The Violent Men

Quality is a hard thing to  define with any degree of precision. It’s something we all know when we see it but try putting it into words, creating a label for it which can be affixed to suitable candidates and you find yourself in trouble. If that’s a tough one, then differentiating or categorizing grades of quality is the kind of challenge one could base myths on. I, like probably most other people, will take some ride in my ability to recognize “a good movie”, even if that is merely my necessarily subjective view, and I might also try to impart to others exactly why I feel this is the case. But what separates a great movie from a simply good one? I genuinely don’t know, but again I can usually recognize it. All this abstraction leads me to The Violent Men (1955), a Rudolph Maté directed western with a superb cast and the kind of names on the other side of the camera which really ought to ensure its comfortable position among the acknowledged greats. Yet it doesn’t belong there, it’s not poor by any means but never rises above the level of quite good. And I can’t help but wonder why that’s so. Needless to say, any and all ideas on the subject are welcome and will be taken into consideration.

The framework within which the story plays out is a classic one for the genre, the range war. The motivation behind it all appears to be ambition and a twisted kind of love, twisted by a its traumatic birth in violent circumstances. I say appears here because it’s really greed, or perhaps covetousness might be more accurate, which propels everybody and everything towards another of those fiery yet cathartic conclusions. We follow it all from the perspective of John Parrish (Glenn Ford) a Civil War veteran who came west in the uncertain hope of recovering from his wounds. Well he did recover, and clearly made a success, albeit a slightly reluctant one, of his time as a small-scale rancher. However, in something of a subversion of the standard western trope the dearest wish of this young man is to go east. That’s what he claims anyway, or at least it’s what his betrothed, Caroline Vail (May Wynn), has encouraged him to believe. When we meet Parrish he’s poised to sell out and be on his way to a new life, but there are clearly nagging doubts stalking him. He’s ready to sign everything over to local big shot and bully Lew Wilkison (Edward G Robinson), a battle-scarred old tyrant who rules the range with an iron fist but who fails to see the treachery taking place under his own roof involving his restless wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) and his shiftless younger brother Cole (Brian Keith).

I spoke about the path that leads to a blazing climax earlier, but it’s a long and slow-burning fuse that leads us there. The first half of the movie builds everything up carefully and methodically, as Ford’s character gradually comes to terms with his own doubts, his sense of responsibility to a place and a people who arguably saved his life and offered him a new start. As he watches injustice pile on top of vindictiveness, till cold-blooded murder is done before his eyes, we see him wrestling with his own indecision. Ford was, in my opinion, a master at pushing against his own natural reticence, a characteristic which colored and strengthened his best performances. This quality gets a solid workout in The Violent Men, the pressure rising incrementally until a release must be  sought.

If drama needs conflict in order to have meaning, then that conflict should be founded on the existence of a strong villain to give it the necessary momentum. The Violent Men presents the nominal bad guy in the form of Edward G Robinson and he growls, blusters and threatens his way through the first half with aplomb. Still, I don’t think he can be classified the main villain; although there’s some effectively sullen slouching from Brian Keith, and even a bit of mean braggadocio from a young Richard Jaeckel, the honor surely belongs with Barbara Stanwyck. Mendacious and manipulative to the end, she pulls the strings and directs the mayhem, easily seeing off any competition from the other women in the cast – May Wynn, Diane Foster and Lita Milan. In support, Warner Anderson is enjoyable as Ford’s dependable foreman and there’s a typically unctuous turn from James Westerfield.

Rudolph Maté began as a cinematographer and carried his talents in that area into his subsequent work as a director, generally turning out visually attractive and striking movies. With a man like that directing and the actual photography duties shared between W Howard Greene and Burnett Guffey, it shouldn’t be any surprise that the film looks exceptionally fine, aided by shooting in the familiar Lone Pine locations. The story derives from a novel by Donald Hamilton, of the Matt Helm stories (much admired apparently by John Dickson Carr) and The Big Country. Personally, the only book by Hamilton I’ve read is Night Walker, which was reissued in paperback a few years ago, and I rather liked it so I’ve a mind to see if I can locate a copy of this. Anyway, plenty of talent on display here so far and that’s further enhanced by having the score penned by the great Max Steiner.

So, we wind up in a similar place to where we started, looking at a mightily impressive list of highly talented contributors in a well made western that flirts with themes that allude to classical tragedy. Make no mistake, this is a fine and entertaining piece of work yet it falls short of what I’d think of as greatness. Nevertheless, this isn’t a major criticism, more something that piques my curiosity. Just to round it all off, while The Violent Men has long been widely available on DVD, the image could use a bit of a brush up and there’s the potential for a very strong Blu-ray. As far as I’m aware, no-one has  released a Hi-Def version of the movie and I think this is a title deserving of that kind of treatment.

