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TALL STRANGER, THE(director: Thomas Carr; screenwriters: Christopher Knopf/based on the story by Louis L’Amour; cinematographer: Wilfred M. Cline; editor: William Austin; music: Hans J. Salter; cast: Joel McCrea (Ned Bannon), Virginia Mayo (Ellen), Barry Kelley (Hardy Bishop), Michael Ansara (Zarata), Whit Bissell (Judson), James Dobson (Dud), Ray Teal (Cap), George Neise (Mort Harper), Leo Gordon (Stark), Michael Pate (Charley), Robert Foulk (Pagones), Mauritz Hugo (Purcell); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Walter Mirisch; Allied Artists Pictures; 1957)
“More interesting than such a routine story had a right to be.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is a solid old-fashioned, fist-fighting, shoot-em-up, action-packed adult Western based on a story by the prolific Louis L’Amour and tautly written by Christopher Knopf. Director Thomas Carr (“Red River Renegades”/”Santa Fe Saddlemates”/”Topeka”) went from directing low-grade features and Wild Bill Elliott Westerns to becoming a pioneer in the development of the television Western, including directing some episodes of Gunsmoke. In this film, Carr does a credible job keeping things brisk and more interesting than such a routine story had a right to be. It’s set at the end of the Civil War.

Ned Bannon (Joel McCrea) is a former Union soldier heading home in uniform to try and patch things up with his half-brother Hardy Bishop (Barry Kelley), owner of a place called Bishop’s Valley in the Colorado Territory, who blames him irrationally for his good for nothing son’s death. Suddenly Ned is bushwhacked by rustlers and in a daze only remembers the gunman’s fancy spurs. A passing wagon train of southern homesteaders heading to California finds him and removes the rifle bullet from his side. He’s nursed by the widowed beauty with a young son Ellen, (Virginia Mayo), and joins the wagon party to help them mediate a dispute between his land baron half-brother and the two unscrupulous late joining members of the wagon train, Hardy (George Neise) and Purcell (Mauritz Hugo), who have an evil influence over the group and convince them to stay in Bishop’s Valley and try to take over Bishop’s fertile land that ranges for 30 miles. This comes even after Ned tells them they’ve been led down a dead-end trail and they’re trespassing on private property and will be killed by the no-nonsense Bishop and his wranglers.

Things move along in a predictable fashion: Ellen becomes the romantic interest to the manly straight-shooter Ned, the brothers patch things up in the last reel to fight together a land war with Harper’s hidden gang led by the sinister Zarata (Michael Ansara)–the rustler who shot Ned, and the decent settlers learn in the end a moral lesson about being greedy and blindly following scoundrels instead of trying to think for themselves what is right and wrong. Despite things being so routine, the acting by McCrea is first-class and the action is just great.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”