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Rough Night in Jericho

14 Mar

My last post looked at a superior little film scripted by Sydney Boehm, and that writer is the common thread linking into this one. Where The Raid was rich and fairly original in terms of theme, Rough Night in Jericho (1967) is an altogether simpler and, ultimately, less rewarding experience. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, just that the plot treads a more worn path and the characterization has less depth and complexity. Generally, it’s a picture with lower ambitions, aiming for entertainment as opposed to any notions of profundity. What is does have in its favour are unusual casting, some instances of striking photography, and a couple of first class set pieces.

The tale told here is a familiar one: a town which, through weakness, has allowed itself to succumb gradually to the tyranny of one man. The town is Jericho and the man is Alex Flood (Dean Martin), a former lawman who has come to realize that there’s a better percentage (51% to be precise) to be had in simply ruling the roost. Bit by bit, Flood has acquired a controlling interest in just about every enterprise of value in the town. The one business he has yet to muscle in on is the stage line run by Molly Lang (Jean Simmons), twice widowed and Flood’s former lover. Working on the principle of fighting fire with fire, Molly has taken on a couple of partners she hopes will prove capable of facing down Flood. These men are Ben Hickman (John McIntire) and Dolan (George Peppard), two ex-peacekeepers who also want to try and turn a profit. The movie opens with Flood ambushing the new stagecoach driven by his would-be rivals, and establishes the confrontational tone that runs throughout. When the two men limp into town the first view to greet them is a graphic illustration of Flood’s handiwork – the corpse of a man who crossed him strung up from the hanging tree. With Hickman laid up in bed in Molly’s house recuperating from a gunshot wound sustained in the ambush, Dolan is essentially on his own. He’s a gambler, a man who always does the arithmetic in his head before acting, and he dislikes the odds stacked against him. While he neither likes nor approves of Flood and his tactics, he can’t see that anything’s to be gained in taking him on. The first half of the film basically involves these two natural rivals circling each other warily without either one of them wanting to overtly provoke the other. The scales are finally tipped by two factors: Dolan’s inability to crack the stubborn resolve of his aging partner, and a crude assault on Molly by Flood’s henchmen. When the gauntlet is thrown down, Dolan is bound to a path than can only lead relentlessly to a final showdown with Flood.

Director Arnold Laven’s television credits far exceed his movie work, and I think that background is highlighted in certain aspects of Rough Night in Jericho. A large proportion of the action takes place within the confines of the town – particularly Molly’s home and Flood’s saloon – where both the filming and editing have a TV vibe about them. Whenever the characters venture out into the wilderness around Jericho there’s a far more cinematic atmosphere about it all, probably due to Russell Metty’s presence behind the camera. For the most part, Laven’s work on this picture is competent if not spectacular, though the final stalking scene in the brush is both overextended and clumsy in its editing. There are, however, two memorable sequences that raise the quality considerably. The first is a long, brutal fight between George Peppard and Slim Pickens with the weapons of choice ranging from a bullwhip to chains. Even now the scene carries some clout, and I can only wonder how audiences back in 1967 reacted to the savagery on display. The other notable scene comes towards the end when an exciting and well-staged shootout takes place in the saloon, John McIntire’s shotgun creating some particularly satisfying mayhem.

 And now to the casting. Dean Martin is never going to lauded as a great actor, but his easy-going charm and natural affability meant he was never an unwelcome addition to any production. His portrayal of Alex Flood turns all expectations completely on their head though. Nearly all traces of the usual Dino persona are washed away as he plays Flood as a man without a shred of common decency. His actions right from the beginning – humiliating a deputy, orchestrating a lynching, sadistically beating a woman, back-shooting –  prove there can be no doubt as to his ruthlessness. While it’s certainly a shock to see him in such an unsympathetic role I think he just about carries it off. George Peppard is also effective as the reluctant hero up against Flood and his hired killers, his mostly sombre clothes and cheroot hinting at a reference to Leone and Corbucci. John McIntire was always a reliable presence in movies, especially westerns, and his cool professionalism acts as a stabilising force here. English actress Jean Simmons had already demonstrated her ability to slot comfortably into the world of the old west with her role in The Big Country, and does so again in this film. Her tough widow is the only significant female part amid all the macho posturing and she’s perfectly credible as a frontier survivor. It has to be said though that she – along with Peppard – is involved in one of the least successful scenes in the whole movie. It’s a comic interlude that sees Molly and Dolan matching one another drink for drink before collapsing into bed. The scene isn’t especially badly played or filmed, but it’s tone is completely at odds with the rest of the picture and it draws attention to itself for all the wrong reasons.

