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HELL BENT FOR LEATHER (director: George Sherman; screenwriters: from the novel Outlaw Marshal by Ray Hogan/Christopher Knopf; cinematographer: Clifford Stine; editor: Milton Carruth; music: Irwing Gertz/William Lava; cast: Audie Murphy (Clay Santell), Stephen McNally (Marshal Deckett), Felicia Farr (Janet Gifford), Robert Middleton (Ambrose), Rad Fulton(Moon), Herbert Rudley (Perrick), Jan Merlin (Travers), Joseph Ruskin (Shad), Steve Gravers (Grover); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Gordon Kay; Universal International; 1960)

“Misanthropic Western, that excites only because of the star presence of Audie Murphy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

George Sherman (“The Lone Hand”/”Big Jake”/”Smoky”)ably directs in a workmanlike way this misanthropic Western, that excites only because of the star presence of Audie Murphy. It’s based on the novel Outlaw Marshal by Ray Hogan and is cleverly written by Christopher Knopf.

Clay Santell (Audie Murphy) is a horse trader heading across the prairie for a business deal in Iron Wells, New Mexico, when he’s bushwhacked and his horse stolen in the Colorado desert by a man begging for water. The stranger, shot in the arm while fleeing, turns out to be a dangerous wanted killer named Travis (Jan Merlin). When Clay reaches the nearest town of Sutterville and tries to buy a new horse, he carries with him the killer’s distinctive fancy rifle which the locals identify as the killer’s and mistakenly think he’s the killer of a respected town family. The blacksmith and bartender tell the town leaders returning from a funeral that the stranger is the killer and most of the leading citizens want to hang him immediately without a trial. The wanted man has been chased for four months by the inept deputy marshal Deckett (Stephen McNally), a feckless and corrupt man, who falsely says Clay is Travers. Wanting all the glory for the arrest for himself, Deckett takes Clay to Denver for a jury trial, but his prisoner escapes and takes the town outcast Janet (Felicia Farr) as hostage. When Janet believes Clay’s story, she helps him escape across an impassable mountain ridge with the sadistic Deckett and the angry town posse in pursuit from behind and the deadly Travis lurking up ahead.

In an action-packed climax, the dire situation is resolved and Audie gets the pretty girl (in real-life she married Jack Lemmon). Too bad McNally’s role was of a one-dimensional character, because he brought the film down a few notches by being so unconvincing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”