BOUNTY KILLER, THE (director: Spencer Gordon Bennet; screenwriters: R. Alexander/Leon Gordon; cinematographer: Frederick E. West; editor: Ronald Sinclair; music: Ronald Stein; cast: Dan Duryea (Willie Duggans), Rod Cameron (Johnny Liam), Audrey Dalton (Carole), Richard Arlen (Matt Ridgeway), Fuzzy Knight (Luther), Peter Duryea (Youth), Larry “Buster” Crabbe (Mike Clayman), Johnny Mack Brown (Sheriff Green), Boyd “Red” Morgan (Jim Seddon), Dan White (Marshal Davis), Peter Duryea (Youth), Grady Sutton (Minister), Norman Willis (Hank Willis), Duane Amont (Ben Liam), Gilbert M. ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson (Old man in saloon); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Alex Gordon; Embassy Pictures; 1965)
“A strange Western that never floats right but is nevertheless captivating in its ambitious aims to be contemporary.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Warning: spoilers throughout.
A strange Western that never floats right but is nevertheless captivating in its ambitious aims to be contemporary and reflect on society’s hypocrisy over law and order. One of the interesting sidelights is the cast of old-time Western stars in the movie, all directed previously by veteran Spencer Gordon Bennet. They include Buster Crabbe, Johnny Mack Brown, Fuzzy Knight (without his beard), and Richard Arlen. Even Hollywood’s first western star Bronco Billy Anderson has a cameo. Writers R. Alexander and Leon Gordon rely on a string of coincidences and the viewer’s suspension of belief to make this message film about how violence is recycled when there’s no alternative to fighting force with force.
Willie Duggans (Dan Duryea) is a gentle tenderfoot from Vermont who treks to the Wild West to make his way in the world. In a saloon in Silver Creek he’s confronted by Hank Willis, a boastful bully who objects to him talking to his kept dance hall singer girl friend Carole Ridgeway (Audrey Dalton). Willie stands up to the bully, but he fights dirty by stomping on him. A saloon patron named Johnny Liam (Rod Cameron) guns down Hank because he doesn’t like bullies, telling of how he became a wanted man because the law was crooked and killed one of his two brothers. He now has a bounty on his head and has built a rep as a notorious gunslinger. His caveat to Willie is that in the west you make your own law with the gun and advises him to learn how to use one.
The only job available is to be a payroll guard to a mining company, where Willie teams with old sea captain Luther (Fuzzy Knight). They get jumped by the dangerous Jim Seddon gang but by chance Willie kills the wanted outlaw and collects a bounty of $500. Willie gives the money to the young Carole to return to her father’s New Mexico ranch and wait for his return so he can get enough money to marry her. Willie thinks it’s easy money being a bounty hunter and talks his dreamer new best friend Luther into joining him on this venture. The first wanted man they go after is the dangerous killer Mike Clayman (Larry “Buster” Crabbe). In a saloon in Apache Wells they get the jump on Clayman and intend to bring him back alive to Silver Creek, where he’s wanted. But Clayman’s gang jumps them on the trail and kills Luther and leaves Willie for dead. But Willie is rescued in the prairie by rancher Matt Ridgeway (Richard Arlen), and when Carole treats his wounds she says her man is changed–he’s now vengeful, filled with hatred, and a lust for blood. Willie gets healed and custom makes a sawed-off shotgun, and returns to being a bounty hunter but with a new will to be as ruthless as the criminals. Carole’s dad tells him to never return again to see his daughter. Willie makes his mark by gunning down a number of wanted men and becoming a feared killer. He eventually traps Clayman in his mountain shack hideout and kills him, but in the process also kills Johnny Liam’s brother Ben. The town doesn’t like Willie and allows Johnny to escape from his jail cell, figuring he’ll gun Willie down. But a drunken Willie interrupts a church service held in the saloon, and lectures the good citizens about being two-faced. He tells them off for treating him as an outcast, saying that they don’t have the nerve to go after the dangerous criminals so he has to do their dirty work. When the sheriff tries to arrest him for disturbing the peace, Willie’s weapon goes off accidentally killing the bartender. Willie now becomes a wanted man and goes on-the-run to Mexico talking Carole into coming with him by promising to throw away his guns forever. But when an unarmed Willie’s back is turned, he’s killed by a youngster earning his money as a bounty hunter. To add to the twist, the youngster is played by his real son Peter.
REVIEWED ON 3/11/2005 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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