(director: Richard Thorpe; screenwriter: from the book by Luke Short/Irving Ravetch; cinematographer: George Folsey; editor: Conrad A. Nervig; music: Rudolph G. Kopp; cast: Burt Lancaster (Owen Daybright), Robert Walker (Lee Strobie), Joanne Dru (Jen Strobie), John Ireland (Hub Fasken), Hugh O’Brian (Dick Fasken), Sally Forrest (Lili Fasken), Ray Collins (Arch Strobie), Carleton Carpenter (Hewie), Will Wright (Mr. Willoughby), Grace Mills (Mrs. Burke), Ted de Corsia (Herb Backett), Paul E. Burns (Dr. Irwin); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nicholas Nayfack; Goodtimes Home Video/MGM; 1951)

“It’s Manhattan-born Burt Lancaster’s first western, and he proves he can ride tall in the saddle.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Richard Thorpe’s (“The Utah Kid”) western adventure of passion and romance,Vengeance Valley, is set in the Rockies; it’s based on a story by Luke Short and is effectively written as a character study by Irving Ravetch. It’s Manhattan-born Burt Lancaster’s first western, and he proves he can ride tall in the saddle. The plot line was too obvious from the onset, therefore the film lacked the tension it needed to sustain interest. But what it lacks in rigor and action, it makes up for by its excellent craftsmanship and fine acting.

Owen Daybright (Burt Lancaster) is the rugged, good-hearted and hard-working cattle-ranch foreman for his kindly crippled adopted father Arch Strobie (Ray Collins). Owen has been looking out for his wayward foster-brother Lee (Robert Walker) ever since he was an orphan and adopted 15 years ago, covering up for all his misdeeds. The cowboys are returning from a long roundup, when they find out from the saloon keeper that the unmarried Lili Fasken (Sally Forrest) just gave birth. She refuses to name the child’s father, which causes the local doctor to refuse to treat her. But sweetie-pie Jen Strobie (Joanne Dru), the wife of Lee, helps in the delivery. Owen comes by to offer $500 and see how she’s doing. Lili’s brother Dick Fasken (Hugh O’Brian) assumes Owen’s the father and threatens to kill him. When he’s overmatched, he calls for his gunslinger older brother Hub (John Ireland) to come from out of town and get vengeance. The two jump Owen, but he licks Hub in a bruising fight. Lili calls the sheriff and the brothers are arrested for threatening to kill Owen. We soon learn that Lee is the father of the illegitimate child, and that Lili is ashamed to tell Jen and Owen wants to keep the news from Arch.

Lee secretly resents Owen and feels threatened by his presence, realizing he’s not the man that Owen is. Lee also becomes increasingly jealous that Jen loves Owen more than she does him. When the Fasken brothers get released from jail, Lee schemes with rustler rancher Herb Backett (Ted de Corsia) to get the one-track minded brothers to bushwhack Owen along the cattle drive. But that backfires when the other ranch-hands, led by Hewie (Carleton Carpenter), come to Owen’s aid. That leads Owen to go after Lee, deciding he won’t cover up for him anymore.

Vengeance Valley Poster

REVIEWED ON 3/16/2005 GRADE: B –