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TENSION AT TABLE ROCK (director: Charles Marquis Warren; screenwriters: Winston Miller/from the novel Bitter Sage by Frank Gruber; cinematographer: Joseph F. Biroc; editors: Dean Harrison/Harry Marker; music: Josef Myrow/Dimitri Tiomkin/Ned Washington/Robert Wells; cast: Richard Egan (Wes Tancred), Dorothy Malone (Lorna Miller), Cameron Mitchell (Sheriff Fred Miller), Billy Chapin (Jody), Royal Dano (Harry Jameson), Edward Andrews (Kirk), John Dehner (Hampton), DeForest Kelly (Jim Breck), Angie Dickinson (Cathy), Joe DeSantis (Ed Burrows), Charles H. Gray (Zecca), Joel Ashley (Svenson Brink), James Anderson (Lerner), Paul Richards (Sam), John Pickard (Cord, Ramrod); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Wiesenthal; RKO; 1956)

“Leaves some redstains on the desert trails and a lot of tension in the dusty prairie town of Table Rock.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A well-acted but routine B-western, about a reformed gunslinger scarred by a false song about him shooting his outlaw best friend in the back over a misunderstanding with a girl. Charles Marquis Warren (“Charro!”/”Desert Hell”/”Cattle Empire”), the director and producer of TV’s Gunsmoke for a few years,leaves some red stains on the desert trails and a lot of tension in the dusty prairie town of Table Rock, as writer Winston Miller effectively adapts Frank Gruber’s novel Bitter Sage to the screen.

Gunslinger Wes Tancred (Richard Egan) is disgusted his outlaw boss Sam (Paul Richards) killed one of their gang in retaliation because he killed the stagecoach operator during a robbery. Sam has a rep as a Robin Hood figure, giving a share of the spoils after every robbery to the locals. This time he tries to keep up his noble rep with his public followers by squaring things over the murder by taking care of the killer himself instead of handing out his usual presents of loot. When Wes returns to the gang’s hideout, Cathy (Angie Dickinson), Sam’s moll, throws herself at Wes’ feet and pleads for him to take her with him. The jealous Sam draws on Wes when his back is turned, even after Wes refuses her offer and says he’s quitting the gang. But the fast-draw Wes still drops Sam. When the pursuing sheriff and posse come to the hideout, the spurned Cathy tells everyone the lie that Wes shot his old pal in the back. After a brief two weeks in the slammer, Wes is given a pardon and the reward money voucher for killing the wanted fugitive.

Haunted that a popular song goes around making the hero into a cowardly villain, the wrongly accused gunslinger changes his name and goes on the run. Wes gets work on an isolated desert stage outpost, whose nearest town Table Rock is fifty miles away. The outpost is manned by the gimpy Ed Burrows (Joe DeSantis) and his lonely impressionistic young son Jody (Billy Chapin). When three outlaws use the outpost to stick up the next stage scheduled for a stopover at the Bitter Sage outpost, in which they have info the stage is carrying a big money shipment, Ed is killed trying to stop them. In retaliation Wes kills the trio and takes the kid to Table Rock, where the kid’s uncle Fred Miller (Cameron Mitchell) is the sheriff and nearest relative. The nervous Miller is afraid of the trail herders coming to town after a long cattle drive and tearing up the town like they usually do. The crusading newspaper publisher Harry Jameson (Royal Dano) and one of the sod-busters, Svenson Brink (Joel Ashley) are frustrated that the sheriff is gutless to act to preserve law and order. Fred’s attractive wife Lorna (Dorothy Malone) is ashamed hubby acts so cowardly (but knows the reason is that he was once beaten almost to death, so she sticks by her man) and goes into a swoon when she meets the handsome stranger who brought the kid to her, who also falls for her on first sight.

When one of the ruffian trail herders, Lerner (James Anderson), kills the foolhardy Svenson in cold blood during a night on the town, the autocratic ranch owner Hampton (John Dehner) threatens to overrun the town unless the killer is let loose. The town’s corrupt big businessman Kirk (Edward Andrews) agrees to help the rancher (more interested in his business than in justice) by bringing in a hired gun (DeForest Kelly) to kill the sheriff who testified. This gives both the sheriff and the reformed gunslinger a chance to get back their name and honor by standing up for what is right despite their lives placed in danger. In the end, after settling matters with the dreaded cattle drive trail herders, the hero leaves town alone, riding off in the sunset even though his heart aches for Lorna.

The redemption part was about as tasty as a bucket of horse oats, but the crisp acting by Egan and Mitchell, the good action sequences and the good production values allow this one to be watchable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”