(director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: Bernard Gordon/story by William Alland; cinematographer: Irving Glassburg; editor: Frank Gross; music: Herman Stein; cast: Rock Hudson (John Wesley Hardin), Julie Adams (Rosie McCoy), Mary Castle (Jane Brown), John McIntire (J.G. Hardin/UncleJohn Clements), Michael Ansara (Gus Hanley),Hugh O’Brian (Ike Hanley), Dennis Weaver (Jim Clements), Lee Van Cleef (Dirk Hanley), Glenn Strange (Ben Hanley), Edward Earle (Henry Johnson), George Eldredge(Sheriff Charlie Webb), Race Gentry (Young John Hardin); Runtime: 83; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: William Alland; Universal-International; 1952)
Highly inaccurate biopic on legendary Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Highly inaccurate biopic on legendary Texas outlaw John Wesley Hardin (Rock Hudson), on his wild youthful days as a gambler and gunslinger and later his repentance. What’s even worse than being loose on its facts is that it’s so routine, trite and unconvincing. It’s Rock Hudson’s first starring role, and I found his acting to be stiff. Raoul Walsh (“High Sierra”/”The Roaring Twenties”/”They Drive By Night”) never gets a handle on this bleak tale, told in flashback, and directed in a flat formal style. It’s about a miscarriage of justice that sets the young Hardin on a criminal path when all he wanted in life was to marry his childhood sweetheart Jane Brown (Mary Castle) and be a farmer. The popular Bob Dylan song about John Wesley Hardin has all the excitement that this pic couldn’t muster.

It’s based on story by William Alland, and is weakly written by Bernard Gordon.

The 41-year-old John Wesley Hardin is pardoned in 1894 after serving 16 years of a 25 year murder sentence in a Huntsville, Texas, prison and returns to his ranch home to his wife Rosie (Julie Adams), a former dance-hall girl now a reformed domestic type, to make sure his teenage son doesn’t become a gunslinger. But first he gives local newspaper publisher Henry Johnson (Edward Earle) a manuscript of his life story (proving he spent some quality time in the slammer). It tells of the outlaw’s overbearing strict father, the local preacher (John McIntire), who tries to straighten sonny boy out by smacking him around–a behavior modification technique that doesn’t work even if pop meant well. After Wesley kills Gus Hanley in a poker game when the card cheat drew first, he finds that the Yankees governing the town after the Civil War and Gus’s three brothers are after him. To avoid arrest and more shooting Wesley leaves his sweetheart step-sister Jane Brown, a Civil War orphan his pa let stay with the family, and promises to return to marry her when things get straightened out. Wesley goes to Abilene on a cattle drive with his kindly Uncle John (John McIntire, in a dual role) and there trouble pursues him when he’s spotted and he has to have gun duels with two of the Hanleys. When Wesley returns home to marry Jane, Ike Hanley (Hugh O’Brian) pays the local sheriff (George Eldredge) to kill the outlaw for resisting arrest, even when it’s known that the next day Wesley is set to surrender and face trial. The sheriff wings Wesley, who in self-defense kills the sheriff. As a result Wesley goes on the run for years and has many murders attributed to him without proof that he was responsible, while Jane was killed by the posse when she chases after him.

With the Texas Rangers after him, Wesley hooks up with Rosie, the saloon gal with a heart of gold, and after six years on-the-run they marry and live on a farm. Soon after Rosie gives birth, Wesley’s arrested by the Texas Rangers. After returning from prison, a heavy dose of sentimentality kicks in as Wesley is a changed man and is determined that his son will be a law-abiding citizen.

The film lacks imagination, and failed to catch my interest. There were no sparks flying in either one of Wesley’s romances or in the treatment of the misunderstood Wesley.It’s a B-film directed without much gusto by the A-film filmmaker Walsh, who never makes the legend come to life.