The German DVD of Rough Night in Jericho by Koch Media has the film looking wonderful in anamorphic scope. Colour and detail levels appeared acceptably high to my eyes, and I wasn’t aware of any significant print damage. The disc offers either the original English soundtrack or a German dub – there are no subtitles to worry about. Extras consist of the trailer, a gallery and an inlay card with notes in German. At this point, I ought to mention that the film is due to go in sale in the UK at the end of this month via Pegasus. If the transfer is up to the standard of the company’s other recent Universal releases then it should represent a viable (and more economical) alternative. This is a film whose plot offers nothing new or startling to western fans, who will have seen countless variations on the tale. Nevertheless, there’s a good deal of entertainment to be had along the way, and the cast all do a perfectly satisfactory job. It’s a solid and unpretentious late-60s western whose strengths and weaknesses just about balance each other out.

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17 Comments

Posted by on March 14, 2012 in 1960s, Jean Simmons, Westerns

 

17 responses to “Rough Night in Jericho

  1. le0pard13

    March 14, 2012 at 1:08 am

    I remember seeing this on TV long ago as a youth, mainly for Dean Martin in the rare villain role. He was surprisingly awesome in this and had a field day with the role. I see Universal’s Vault Series has it available in the U.S., although there’s an non-anamorphic widescreen OOP of theirs floating around. Fine look at this 60s western, Colin.

     
    • Colin

      March 14, 2012 at 10:37 am

      Thanks Michael.
      From what I’ve heard, Martin liked westerns a lot and any that I’ve seen him in were always at least enjoyable. He played his role here very straight, and I think it worked.

      I wasn’t aware Rough Night in Jericho was available via the Vault series in the US – I tend to lose track of all the titles coming out through the Archive, Vault etc.

       
  2. Dafydd Jones

    March 14, 2012 at 8:41 am

    “Rough Night…” , for me, has always been an entertaining western rather than a classic which I think comes over in your review Colin. I’m not sure that I share your negative view of the drinking scene though! It is certainly at odds with the general tone of the film…but in a pleasing way, I’ve always thought. Not jarringly so.
    Another aspect of “Rough Night…” that’s always struck me is that it is, in many respects, a 1950s B western story with some late 60s brutality thrown in. The nice, sentimental, vocal over the finale and end credis seem to hark back to another era somehow.
    But that fignt scene with Slim Pickens is certainly one of the most memorable I can recall in a western. I always feel slightly bruised myself, just after watching it. (Another fight scene with a similarly vicious feel to it, from another western of this vintage, is the one between Chuck Connors and Claude Akins in “Ride Beyond Vengeance”)
    I’m glad you finally got around to “Rough Night…” Colin and many thanks for the review.

     
    • Colin

      March 14, 2012 at 10:47 am

      Hi Dafydd. I think the drinking scene was well enough done as far as it goes, and it is amusing. For me, the slapstick nature of it didn’t exactly jar but it didn’t blend in with the tough mood of the rest of the movie either.

      I know what you mean about the 50s B feel – I think a lot of that comes down to the familiar or traditional nature of the story. The idea of the hero whose honour finally gets the better of him and drives him to clean up the corrupt town is one that’s been mined repeatedly. If it weren’t for the increased level of violence it’s not too much of a stretch to see the story being made a decade before.

       
  3. surroundedbyimbeciles

    March 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm

    I watched this for the first time a few weeks ago. I like a lot of the movies that both George Peppard and Dean Martin did, but I could never get my mind wrapped around Dean Martin being the heavy. It was an entertaining movie, but I doubt that I watch it again.

     
    • Colin

      March 14, 2012 at 8:58 pm

      It is a major departure for Martin, in stark contrast to the usual image he projected.
      I quite liked the movie but, while I wouldn’t say it’s one I won’t be watching again, I can’t see myself returning to it frequently either. It’s a film that simply aims to entertain and has no particular ambitions beyond that, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. At the end of the day, it delivers what it promises – no more and no less.

