Bad Movie of the Week

One of a series

Here’s one from 1955, and it’s in color. It’s A Man Alone, starring Ray Milland and Mary Murphy. It also features Ward Bond and Raymond Burr, who was beginning to make a name for himself in films about that time, having been the wife killer the previous year in  Rear Window. The movie is currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. It’s from Republic Pictures. Details are from Wikipedia.

The opening shots show a man alone (hence the title) in the desert, when his horse meets with an accident.

The man is Wes Steele (Milland), and he has the unpleasant task of shooting his crippled horse. That leaves the man alone and afoot in the desert with an empty canteen and a wad of cash stuffed in his shirt. Seeking to survive, he treks across the barren landscape until he happens upon the remains of a stagecoach holdup and massacre. A woman passenger and a man passenger have been shot dead. Likewise the driver and the woman’s small child. A strongbox that had contained cash is empty on the ground.

For some reason, not explained in the film, the man pulls the driver’s shotgun out of its scabbard and extracts two (apparently spent) shells. He replaces the shotgun. He takes for himself a canteen of water from  the coach, and he releases the trace horses, keeping one for himself. He rides the horse into the nearest town, leaving the other three horses to arrive ahead of him.

The three horses arriving alone stir some talk in the local saloon. The deputy sheriff wanders out into the darkened street to investigate while the man, who has just then arrived, is tying up his horse. In the darkness there is an excess of caution, and the deputy pulls his gun. The man, hearing the sound, pulls his piece. The deputy is wounded seriously in an exchange of fire, and the man seeks shelter in the darkened street.

The first place he finds an unlocked door is the local bank (or some other business). He lets himself in quietly, and eavesdrops as the stagecoach robbers discuss the day’s disastrous caper. The leader of the operation seems to  be a man known only as Stanley (Burr). His hired gunman named Clanton (Lee Van Cleef) describes the reason he had to kill all the passengers was the woman pulled off his mask and identified him. Their partner in crime, Luke Joiner (randon Rhodes) is aghast at the whole business and announces he wants to take his cut and get out of town. We know what this usually means in a criminal gang. There is only one way to deal with somebody who’s getting cold feet.

Steele, listening in the adjoining darkened room, makes a careless move and kicks a spittoon. Joiner goes into the room and fires off a shot. He is rewarded by two shots in the back from Clanton.

Steele makes his getaway in the dark and finds an unlocked cellar door. He lets himself in, and he hides behind the woodpile when a sweet young thing comes down the stairs. She is Nadine Corrigan (Murphy), and she is the sheriff’s (Ward Bond) daughter. The sheriff is in bed upstairs with yellow fever, which is why his deputy was the one taking the bullet earlier.

Steele hides out in the cellar overnight, and in the morning he reveals himself to Nadine. He shows his kinder side by helping her care for her ailing father. Over time an attraction develops.

Steele learns of Stanley, and he figures his gang was responsible for the massacre. One night he sneaks out and confronts Stanley, intending to stomp his ass into the ground.

That he does, leaving Stanley for dead. But Clanton spots him on the street and follows him back to the sheriff’s house. Soon a vigilante mob gathers, demanding Steele be turned over for hanging.

But in the meantime, Nadine has overheard delirious mumblings from her father, and she figures he has been covering for the gang of bandits. She examines her father’s books and spots suspicious wealth.

The sheriff, now recovered, wants to turn Steele over to the mob. Nadine convinces him he must do something honorable to atone, so he spirits Steele out of town in the dead of night, taking him into the desert and pointing the way to escape. Then he returns to the town to face his own justice.

The town’s people turn on him and proceed to string him up. But we know that Steele is not the kind of man to cover his own ass and leave somebody else to swing.

Before the noose can be tightened, Steele appears on the street and orders the Sheriff released. Steele tells the town’s people of Stanley’s complicity in the past string of robberies and in the massacre. Stanley and his men take refuge in the saloon, and one of  the gang volunteers to go out and mediate. Once on the street the man gives up Stanley, informing the people that Stanley is the ring leader. Canton shoots him in the back.

That triggers a gunfight in the saloon, where Steele kills Clanton and another gang member. The sheriff enters and arrests Stanley. He leads Stanley out into the street, prepared to face his own justice. Steele allows as how he will stay on in the town, and the movie ends there in the street with Nadine and Steele in a loving embrace.

And the plot is much too contrived. It has the stamp of Ray Milland, who directed it, all over—a story of fall  and redemption, pulling memories of The Lost Weekend, for which he earned an Oscar. The year before this movie he arranged the murder of his wife in Dial M for Murder, Late one night decades ago, I caught The Thief on TV, a film that has no dialog. I swear, that night I watched this from beginning to end without blinking, waiting for somebody to say something. That’s the kind of stuff Milland was famous for.

Of course, Raymond Burr went on to become more famous as Ironside, playing the title role in the long-running TV series.

The year before, Mary Murphy appeared in The Wild One with Marlon Brando, becoming famous for asking, “What are you rebelling against?” (“What’ve you got?”). She was Fredric March‘s daughter in The Desperate Hours, also starring Humphrey Bogart. Ward Bond finished up his career five years later as the wagon master in Wagon Train on TV.

One thought on “Bad Movie of the Week

  1. Pingback: Bad Movie of the Week | Skeptical Analysis

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