Deadly Companions, The (1961)

Deadly Companions, The (1961)

“You don’t know me well enough to hate me that much.”

A wounded Union soldier (Brian Keith) on a mission to find the man (Chill Wills) who tried to scalp him during the war finally discovers Wills with a gambling partner (Steve Cochran), and convinces the pair to rob a bank with him — but soon the trio are accompanying a grieving mother (Maureen O’Hara) on her journey to bury her young son across Apache territory.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Brian Keith Films
  • Maureen O’Hara Films
  • Revenge
  • Sam Peckinpah Films
  • Westerns
  • Widows and Widowers

Sam Peckinpah’s first cinematic outing was this quirky western which Peary refers to in his Cult Movies review of Ride the High Country (1962) as an “impressive” and “rarely screened” debut film. It was panned by Bosley Crowther upon release, who referred to it as burdened by a “tasteless plot” that is only “partly relieved by scenic color photography and a capable cast”, and moving “at the pace of a hearse”. While it’s no masterpiece — and does feel a tad slow-moving at only 93 minutes long — it’s a distinctively quirky film with an unusual premise, one that shows Peckinpah’s nascent talents (and would likely have been better if he’d been allowed to tinker with the script as he desired).

Keith, Wills, and Cochran all give convincing performances (with Cochran especially slimy):

… and William Clothier’s PanaVision cinematography is effectively colorful.

Meanwhile, seeing the treatment of O’Hara’s “Kit Tildon” — nobody in town believes her story that she was married for a few weeks to her son’s deceased father — is heartbreaking, and paints a sobering portrait of social norms at the time; O’Hara is so determined to give her son a “proper” burial next to his father that she risks her life to achieve this goal, all because she’s been so unwelcomed and ridiculed in her new town. It was a rough time for women, indeed.

Note: The unusual soundtrack by Marlin Skiles doesn’t always “work”, but is unique and distinctive.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • William Clothier’s cinematography

Must See?
No, though of course Peckinpah fans will be curious to check it out. Listed as a Sleeper in the back of Peary’s book, which makes sense.


3 thoughts on “Deadly Companions, The (1961)

  1. (Rewatch 5/7/21.) Not must-see.

    Forgettable western with O’Hara clearly too old for her role.

  2. O’Hara was 40, Billy Vaughan 13 so he was born when she was 27. Entirely possible.

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