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TRIBUTE TO A BAD MAN(director: Robert Wise; screenwriter: Michael Blankfort; cinematographer: Robert Surtees; editor: Ralph Winters; music: Miklos Rozsa; cast: James Cagney (Jeremy Rodock), Don Dubbins (Steve Miller), Stephen McNally (McNulty), Irene Papas (Jocasta Constantine), Vic Morrow (Lars Peterson), Lee Van Cleef (Fat Jones), Royal Dano (Abe), Onslow Stevens (Hearn), James Bell (Mr.. Peterson), Jeanette Nolan (Mrs. Peterson), Chubby Johnson (Baldy), Peter Chong (Cooky), James Griffith (Barjak); Runtime: 95; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Sam Zimbalist; MGM; 1956)
“Earns its kudos by showing the rough-and-tumble everyday working life of the cowboy.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Originally Spencer Tracy was to be the lead, but after a dispute with director Robert Wise (“The Haunting”/”Two for the Seesaw”/”West Side Story”) he walked off the set and was replaced after four days of filming by James Cagney (his first Western). The other misfortune was when the co-star Bob Francis died in a plane crash sometime during the shoot and his part had to be shot over with Don Dubbins. Cagney was just terrific as the hard-bitten pioneer cattle baron with a bad case of “hanging fever,” and despite its early filming setbacks it turned out to be a fine domestic Western. It’s shot as a coming-of-age frontier Western, and earns its kudos by showing the rough-and-tumble everyday working life of the cowboy.

It’s set in the late 1870s around Laramie, in the Colorado Territory (filmed at the Colorado Rockies), and told from the point of view of young Steve Miller (Don Dubbins). He’s a grocery clerk from Pennsylvania who goes west to be a wrangler and after saving wealthy rancher Jeremy Rodock (James Cagney) from a rustler gets hired as a ranchhand. Steve is conflicted over Rodock, as he’s repelled by his harsh frontier justice methods of hanging suspected rustlers without a trial but pleased how he’s warmly treated as if was his son.

Jocasta Constantine (Irene Papas) is the attractive saloon piano player/hostess Greek immigrant from Cheyenne who lives as Rodock’s mistress at his ranch. When the foreman McNulty (Stephen McNally) falls in love with Jo, the jealous Rodock fires him. Soon Steve has a crush on her. But she loves only Rodock and is waiting for him to stop his hangings and ask her to be his wife.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When the gruff Rodock discovers that his former weakling ranch partner Peterson (James Bell) is rustling his horses, he gets shot and one rustler gets killed. In the climactic scene Rodock gets tired of hanging rustlers and returns Peterson’s son Lars (Vic Morrow) alive back to his mom’s ranch after forcing the rustler and his two cronies to march barefoot through the desert to go to town and then even changing his mind about the arrest and providing horses to his mom’s ranch. Jo, who was going to run off with Steve, returns to marry the more human Rodock. Steve travels on, but recalls it was through both Jo and Mr. Rodock that he became a man.

The ‘Scope photography by Robert Surtees was stunning.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”