MAN IN THE SADDLE
(director: André De Toth; screenwriters: from the book by Ernest Haycox/Kenneth Gamet; cinematographer: Charles Lawton; editor: Charles Nelson; music: George Duning; cast: Randolph Scott (Owen Merritt), Joan Leslie (Laurie Bidwell), Ellen Drew (Nan Melotte), Alexander Knox (Will Isham), Richard Rober (Fay Dutcher), John Russell (Hugh Clagg), Cameron Mitchell (George Virk), Richard Crane (Juke Virk), Clem Bevans (Pay Lankershim), Alfonso Bedoya (Charley), Don Beddoe (Love Bidwell), Guinn “Big Boy” Williams (Bourke Prine); Runtime: 87; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Harry Joe Brown; Columbia Pictures; 1951)
“The routine oater is impressive for its tough fight scenes.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The first of the six westerns Randolph Scott did for André De Toth (“The Stranger Wore A Gun”/”Ramrod”) before moving on to his defining westerns with Budd Boetticher. The routine oater is impressive for its tough fight scenes such as the shootout in the darkened saloon, big brawl in the collapsing mountain shack between Scott and a crazed John Russell, and the concluding shootout in the windswept town between Scott and heavy Richard Rober.
The plot line has the familiar western trappings we have come to expect in such oaters: small rancher Owen Merritt (Randolph Scott) is losing his upwardly-bound sweetheart Laurie Bidwell (Joan Leslie) to ruthless land baron of the Rancho Skull, Will Isham (Alexander Knox), who schemes to own all the surrounding ranches including Owen’s. On the day of Will’s wedding to Laurie, Will’s hired gunmen led by Fay Dutcher (Richard Rober) ride into town and make their strong presence felt in the local saloon. Laurie shows she’s more interested in status and wealth than love, as she tells hubby she doesn’t love him but will stick by him because she made a bargain. Laurie tells her father (Don Beddoe) she’ll send him money regularly but he must leave town because she’s ashamed of him. Old-timer Pay Lankershim sees the handwriting on the wall after there’s a stampede on Owen’s spread initiated by Will’s hired thugs and reluctantly sells out his adjoining ranch to the greedy Will for the generous price of $50,000. Will then sets his sights on his neighbor Owen’s property and has hired gunman Fay shoot Owen’s loyal ranchhand Juke Virk in the back, as brother George goes after the gang and is later gunned down. Owen retaliates by taking down one of the hired guns in an energetic saloon shootout; it soon becomes a full-blown gun battle between the heavies and the good guy ranchers, with a ticklish love triangle story intermixed. Lovely schoolteacher and cowgal farmer Nan Melotte (Ellen Drew) offers her love to Owen, but won’t give in until she’s sure he’s gotten over his love for Laurie. Nan’s jealous would-be suitor Hugh Clagg (John Russell) has some kind of inferiority complex the way Nan brushes him off and goes berserk when he learns that she’s aiding Owen in his hideout mountain shack and unsuccessfully tries to kill both, which results in a great punch-out between the rivals and Clagg’s later demise at the hands of Will due to a mix up.
It predictably ends as expected in a shootout, but Scott is memorable for his tough-guy persona and showing more tenderness to the ladies than he usually does. Kenneth Gamet adapts it from the book by Ernest Haycox. The film’s title song is sung by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
REVIEWED ON 3/11/2005 GRADE: B