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DAWN AT SOCORRO (director: George Sherman; screenwriter: George Zuckerman; cinematographer: Carl Guthrie; editor: Edward Curtiss; music: Joseph E. Gershenson; cast: Rory Calhoun (Brett Wade), Piper Laurie (Rannah Hayes), Edgar Buchanan (Sheriff Cauthen), David Brian (Dick Braden), Alex Nicol (Jimmy Rapp), Stanley Andrews (Old Man Ferris), Skip Homeier (Buddy Ferris), Richard Garland (Tom Ferris), Lee Van Cleef (Earl Ferris), Scott Lee (Vince McNair), James Millican (Harry McNair), Forrest Taylor (Jebb Hayes), Roy Roberts (Doc Jameson), Mara Corday (Letty Diamond), Kathleen Hughes (Clare); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Alland; Universal-International; 1954)
“Though well-acted and presented as a character study, the predictable story was too weak to resonate any concern for anyone.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

Veteran director George Sherman (“Big Jake”/”Johnny Dark”) directs this routine western with the familiar theme of the gunslinger who wants to hang up his guns but his past catches up with him and he has to fight one last duel before he can retire. Rory Calhoun is the notorious gunslinger/gambler/pianist Brett Rutledge Wade, who left Abilene with a bullet lodged in his lung and now resides in Lordsburg, New Mexico, where the reformed gunslinger owns the only gambling saloon in town–the Oriental Saloon. Brett’s best friends from five years ago in Kansas, Sheriff Vince McNair (Scott Lee) and his deputy brother Harry (James Millican), cleaned up the town by straightening out the ruthless rancher Ferris family out. But one night 19-year-old Buddy Ferris (Skip Homeier) gets rejected by barmaid Clare and kicks up a ruckus when asked to leave by Sheriff McNair, forcing the sheriff to kill him in self-defense. At dawn old man Ferris and his two sons challenge the lawmen and Brett Wade to a gun duel at Keane’s stockyard. The old man and Tom get killed, but the only surviving Ferris male, Earl (Lee Van Cleef), promises revenge. When Brett sells his saloon because the Doc recommends that he go to Colorado Springs for health reasons, he meets on the stagecoach Miss Rannah Hayes (Piper Laurie) and falls in love thinking of her as the innocent wife he should have married long ago–someone who will now give him a chance to start over. Rannah’s been thrown out of her house by her intolerant father, Jeb, who in error believes she’s been sleeping with the ranch-hands. Dad calls his shy daughter a Jezebel, which affects her psyche greatly. She’s going to Socorro with the unarmed Brett, where she’s been hired to be a saloon girl in the Big Casino. That’s a crooked gambling house run by the smoothie Dick Braden (David Brian), a sworn enemy of Brett’s. Also on the coach is Ferris’ friend, the professional gunslinger Jimmy Rapp (Alex Nicol), a drunkard who won’t change his ways. When Earl tries to ambush Brett at a stagecoach station stop, Rannah warns him in time and he takes the gun from the sleeping drunk Rapp to kill Earl. In Socorro, Brett plans to catch the train to Colorado Springs but stops over because he’s concerned about Rannah ruining her life by working for the sleazy Braden. Sheriff Cauthen (Edgar Buchanan) just wants no trouble and keeps an eye on Brett until he can catch the next train out of town. After Brett and Braden get into a winner take all 5-card poker game–with Braden betting his saloon and Brett his nest egg and with Rannah thrown in as part of the stakes–Brett loses everything. But before he can leave town Braden also wants Brett killed and hires for $5,000 Rapp to do the job. It leads to a classic shootout, where Brett first faces down Rapp and then Braden and his hired hands. In the end, Brett wins Rannah and the two take the train to Colorado Springs to start over again a clean life.

Though well-acted and presented as a character study, the predictable story was too weak to resonate any concern for anyone.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”