That whole time I was doing the year in review posts I was watching movies, so now it's a matter of trying to catch up. Might as well start with The Violent Men.
Something I realized watching Key Largo was I can't take Edward G. Robinson seriously when he plats a gangster. I keep thinking of a Bugs Bunny cartoon that had a version of him in it that Bugs humiliated. I see Johnny Rocko acting tough, and all I can think of is cartoon Edward G. Robinson on his knees, pleading with "Bugsy" not to rub him, while Bugsy grimly informs him, 'It's curtains for you, Rocky.' Cue, slamming curtains over his head and running of, as Rocky snarls, 'Oh, Rocky's really mad now!' Kind of nerfed him.
I mention that because Robinson plays Lee Wilkison in The Violent Men. Lee runs the Anchor ranch, which dominates the valley it occupies, and is in the process of cementing that grasp, by harassing all the other ranchers, the farmers, and so on into selling at pitifully low prices. Well, Lee lowballs them, but he lost the use of his legs in some earlier land struggle, so his brother Cole (Brian Keith) has returned and is leading the fear campaign. The next target is the last rancher, John Parrish (Glenn Ford), and he shouldn't be much trouble. He doesn't carry a gun, and he only moved out West because the climate was good for the wound he suffered in the Civil War. Now that he's healed, he's ready to sell and move east with his lady love. He initially pretends to take offense at the low offer, but he still plans to sell.
Cole proceeds to bollix that up, by sending out a bunch of the Anchor guys, who kill one of Parrish's men. Parrish, knowing the sheriff is a crooked, cowardly sumbitch in the pocket of the Anchor ranch, manages to goad the guilty party into drawing on him, and kills him with his deceased man's gun, thus sparing his other employees the trouble of being accused of murder. But now the hand is dealt, Parrish can't leave. Despite his best efforts, he cares enough about this valley and the other people in it he can't leave and let the Wilkison's dominate it. So it's to be war.
The real star of the movie for me was Barbara Stanwyck, who plays Martha Wilkison, the matriarch of the Anchor Ranch, and the true power. Everything Lee does, he does for her, because he promised her the entire valley would be hers. The twist is the same is true of Cole, who is here at her urging, because Lee seems to have mellowed with age. Perhaps the loss of the use of his legs has given him a greater appreciation for the cost of violence. Martha supports him publicly, but privately carries on an affair of convenience with Cole to keep him wrapped around her finger. Eventually, Cole figures this out, and chooses to leave and live with his actual girlfriend, Elena. But the moment it appears Lee is out of the picture, he throws Elena over and runs back to Martha, every true thing he knew about her having flown out of her head.
I'm very impressed with Martha. She's devious, cunning, and cruel (and more than a little racist). It's not uncommon to see an evil rancher in a Western with those attributes. Robert Ryan played Ike Clanton that way in Hour of the Gun. It's a little different for a women to get to play that character, though. She manipulates Lee and Cole into doing her bidding. Even when Lee grows tired of the violence, or Cole tired of her running hot and cold on him, they still do what she wants, because she knows what to say to override their common sense. She uses her daughter's temperamental nature to sabotage her attempt to blow the lid on Martha's scheming. Takes advantage of Parrish's aggression to remove another roadblock, and get the full force of the law behind her side of the conflict. It all falls apart on her eventually, because this Western was made in the '50s, not the '70s, and so ambiguous or crappy depressing endings were not the default, and it is immensely satisfying when it happens.
There is a romantic occurrence at the very end that doesn't feel properly built up to, but it's late enough in the film, and short enough that it doesn't detract from the movie overall.