Thursday, September 15, 2016
Wild Bill Elliot spent years making entertaining B-Westerns, perhaps being best remembered for playing comic strip cowboy Red Ryder in 16 films during the 1940s.
In 1949, though, he made a Western with themes and emotions that go a bit deeper than most B-Westerns usually did. In Hellfire, Elliot is caught cheating at cards in an out-of-the-way saloon and is about to be gunned down. An itinerate preacher (who had been rather unsuccessful preaching to the denizens of the saloon) intervenes. The preacher is badly wounded, but Elliot manages to get the drop on the crowd and get away with the wounded man.
The movie time-skips ahead to show us that Zeb has been travelling from town to town, trying to raise money for a church, but meeting mostly contempt and mockery. We see that he's trying to live up to what he reads in his new "rule book," though he occasionally struggles with his temper and in trying to decide what is the right thing to do in specific situations.
For instance, when he has a chance to capture a female outlaw named Doll Brown (Marie Windsor) for the reward, he decides he can't build a church off someone else's misfortune. So he rides along with Doll, hoping to convince her to give herself up.
But Doll has a mission herself--she is determined to find her long-lost sister, presuming that her sister is living the same degrading life as a dance-hall girl that Doll herself lived before she learned to use a six-shooter.
Complicating this is a marshal (Forrest Tucker) who has been on Doll's trail for months and has personal reasons for finding her. The marshal is an old friend of Zeb's and turns out to have a connection with Doll's sister. Events play out in a way that leaves Zeb obligated to keep secrets about Doll from the marshal and secrets about the marshal from Doll. He watches has both walk down self-destructive paths without any apparent way for him to intervene.
The movie treats the themes of faith and the power of Scriptures with complete sincerity. Elliot also gives his role sincerity and subtle emotions. Windsor and Tucker are good (Tucker is one of those actors who is always fun to watch) and the movie's climax has a lot of power to it.