman who's man was killed by Fonda's character and comes to town for revenge. Anthony Quinn is Fonda's friend and backup man who was the actual cause of the murder of Malone's man.

The plot is involved and shifting, not easily summarized, with lots of characters. It's primary focus is, like many westerns, about the conflict between law and chaos, about the organization of society, and about violence as a tool for problem solving. It also throws in a good bit of the hero/myth vs reality story, a love story (or two), and a really strong homoerotic subtext (between Quinn's and Fonda's characters). All in wide compositions and 50s color.

It's definitely worth seeking out. I've also read the novel it's based on by Oakley Hall, which I really enjoyed. New York Review of Books puts out a nice edition.