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DEVIL’S CANYON (director: Alfred Werker; screenwriters: Frederick Hazlitt Brennan/Harry Essex/from a story by Bennett Cohen & Norton S. Parker; cinematographer: Nicholas Musuraca; editor: Gene Palmer; music: Daniele Amfitheatrof; cast: Virginia Mayo (Abby Nixon), Dale Robertson (Billy Reynolds), Stephen McNally (Jesse Gorman), Arthur Hunnicut (Frank Taggert, A Prisoner), Robert Keith (Warden Morgan), Jay C. Flippen (Capt. Wells), Whit Bissell (Virgil Gates), Morris Ankrum (Ed, the Sheriff), James Bell (Doctor Betts), George Lewis (Jorge Gomez), William “Bill” Phillips (Red), Earl Holliman (Joe), Irving Bacon (Old Guard); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Edmund Grainger; RKO; 1953)
“Unconvincing bleak prison-break story costumed as a Western.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Unconvincing bleak prison-break story costumed as a Western. It’s set in the Arizona Territory in 1897. It was shot in 3D, but when that fad died it was released without that gimmick. It’s directed by Alfred Werker, and based on the story by Bennett Cohen and Norton S. Parker; the writers are Frederick Hazlitt Brennan and Harry Essex.

Former marshal Billy Reynolds (Dale Robertson) is a peaceful rancher in an unnamed Arizona town overrun with easterners, who have banned guns and gun fights in town. When the two brothers of the outlaw Jesse Gorman (Stephen McNally), the man Billy sent to prison, seek to get revenge on Billy and try shooting him down in the street, he instead kills them both in self-defense. But the jury, made up of mostly newcomers, doesn’t see it that way and sentences him to ten years in the state penitentiary for manslaughter.

The harsh prison conditions (it’s over a 100 degrees), the sadistic prison captain of the guards Captain Wells (Jay C. Flippen) and the feeling of betrayal by the citizens, leaves Billy a bitter camper. His nemesis, Jesse, can’t wait to kill him, and during one dining hall chow down throws a shank in his shoulder. Soon Jesse’s hot dish girlfriend, stagecoach robber, Abby Nixon (Virginia Mayo), sentenced to two years, arrives in the state prison as the only female prisoner among 500 horny and dangerous men and the befuddled warden, Morgan (Robert Keith), doesn’t know what to do so he puts her up in the prison dispensary to work with the prison doctor.

Guns are smuggled in through the dispensary, and Jesse plans to escape to Mexico with Abby and his henchmen Red and Joe. But after promising Abby not to kill Billy, Jesse’s reneges on his promise and goes completely psycho as he gets off on his new power of taking over the prison and possessing the Gatling gun that is mounted by the front gate and instead of fleeing while he had the chance goes looking for Billy. Abby changes sides and gives Billy her gun, and he redeems himself by stopping the escape.

There’s not much that makes sense or to savor or remember from this banal narrative.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”