Click here for the introduction and the first review in my Jack Nicholson Retrospective.
Ah… The Western. A genre that dominated the early days of cinema and led to the successful careers of many an actor. Being that he lived in the 60s, of course Jack Nicholson was going to do a western. But after the disaster of his first two cinematic entries, is his third feature any good?
Cowboy loner Dave Dunson (Robert Sampson) rides into a small town ruled by the corrupt sheriff: Marshell Cogan (Kent Taylor). Due to events beyond his control, Dunson is thrown into prison, along with the falsely accused Will Brocious (Jack Nicholson), and the youthful Billy (Gary Sneed).
Released from prison by the beautiful Mavera (Diana Darrin), the threesome must go on the run and try to resolve the conflict with the pursuing Sheriff.
Finally we’ve approached a level of acting that might be considered engaging. While Nicholson has a relatively small role within the proceedings, his compatriots are more than watchable. Taylor, in particular, does a great job in portraying a corrupt lawman; as well as showcasing how unchecked power can be detrimental to those who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
One mention must also be given for the beautiful Arizona scenery. While not quite up there with the sweeping majesty of Lord of the Rings, there are several desolate scenes shot to great effect by cinematographer Floyd Crosby; especially when accompanied by the widescreen magnificence of CinemaScope.
Unlike his previous two performances, Nicholson inhabits a far more likable character in the vein of Mattie from True Grit. Playing a young man caught up in events beyond his control, Nicholson shows a much softer side to himself. While I still wouldn’t say he shows anything that would indicate he has the chops of a leading man; his almost playful performance would somewhat suggest that maybe he had a future career as a strong supporting actor.
Along with Nicholson, even the female role is a step up as, unlike the useless screaming ninnies of the first two, Darrin’s far more accomplished ability lends well to her playing of a strong capable woman able to stand up for herself.
The film’s plot, while B-Movie-esque, isn’t as nonsensical as The Wild Ride; and yet I can’t help from wishing the script had spent a little more time in the oven. Clocking in at only 60 minutes (What is it with the 1960s and hour long movies?) it’s hard to avoid the fact that, due to lack of character development, the film ends up feeling a little squashed. Because of this it becomes difficult to emphasise with certain character decisions towards the latter half of the movie. Another 10 minutes of decent character development would have made for a vastly improved film.
Nonetheless, while it may have taken 3 movies, it’s good to finally recommend Jack Nicholson’s first decent movie.
Next Time: My Review of The Raven (1963)
Photo Credits: The Movie Poster Company