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72 thoughts on “The Violent Men

  1. Hi Colin. I’ve had this title in my collection for a while now (probably for an article that didn’t get written), and never got round to watching it (yet). Not sure why, because that cast should pretty much make it essential, but as I think you allude to, it may be down to the finished product not raising its head above the parapet too much. Still, one to shuffle up the pile 🙂

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    • I’d say definitely watch it, Mike. The fact that I think it could be better than it is should not be taken as code for it being a bad or weak movie. There’s much to enjoy in the performances and on the technical side too – it’s just that ll the ingredients say this should be an upper echelon effort while the results place it just a notch below.

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    • Yes, the cast, and the crew too, can’t help but attract you but it does take its time and the first half is a little too leisurely for its own good.
      Overall though, it does make its point and looks frankly terrific all the way through, exteriors and interiors alike.

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  2. I seem to enjoy “THE VIOLENT MEN” a little more than you, Colin. I find it a very entertaining watch though I have to say that I prefer Ford’s other film from the period, “JUBAL”. Ford was at his peak at this time, for a while the No.1 at the U.S. box office (or near it) and it isn’t hard to see why.

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    • As I say, Jerry, I don’t dislike it and can find enough to keep me more or less contented, but it’s not a patch on Jubal, which is in a different class altogether. I guess Ford’s character doesn’t have the same depth or emotional punch. Also, it possibly doesn’t help that the villainy is spread wider and not well enough defined or focused in the early stages. Perhaps too many villains, which almost sounds like a case for Nero Wolfe. 🙂

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  3. THE VIOLENT MEN could and should have been a whole lot better, especially considering the talent involved. Rudolph Mate made several Westerns,of which the Alan Ladd vehicle BRANDED is far and away the best.
    It’s not that I don’t find much to admire in THE VIOLENT MEN and like Colin I’d love a high-def version-this is the sort of fare I’d love Indicator to release. At times the film feels all over the place,but it’s certainly superior to Mate’s THREE VIOLENT PEOPLE which is even more disjointed despite having stellar production values.
    I guess THE VIOLENT MEN would have been far better had, as originally intended Broderick Crawford played the Robinson role; Crawford and Ford got on and
    worked well together. I recently watched the new Kino Lorber release of EL PASO another overblown, overlong Western where the good guys go to extreme measures against the bad guys. Toby Roan in his commentary quips “Republic would never have allowed that” when the good guys start lynching innocent people.Toby’s commentary is his best yet I feel, fascinating background on the Pine Thomas outfit and very detailed bios on leading players John Payne, Gail Russell and Sterling Hayden.
    Finally, Colin many thanks for the tip off a few threads back regarding WOWHD. I’ve used them several times now for USA imports and have no complaints, very
    keen prices fast delivery and no postage charges-most welcome in these days of a very weak pound.
    Finally a trivia note in the UK THE VIOLENT MEN was titled ROUGH COMPANY.

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    • John, that word you used “disjointed” does have some application here. The movie doesn’t blend all the strands as well as I think it ought to – for example, the romance with May Wynn just fizzles out when it really ought to have added to the emotional pressure, instead it amounts to comparatively little.

      Thanks for the tip off on the quality of Toby’s commentary on El Paso – excellent, if not especially unexpected, news there.

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  4. Hi Colin, I saw this back when it came out in the Fifties ( the classic era for star westerns and Ford was certainly a t his peak then) I have seen numerous times since and while it does take a while to get going, it really picks up from when Ford kills Richard Jaekal . Brian Kieth is very effective as the villainous brother and the final shootout with Ford is well staged. Edward G Robinson hated Westerns and probably another actor would have been a better bet, none the less I still really like the Film.
    Foot note I think “The Sheepman” was Ford’s most enjoyable Western

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    • Bruce, the film certainly picks up pace and focus in the latter half when Ford decides the gloves have to come off – maybe it needed a greater sense of urgency injected earlier?
      Robinson isn’t guy you would associate with westerns but, regardless of his own views of the genre, I think he does fine in his role, but then he was always great.

      The Sheepman doesn’t get talked up much, maybe due to it’s light approach, but I’m very fond of it myself.

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  5. Hi, Colin – what I most remember about this film is that Barbara Stanwyck’s performance in it was disappointing. I am a huge fan of hers and she rarely disappoints. But in TVM, she doesn’t seem to put her heart into her role and invest in the character the way she usually does. The giveaway are scenes where’s she’s in shot but not engaging with the actors who are doing the talking.

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    • Hadn’t noticed that, Steve, so will keep it in mind next time I give it a spin. I think she was best when she got to play a more nuanced role, or one that hinted at more dimensions, and that’s not really the case here.

