Thursday, January 19, 2017
Now THAT'S a cool team-up!
Badman's Country (1953) is sort of like the "Jason and the Argonauts" of Westerns. The Greek myth took all the major mythical heroes and tossed them into the same adventure. It was a story that perhaps codified the idea of heroic team-ups in the storytelling traditions of Western civilization.
The film takes Pat Garrett, Buffalo Bill, Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and tosses those four into the same adventure. Of course, Earp and Masterson did work together in real life, but this particular story is a part of the Myth of the Old West. Which is just fine by me, because if Pat, Bill, Wyatt and Bat didn't team up in real life, then real life just isn't good enough.
The movie opens with Pat Garrett and his future brother-in-law on their way to Abilene. Pat is famous for his part in the Lincoln County wars and (in particular) for killing Billy the Kid. But now he wants to pick up his girl in Abilene, head to California and start life over without the violent baggage his reputation often brings him.
In fact, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are the main villains in this story. But remember this is 16 years before Newman and Redford would turn them into likable anti-heroes. Here, they are thugs and killers with a large gang of thugs and killers to back them up.
Pat Garrett needs help. Fortunately, Buffalo Bill is in town recovering from being injured by... well, by a buffalo. Earp and Masterson soon show up as well, summoned by telegraph from Dodge City.
But by this time, Butch Cassidy has the town surrounded and cut off from further help. He's after a large amount of money being shipped by train to Abilene. Pat runs a con on Butch to convince the outlaw the money is already in town, hoping to lure the Wild Bunch into a trap. But that would mean getting additional help from the townspeople. And the townspeople (or at least the mayor) is willing to do just about anything--including cutting a deal with the bad guys--to avoid a fight.
It's a fun movie, with George Montgomery doing a fine job as Pat. There is perhaps a little too much screen time taken up by Pat worrying if he has the right to marry and put his wife in potential danger--with a 68 minute run time, there really isn't time for the characters to waste whining about their personal problems. But that's a minor complaint. For the most part, the story moves along briskly. The them of the movie--that there is sometimes an obligation to show courage in the face of danger--is a strong one.
The movie can also be enjoyed on a meta level. Remember that Pat Garrett is the killer of Billy the Kid, something that's mentioned in the movie as an important part of Pat's reputation. Pat's ally Wyatt Earp is played by Buster Crabbe, who played Billy the Kid in 13 B-movies during the 1940s. (36 films if you count the movies where the character was re-named Billy Carson.) Watching Badman's Country, you half-expect Pat to yell out "Billy! You're... you're alive!"
Also, the Sundance Kid is played by Russell Johnson. Johnson was a great character actor, but he's so set in our minds now as the Professor from Gilligan's Island, that it adds an extra level of enjoyment to watching him play a completely different role--especially when he's a villain.
And between the two of them, I'm pretty sure Brand and Russell Johnson could kick Newman's and Redford's butts.