DEADLY COMPANIONS, THE(director: Sam Peckinpah; screenwriters: A.S. Fleischman/from book “Yellowleg” by A.S. Fleischman; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: Stanley E. Rabjohn; cast: Maureen O’Hara (Kit Tilden), Brian Keith (Yellowleg), Steve Cochran (Billy), Chill Wills (Turk), Strother Martin (Parson), Will Wright (Doctor); Runtime: 90; Pathe-America Distrubuting Co; 1961)
“This film is visually powerful in spots, as it overcomes its routine theme with burning images of lust, greed, and hatred.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The world is a hostile place for Sam Peckinpah in his first feature, which is set in the Arizona location around “Old Tucson” in the 1860s. He has created a very telling and powerful film, even though the director was disturbed that studio honchos changed some scenes. It’s a routine revenge western but, nevertheless, has elements of the quirkiness Peckinpah’s films will later on become renown for.
Maureen O’Hara is worried about what the town women of Gila City think of her ever since she landed there without a husband and a son, and because of her husband’s death was forced to work in a dance hall saloon. Brian Keith, “called Yellowleg,” is a former Union sergeant who has become obsessed with how he looks to others without his hat. For the last 5 years he has been tracking down the Confederate deserter who tried to scalp him while drunk and left him badly scarred. Chill Wills is a deranged monster, who is being hunted by Keith, who dreams of getting enough gold to get an empire in the barren land of the Arizona frontier so he could be the general where he hopes to buy Indian slaves to work his land and for them to fight in his army. Steve Cochran is a fancy dressing ex-Confederate and a gunslinger who is Keith’s rival. He is crime partners with Chill and has the hots for Maureen.
The film opens as Keith will save Chill from being hung as a card cheat and will lead him and his partner Cochrane to the next town, by telling them there is an easy bank to rob there.
In that backward frontier town of Gila, Maureen attends a church service and hears the women say nasty things about her character behind her back–loud enough so that she can hear them.
Keith suffers from a shoulder wound that is so bad he can’t fire his gun accurately. When he visits the town doctor, he’s told it’ll take a month to heal. But he can’t wait that long, as he has some immediate business to take care of.
When some outlaws rob a store in town Keith tries to stop them but by accident kills the only one in the world Maureen loves, her young son. Keith admits to her he did it and when she insists that she wants to bury her son with his father in the ghost town Siringo in order to prove to all concerned that she had a husband, Keith offers to go with her since the town is in the middle of hostile Apache territory.
Maureen wants nothing to do with him or his other deadly companions but they tag along anyway, making for an unlikely foursome. In one quirky scene a band of drunken Indians rides by with a stagecoach they attacked, as the Indians parody that robbery.
The revenge motive is so strong for Keith, that he has trouble not becoming an animal like Chill. He tells Maureen that the only reason he didn’t kill him, yet, is because he wants him to die slowly when he scalps him. A slow romance builds between Keith and Maureen as she tells him she can forgive him for what he has done and expects him to come to his senses about Chill, saying she couldn’t love a cold-blooded murderer.
This film is visually powerful in spots, as it overcomes its routine theme with burning images of lust, greed, and hatred. Maureen sings the film’s theme song during the opening and closing credits.
REVIEWED ON 3/22/2001 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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