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STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (director: Jacques Tourneur; screenwriters: from a novel by Louis L’Amour/Don Martin/Herb Meadow; cinematographer: Ray Rennahan; editor: William B. Murphy; music: Paul Dunlap; cast: Joel McCrea (Judge Rick Thorne), Miroslava (Amy Lee Bannerman), Kevin McCarthy (Tom Bannerman), John Carradine (Col. Buck Streeter,), John McIntire (Josiah Bannerman), Nancy Gates (Caroline Webb), Walter Baldwin (Vince Webb), Emile Meyer (Sheriff Nat Bell), Robert Cornthwaite (Arnold Hammer), Jacklyn Green (Paula Morison), Emmett Lynn (Drunk); Runtime: 66; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert Goldstein; VCI Entertainment; 1955)
“The B Western works mostly because Joel McCrea plays his lead role with conviction and the Ansco Color is appealing.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Decent companion piece to the superior “Stars in My Crown.” It’s adapted from a story by Louis L’Amour and written by Don Martin and Herb Meadow. Jacques Tourneur (“Wichita”/”Stars in My Crown”/Cat People”) makes the most of this stale tale of a loner up against a power-hungry cattle baron, who uses his gun, his law book and wits to get law and order in the frontier. The B Western works mostly because Joel McCrea plays his lead role with conviction and the Ansco Color is appealing (filmed in Sedona, Arizona). The original negative was lost, as the British Film Institute (BFI) used a print for this DVD.

Rick Thorne (Joel McCrea) is a circuit judge making the rounds who arrives in the rural frontier town of Bannerman, population of 507, and opens a can of worms by insisting that Tom Bannerman (Kevin McCarthy), the nasty womanizing spoiled son of the cattle baron town founder, owner of everything in town and its despotic ruler, Josiah Bannerman (John McIntire), stand trial for the murder of Sidney Morison who was shot in a recent gun duel. Col. Buck Streeter (John Carradine), a flowery windbag U.S. district attorney, who has been bought by Bannerman, warns Thorne that whatever Bannerman says goes for law in this town and that the newly arrived Morison was shot “in self-defense.” The cynical sheriff, Nat Bell (Emile Meyer), did nothing, not even ask for witnesses, but now that the tough judge aims to carry out the law and smokes out the frightened witnesses to testify (Nancy Gates & Walter Baldwin), the sheriff regains his honor by doing his sworn duty and helping the judge.

Amy Lee Bannerman (Miroslava, Czech-Mexican actress who committed suicide over an unhappy romance with bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguin) is the sex starved tempestuous niece of Josiah, who can’t stand the wimpish banker (Robert Cornthwaite) she’s engaged to and gets the hots for the hunky gun-toting judge. She proves she loves the judge more than she’s loyal to her rotten family when she helps him bring her cousin to Cottonwood, some 47 miles away, so a fair trial can be conducted.

All the characters are stereotyped Western types and the cast, including McCrea, all deliver one-note performances. The difference is that McCrea’s performance is so forceful and filled with heart, that you actually believe he takes the law seriously while the others are just going through the motions.

REVIEWED ON 10/21/2008 GRADE: B-

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”