Badman’s Country (1958)

“I saw it today, Pat. Even without your badge, you were the lawman. You took over.”

Synopsis:
Retired sheriff Pat Garrett (George Montgomery) intends to marry his sweetheart (Karin Booth) and head to California, but is waylaid in Abilene, Kansas when notorious outlaw “Sundance” (Russell Johnson) and two cohorts appear in town, in anticipation of Butch Cassidy (Neville Brand) and his Wild Bunch Gang robbing a train headed straight towards them.

Genres:

Review:
When reading about this little-seen B-western (helmed by prolific B-director Fred F. Sears) on IMDb, one immediately notes in the “Goofs” section that “Although the plot has well-known actual western figures Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Buffalo Bill fighting Butch Cassidy’s gang, in reality by the time Cassidy had gathered his now-famous Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Garrett was dead, Buffalo Bill was touring in his Wild West show, Earp was prospecting for gold in Alaska and Masterson was a sportswriter for a newspaper in New York City.” Clearly, one is not meant to view this fantastical western as anything close to a biopic about fabled sheriff Pat Garrett (best known for shooting Billy the Kid); instead, it should be seen as simply a creative reimagining of what might happen to someone like Garrett, eager to finally settle down with his longtime sweetheart, but pulled into assisting with the next notorious gang of criminals to arrive on the western landscape. Can a man seemingly born to defend really leave the scene when he’s most needed? This film, naturally, suggests otherwise (see the quote selected above).

Ultimately, Badman’s Country come across like a B-level variation on High Noon, with Garrett calling upon a reluctant band of citizens to help him fight the corruption encroaching on their town. In this case, however, he also happens to have the the handy assistance of two other big name allies — Bat Masterson (Gregory Walcott) and Wyatt Earp (Buster Crabbe) — as well as moral support from Buffalo Bill Cody (Malcolm Atterbury), who conveniently (ahem) happens to be in town. Naturally, it’s fairly predictable how everything will turn out, but director Sears generates a fair amount of tension throughout, and keeps things moving at a fast clip (the film is only 68 minutes long, and ends with a nicely handled shootout). My favorite line (spoken by Atterbury as Cody, during the final shootout): “I sure wish they were buffalo; can’t make a rug out of an outlaw!”

Regarding the cast and crew, I feel guilty admitting that I found Karin Booth (a fairly unimpressive actress) a tad too old in appearance to be playing the female love interest for Montgomery (in real life, they were both 42; goes to show what years of unrealistic cinematic influence have done to me). Meanwhile, Ukranian-American former heavyweight boxer Montgomery is appropriately stalwart and handsome in the lead role (check out Trivia on IMDb for some fascinating tidbits about his life), and Neville Brand — who played Butch Cassidy in a different western, The Three Outlaws, just two years earlier — reprises that role here (though weirdly enough, he doesn’t make much of an impression; he only manages to squeeze in one of his characteristic sneers). Perhaps most jarring is seeing Russell Johnson — forever branded in audiences’ minds as The Professor from “Gilligan’s Island” — in an uncharacteristically baddie role as Sundance (!). Sadly, director Sears died young (at the age of 44), but helmed no less than 52 features in a variety of genres for Columbia Pictures; his best known picture was Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • An effectively executed B-western

Must See?
No, though Western fans certainly won’t find it a waste of time.

Links:

One Response to “Badman’s Country (1958)”

  1. A once-must, actually, as an unexpectedly effective B-western.

    Clocking in as it does in just over an hour, ‘BC’ doesn’t waste a minute of its time. A lot happens in this somewhat-complex combination of characters who never met like this in real life. (There will be those in the audience, no doubt, who will not do their ‘homework’ prior and will, thus, feel enlightened about ‘a little-known chapter’ of the West. But those who know that it’s total fiction may chuckle when they hear some of the characters saying things like, “What’s *he* doing here?!”)

    I half-expected this to be a purely disposable item put out by a studio I either vaguely knew or never heard of. But this is actually a Warner Brothers release. In a way, you wouldn’t know ’cause it doesn’t look like it has WB money behind it. The budget does seem on the low side but whatever they had was used well. The camerawork is not showy but, at times, reveals welcome intelligence. The male cast members make for a rather solid and believable mix of testosterone. And the script is also surprisingly engaging and sharp.

    The resemblance to ‘High Noon’ is clear but I think ‘BC’ goes a step further as a kind of apology for ‘HN’ – showing, as it does, how certain people pull together in a similar situation.

    To me, this is another instance in which Peary’s guide can (at times) be a very valuable instrument in bringing worthy but rather-forgotten films to the attention of ffs who are likely to appreciate and enjoy them.

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