(director: William Witney; screenwriter: Barry Shipman/story by Shipman; cinematographer: Bud Thackery; editor: Howard Smith; music: R. Dale Butts; cast: MacDonald Carey (Hollis Jarret), Patricia Medina (Peg Jarret), Stephen Wootton(Dodie Jarret), Skip Homeier (Clay Anderson), Louis Jean Heydn(Sheriff Tatum), Slim Pickens (Ben Silas), Howard Wright (Doc Parks), Bernadette Withers (Betsy Tatum); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sidney Picker; Republic/Olive Films; 1956-B/W)

A Christian-based evangelical B Western with a heavy-handed religious message about redemption.”

 Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Christian-based evangelical B Western with a heavy-handed religious message about redemption. Veteran B-film action director William Witney (“The Lone Ranger”/”40 Guns to Apache Pass“) directs as if the story came from Scripture and shouldn’t be messed with.

It’s a weird and off-beat movie, especially for a Western to be linked so closely with a story that has such daunting religious overtones. Barry Shipman adapted his own story into a schematic screenplay, that shows a sensitivity to Christian parables and for themes that reach further out than do most Westerns in matters of social conscience. Its target Christian evangelical audience should be pleased, as the film is competently directed and acted, well-presented and gets in all the talking points about believing in God and miracles. However, others not so inclined to such a strident fundamentalist religious view may have trouble relating to its questionable inspirational message. In a frontier town in the Old West, the gang led by Clay Anderson (Skip Homeier) robs a bank and escapes by burning down the town. After splitting up the loot on the trail, they go in different directions and agree to meet for another robbery in Kansas City in a month. Clay’s horse comes up lame and he’s forced to find a safe haven in the remote farm house of a newly married relocated preacher from the East named Hollis Jarret (Hollis Jarret). The preacher lives there with his attractive much younger second wife Peg (Patricia Medina), who looks after her impressionable and lonely adolescent stepson Dodie (Stephen Wootton) from her husband’s first wife. Though Hollis immediately determines the stranger using an alias is Clay Anderson, the altruistic preacher gives him shelter and promises to not turn him in hoping instead to get him to change his bad ways while he waits for his horse to heal. In return Clay helps him build his church. When Clay determines Peg has a loveless marriage and is better suited for him than her dull middle-aged husband he makes a play for her, but is rejected. Meanwhile Hollis wishes to give the outlaw every chance to find redemption, and gives him complete freedom around the farm and every kind consideration. But for this film it wasn’t enough to convert just Clay, so a wild horse the preacher buys from a neighbor (Chill Wills) and names Lucifer is tossed into the story to prove that even an untamed violent animal can change its bad ways and be tamed. The battle for souls between outlaw and preacher continues until the final act, when the elderly local Sheriff Tatum (Louis Jean Heydn) shows up at the preacher’s place and the outlaw, who thinks the preacher’s a fool but has come to respect him for being true to his beliefs, must decide if he should kill or not kill the sheriff before escaping. The hope is that the preacher had the power to make the outlaw turn over a new leaf. The film’s agenda was to make the preacher into a self-less, brave and kind spiritual leader, who speaks for God because he keeps the faith. But it’s just as easy to find the hero preacher a smug do-gooder unlawfully harboring a criminal that is dangerous to his family as well as to the community in order to selfishly make a religious point. I’m sure the viewer’s life experiences will determine how he is seen and thereby the value of the film will be determined. For me, the rigid piety of the religious drama was hard to stomach, especially after the preacher says with certainty and conviction that “no one is beyond reach” for redemption.

That kind of holy talk rubbed me the wrong way, as my life experiences tell me the opposite is true. The fix was in for this morality play to appeal to the choir it was preaching to, though I must confess I respected the filmmaker for sticking to his convictions and found the film interesting despite not convinced its upbeat message is practical for the modern world.