       
  4. Sergio Angelini

    March 14, 2012 at 10:15 pm

    Sounds interesting Colin – the last time it was on the tube I’m afraid that I switched it off, not being quite prepared to accept Dino as such a bad guy. Which was just lazy of me, clearly. if I get the chance I’ll definitely give this another shot. Filmed partly on location in Utah, right?

     
    • Colin

      March 14, 2012 at 10:30 pm

      Correct Sergio – the exterior location work looks very attractive (which you kind of expect from Russell Metty) but it’s used only sparingly.

      It really says something for Dino’s charm that the idea of him playing a villain is such a tough sell for people. I think it’s one of the positives of the movie, marking it out as unique in a way that would have been impossible with a more familiar heavy playing Alex Flood.

      It’s certainly worth an hour and a half of your time should you get the chance to view it again.

       
      • Sergio Angelini

        March 14, 2012 at 10:35 pm

        Cheers Colin And I love him in westerns like RIO BRAVO and KATIE ELDER – and a big fan of Simmons and Peppard in the 60s was usually terrific – what was I thinking … definitely kicking myself.

         
        • Colin

          March 14, 2012 at 10:50 pm

          Peppard did some good stuff in the late 50s/early 60s – Tobruk, Home from the Hill, The Victors, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
          And I kind of wish Jean Simmons had done more westerns; she brought a lot of class to her roles.

           
  5. Dafydd Jones

    March 14, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    On the matter of locations, I’m pretty sure that Dino’s ranch-house (targetted by Peppard and co. late in the story) is in fact, the main house at Shiloh Ranch in THE VIRGINIAN.

     
    • Colin

      March 14, 2012 at 10:54 pm

      You could be right Dafydd – I thought that place looked vaguely familiar.

       
    • Sergio Angelini

      March 15, 2012 at 5:31 pm

      Both made by Universal so it would make sense …

       
  6. raymie

    March 17, 2012 at 11:17 pm

    I spent an entire sunday back in october of 1967 watching this film in a theater all day.But to view it four times I had to also watch david niven in the impossible years three times.Dino loved western movies and he loved the horse he rode in this one by the name of top.Top and dean were also together in bandolero,five card stud,something big and that one with rock hudson that I don’t care for but can’t remember the title.of.As a matter of fact,top died during filming of that last one and dean was so distraught that he walked off the set as I read and remember.Funny similarity is that the horse pie that jimmy stewart rode for twenty years died during filming of the cheyenne social club.Jimmy and dean never starred in another western after the deaths of their beloved equines.George peppard in rough night is clad like he was in a spaghetti western.But all three of leones hit the united states in 67 so I have doubts just how influential spaghetti westerns were to an american western released in 1967.The opening theme is hummable but the rest of the music forgettable.A shotgun blast to the face in closeup was shocking but slim pickens sticks out in my mind for that sadistic fight.No character actor could handle a bullwhip like slim.Thank you colin for letting me revisit a tale told similarly in the fifties but updated to the turbulent sixties.

     
    • Colin

      March 17, 2012 at 11:31 pm

      Thanks Raymie. I think that Dino/Hudson movie you’re referring to is The Showdown, but it’s one I’ve never seen. I think Dino’s fondness for westerns came through in his performances – he always seemed to have a good time making them.
      Five Card Stud, seeing as you mentioned it, is an interesting western/mystery hybrid that doesn’t quite come off but it’s one I hope to get around to writing up some time soon.

       
  7. Bruce lander

    March 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm

    The Movie was based on a Novel by Marvin H.Albert (writing as Al Conroy) called “The Man In Black” it was then re-written as A Movie tie-in as “Rough Night in Jericho” by Ben Haas (writing as Richard Meade !
    Of course Albert wrote the novels “The Law And Jake Wade”, Apache Rising ( Duel at Diablo) and “Renegade Posse” all which made very good movies

     
    • Colin

      March 20, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      Cheers Bruce. Source material from a seasoned genre writer never hurts when it comes to fashioning a movie script.

       

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