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    • Yes, it is great. It’s derived from some of the imagery on the US poster but I have to admit I have a real liking for the Italian versions for movies of this era – almost always very striking and evocative.

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  6. I’ve always liked this one and acknowledge it’s good but not great. What I always remember about this one isn’t about the movie itself but the fact that my Dad refers to it as “that one when she throws his crutches away when the house is on fire.” Dad loves his westerns but isn’t always great on titles other than the accepted classics.

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  7. Your analysis is spot on. It is good but not great. Have not seen it for some time and can’t recall it vividly. Personally prefer Barbara and Edward in noir than westerns. Best regards.

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    • Chris, I think Robinson did appear more at home in broadly contemporary and urban productions – although I don’t mind him in the frontier setting myself – and his most memorable work lay in that area for sure.
      I would say though that Stanwyck always seemed comfortable (and I believe she enjoyed it too) in westerns. he was highly versatile and could slot herself into pretty much any genre with ease. frankly, I can watch and enjoy her in just about anything.

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  8. Barbara Stanwyck……one of the all-time great actresses. Who could ever forget her performance in STELLA DALLAS. That closing scene will stick with me forever.

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  9. “… it’s not poor by any means but never rises above the level of quite good. And I can’t help but wonder why that’s so. Needless to say, any and all ideas on the subject are welcome and will be taken into consideration.”

    Thinking about this for a couple of days since your piece first appeared, I’d like to take up that invitation, just because the wider subject interests me a lot and I too have wondered why it isn’t better. Your estimation of the movie is surely right–and I think most here agree no matter whether they like it a lot or a little. I’ve seen it three of four times over the years (not on first release in ’55 in this case) and generally have enjoyed it, especially the last time, naturally enough, as was a beautifully restored 35 print shown theatrically.

    So I’d like to at least offer some thoughts on why it isn’t better but don’t have anything definitive because I really don’t know the answer. I admire all of the people involved with the production, and it’s all well-cast, and a good story.

    It goes without saying that the genre was now in comfortable maturity, fully at ease with wherever a subject might go, sounding deep and resonant themes with great artistic expressiveness. And this does have some of that. Thinking about it I thought of two other Columbia Cinemascope/Technicolor Westerns released 1955/1956 that share significant things with it, the earlier mentioned, much better (indeed mostly outstanding) JUBAL) and one of the greatest of all Westerns (for me anyway) THE MAN FROM LARAMIE.

    What these three movies most have in common is that there is an existing, dramatically intense situation involving major characters, one of them a rancher of some power (more or less benevolent in two cases but less so in THE VIOLENT MEN) that already has the potential for tragedy; into these situations, the hero is a kind of interloper in one way or another, variously motivated, and as they are Westerns, he becomes the natural empathetic center, and is cast and played accordingly in all three cases. But with where it goes from that, they each go their own way.

    In THE VIOLENT MEN, the Wilkinsons–except to a modest extent for daughter Judith (Dianne Foster)–do not command any sympathy, even as potentially tragic characters, and in spite of the first-rate actors playing them, are not really that interesting. On the other hand Parrish actually is both interesting and sympathetic. I feel that maybe this contrast makes us fasten on to him somewhat at the expense of the situation of the Wilkinsons, the animating one of the movie, and he does most to carry us through it. At the same time, indeed his relationship with Caroline and its end are not fully realized (at times going back to the movie I’ve almost forgotten who she is as it begins), and while the script inevitably draws him and Judith together, which should better unite his story with the Wilkinsons, the pairing is not really given much feeling, and it could have it and should have it. Summarizing my thoughts here, it goes on two different tracks, the one involving Parrish as an individual character more effective, and they don’t fall together enough.

    In JUBAL, the same actor (I’ll come back to him) plays an even more interesting character, and a more troubled one, while at the same time, the trouble at the ranch, with unease around the married couple and the latent malevolence of Pinky/Rod Steiger is really more interesting too. Though Pinky is unsympathetic, both Ernest Borgnine and Valerie French are sympathetic in different ways–the wife’s sexual frustration does not make her a bad person, as good a man as Borgnine’s rancher is, and Jubal/Glenn Ford tries to be sensitive to the situation and do the right thing. Again drawing to the center, here Jubal himself is the natural dramatic center and does relate in some way to all the others, so the plot developments are better interwoven. Moreover, the nature of his personal struggle, a memory of his mother’s cruel attitude toward him and the childhood event he describes to emerging heroine Naomi (Daves favorite Felicia Farr) in a beautiful scene by a quietly flowing river, directly relates to his ambivalent response to Valerie French’s character’s seduction of him–strongly attracted to her, he resists, partly for the sake of the rancher who is not only a friend but almost a new father figure to him but partly because he is trying to regain himself. Two things go without saying–the two women are more compelling both in themselves and in creating a moving narrative than in THE VIOLENT MEN, and second director Daves, as his very best films like THE HANGING TREE and 3:10 TO YUMA are also likely to show, responds strongly to struggle, both external but especially internal, so the redemption theme plays strongly here against the tragic turn of the narrative.

