Hanging Tree, The (1959)

Hanging Tree, The (1959)

“If you ain’t the devil, well, he’s sure sitting on your shoulder.”

In a Montana gold mining town, a doctor (Gary Cooper) with a mysterious past cares for a young criminal (Ben Piazza) who has been shot by a local miner named Frenchy (Karl Malden) for attempting to steal gold from a sluice. Soon Rune (Piazza) is working for Dr. Frail (Cooper) as his servant, and the pair help heal a young Swiss woman (Maria Schell) who was stranded and blinded by the sun after a hold-up of her carriage.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Delmer Daves Films
  • Doctors and Nurses
  • Gary Cooper Films
  • George C. Scott Films
  • Gold Seekers
  • Karl Malden Films
  • Maria Schell Films
  • Westerns

Western fiction writer Dorothy Johnson crafted three stories that were eventually turned into GFTFF-listed films: A Man Called Horse (1970), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), and this refreshingly female-centric tale, scripted by Wendell Mayes and Halsted Welles and helmed by Delmer Daves (with a bit of directing support from cast member Karl Malden when Daves fell ill). Schell delivers a dynamic performance as a character whose unexpected presence upends the entire town:

(Props to the make-up crew for such realistic work on portraying her life-threatening injuries). This was Cooper’s final western, and he does a fine job playing a morally ambiguous, complex protagonist:

Meanwhile, Malden is suitably repulsive as a miner with nothing but selfish intents:

… and George C. Scott has a brief but memorable screen debut as a faith healer with deep animosity towards Doc Frail:

Also noteworthy is beautiful cinematography (much shot on-location near Yakima, Washington) by Ted D. McCord, with excellent use made of wide open spaces.

This unusual western remains worth a look.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Maria Schell as Elizabeth Mahler
  • Gary Cooper as Doc Frail
  • Karl Malden as Frenchy
  • An effective portrayal of a hard-scrabble mining town
  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a unique western with a fine central performance by Schell.


  • Noteworthy Performance(s)


One thought on “Hanging Tree, The (1959)

  1. First viewing (4/19/22). Not must-see.

    For the most part, ok western that feels somewhat standard. Particularly slow in the second half, during which time is spent on keeping ‘tension’ high between Cooper and Schell so that Malden can finally get his own chance ‘to play Stanley Kowalski’.

    There’s a tinge of the Mann / Stewart western dynamic since Cooper is a man with a secretive past. Scott gets to be somewhat silly in his Old Testament Christianity role. The film builds to a conclusion that tries to satisfy but is still a bit clumsy.

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