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FIRECREEK (director: Vincent McEveety; screenwriter: Calvin Clements; cinematographer: William H. Clothier; editor: William Ziegler; music: Alfred Newman; cast: James Stewart (Johnny Cobb), Henry Fonda (Bob Larkin), Inger Stevens (Evelyn), Gary Lockwood (Earl), Dean Jagger (Whittier), Ed Begley (Preacher Boyles), Jay C. Flippen (Mr. Pittman), Jack Elam (Earl Norman), Morgan Woodward (Willard), James Best (Drew), Barbara Luna (Meli), Brooke Bundy (Leah), Jacqueline Scott (Henrietta Cobb), Louise Latham (Dulcie), John Qualen (Hall); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Philip Leacock/John Mantley; Warner Brothers; 1968)
It’s a B-western passed off as an A-western.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Disney director and long-time television director Vincent McEveety (“Shook Up Shopping Cart”/”Herbie Goes Bananas”/”The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again“) can’t do much with this dour routine formulaic western, which wastes its talented stars in such a clumsy and uninspiring production. It’s a B-western passed off as an A-western. Some wise guy got it right when he once described it as ‘a geriatrics’ High Noon (1952), because it also featured a bullied community of losers who refuse to aid an elderly lone lawman fight off a dangerous gang that threatens their community. But this one is so ponderous, it might be entitled Low Noon. It’s written in a lackluster way by Calvin Clements, whose sound ideas are never transferred to the screen in a reasonably exciting way and it goes on in a too leisurely pace for too long.

The cowardly frontier community in question is called “Firecreek.” Five ruthless cutthroats from the Missouri range wars–Larkin (Henry Fonda), Earl (Gary Lockwood), Drew (James Best), Norman (Jack Elam), and Willard (Morgan Woodward)–ride into the dusty frontier town and decide to remain there until Larkin recovers from his gunshot wound. Fearing the worst from these rowdy strangers, the mild-mannered local part-time sheriff and farmer, Johnny Cobb James Stewart), leaves his farmhouse, his two young boys and his pregnant wife, Henrietta (Jacqueline Scott), who has gone into labor, with the midwife Dulci (Louise Latham), to spend the night in town.

Larkin is recuperating at a boardinghouse run by the crippled Mr. Pittman (Jay C. Flippen), where the old man’s outspoken cynical widower granddaughter, Evelyn (Inger Stevens), treats the outlaw and fearlessly argues for law and order. Meanwhile things get out of hand as Larkin’s gang disrupt church services held in the merchant Whittier’s (Dean Jagger) store by itinerant Preacher Broyles (Ed Begley), and has shopkeeper Hall (John Qualen) leading the charge for something to be done about the thugs. The pacifist sheriff tries to reason with them to take it easy and decides he must do something when they ignore him and go on a drunken escapade. Predictably things become increasingly violent, which includes the attempted rape by Drew of unwed Indian mother, Meli (Barbara Luna). The attacker is killed by the dim-witted stableboy Arthur (J. Robert Porter) when his gun accidentally goes off, as he observes from outside the window of her bedroom.

The violent shoot-’em-up climax has the town’s $2/month reluctant sheriff, who sports a homemade badge, taking a stand at last after Arthur is murdered and alone takes on the cold-blooded baddies in a gun duel before they destroy the town, which at least was stirring enough to awaken me from my slumber.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”