Thursday, February 26, 2015

Who Names A Town Warlock? Really

Warlock is a late '50s Western starring Henry Fonda and Richard Widmark. Fonda is an ace gunman named Clay Blaisedell, hired as a marshal by the citizens of Warlock, who are tired of their lives being ruined by a gang living up in San Pablo, run by a man named Abe McQuown. So Clay and his partner Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn) take the job, and they do pretty well getting the point across without killing anyone, though poor Curley (played by DeForest Kelly a few years before he'd be Dr. McCoy on Star Trek) nearly gets killed in a showdown will Clay. Fortunately, Clay felt it sufficient to show he was a lot faster on the draw, and Curley was able to walk away.

Widmark plays Johnny Gannon, who was a member of the gang, but gets tired of them always settling things by shooting guys in the back. He ends up staying in town, no longer welcome in McQuown's headquarters, but not entirely trusted by the townsfolk. Still, when the townsfolk tell the sheriff they're sick of him never being around, Widmark accepts a job as deputy sheriff.

I expected a fairly straightforward story, with Clay and Gannon eventually teaming up to fight McQuown, but there's a lot more going on. Clay falls for the local girl, Jessie Malone (played by Dolores Michaels), and considers hanging up the guns, to Tom's consternation. Lily (played by Dorothy Malone) comes to town, with a score to settle against Clay. She had brought along a man whose brother Clay killed, but that fellow is killed during a stagecoach robbery Gannon's brother was part of as she Lily was coming to Warlock. But the robbers didn't do it. Then she and Gannon fall for each other, but she still hates Clay, and there's Tom, moving about in the background.

Gannon does end up facing McQuown and his gang, but it isn't Clay that ends up having his back. You would think the townspeople standing behind their duly appointed representative of the law would be a good thing, but it only brings things to a head, and Clay is actually the one who ends up with the hard choice. Gannon doesn't get as much of a conflict. Sure, he didn't really want to fight his old friends, but he'd sworn to uphold the law, and that's all there was to it. He was going to try and do the job, even if it got him killed.

Clay is in this spot where he has to decide who he's going to be going forward, especially when he learns about all the things that have been going on around him without his knowledge all these years. There's a question of just what he's been doing all these years, how much of the Clay Blaisedell reputation is actually Clay, and where he draws the line, if he draws one. I thought his solution was fairly clever.

I'm not sure the film says anything good about people, though. At least enough of the citizens of Warlock wanted Clay to get him hired in the first place. And they seemed mighty pleased when he got McQuown's men to back down in the saloon. His reputation worked for them. But once Gannon is deputy sheriff, and shows the law will stand up to McQuown, suddenly Clay's rep is a liability. It'll bring in guys looking to make their rep against him. So he's gotta go. It's the Dark Knight thing: Die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain, but Clay never really changed. If anything, he was about to give up being a gun-for-hire, and they still turned on him.

They were still a step up from those backstabbing cowards in High Plains Drifter.


SallyP said...

This sounds pretty good. And yes, those backstabber in High Plains Drifter got what was coming to them.

CalvinPitt said...

It was a lot better than I expected going in. More levels to it, and a lot less straightfoward. Plus it was neat to see DeForest Kelly in something that wasn't Star Trek.