    In THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, I would say that with the Waggoman’s, and also with Vic/Arthur Kennedy (an adopted Waggoman in his mind anyway) and Kate/Aline MacMahon, tragedy is already at play (and I don’t see any need to note reverberations of KING LEAR to say this movie is its own great work of art). Alec/Donald Crisp and Vic especially are genuinely tragic characters to me, notwithstanding that Vic is finally revealed to be at least structurally the villain (he is almost too complex to be described that way), and it might even be said of Dave/Alec Nicol, just because of the father/son dynamics, even if he is never for a moment likable or sympathetic. Meanwhile, the highly sympathetic Barbara/Cathy O’Donnell is totally caught up in the family drama too. Will/James Stewart comes into all of this not related to it, with his own agenda, revenge (for his brother) against whoever sold rifles to the Indians; but he quickly becomes embroiled with all the others, and especially crucially, Barbara’s affections start to turn from fiance Vic to him as he plainly is falling in love with her (no direct dialogue about this but that’s how good this movie is). But more than what happens in the narrative, there is a tremendous intensity to the way it plays out, and to resonance between the characters, and I believe Will’s humanistic response to the tragedy of the Waggomans, even if it’s something he does not consciously acknowledge, is the reason why finally, in one of the genre’s greatest moments–indeed the climactic scene in which he forces Vic to help him push the wagonload of riles over the cliff is one of the genre’s most exciting and unusual as well–he finally turns from revenge, so (as we tend to see Westerns here on your site) saving himself.

    So, it’s partly how things are integrated. But I’ll just briefly observe that films may have different problems and strengths. JUBAL has one flaw that it does not share with either of the other films that hurts it–Rod Steiger as Pinky, who is so overwrought and mannered, while every other part is thoughtfully and effectively played–he just doesn’t understand understatement at all (Daves apparently felt this too, and it almost hurts to hear that Aldo Ray was actually considered for the role).

    THE VIOLENT MEN does not have a problem like that, really. I don’t care if Robinson liked Westerns or not–he’s always a supremely convincing actor and just fine here. I love Stanwyck in Westerns–she’s naturally strong and aggressive so good for the roles she plays in them–and she liked doing them and she’s good too though maybe a little weary of so many movies killing husbands that she’d made at this point; I think her best Western role is in THE FURIES, a much more complex character, though maybe most people would say FORTY GUNS–in any event, she’s at least well-cast in all of them.
    Glenn Ford is just great in the genre–I liked your saying “playing against his natural reticence” because it is something he uses in his screen persona in all kinds of films. THE VIOLENT MEN does use him well and he comes over best, but I just have to say I think Delmer Daves is his best director for the genre and Ford’s three best Westerns are 3:10 TO YUMA, COWBOY and JUBAL, which all use that persona, but in different ways for three different characters; of his others, I most like THE MAN FROM THE ALAMO, directed by Budd Boetticher, and earlier cited THE SHEEPMAN (George Marshall), which does nicely tap Ford’s comedic talents.

    But I want to finish this on this note because it may seem like I most found it (THE VIOLENT MEN) wanting as narrative. That’s only part of it though–as I believe the right inflections on the part of a director could have pulled it together much better–and so I wonder if Mate did not respond to it as deeply as someone else might have, even if he did a capable job. As I said of Daves, he responds to struggle in the way of a born humanist, and JUBAL plays as it does partly because of that. Without insisting on it, he’s sensitive to nuance and the intricate nature of relationships, as well as relating all of this well to setting (his Westerns conspicuously of course). As for Anthony Mann and THE MAN FROM LARAMIE, one only has to know his work to know why he responds to this kind of drama as he does, and so fully animates it, all the way to the darkest drives and cruelest pain as well as the deepest needs, not to mention the spiritual grail that is there at the end of his greatest films like this one. When one character shoots another in the hand at close range in his films, you know he feels it–and he makes us feel it.

    So…I will say I have great affection and admiration for Rudolph Mate in the part of his career as a director following his great cinematographer career, and I love some of his films, among non-Westerns Margaret Sullivan’s last movie NO SAD SONGS FOR ME is a well-judged melodrama and WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE a fascinating sci-fi film (in color, unusual at the time), and no one should miss MIRACLE IN THE RAIN, a hard movie to make work but he does. I’m not sure what it takes to fully bring him out because in a couple of those it is the dramatic elements, but I especially think of him for visual atmosphere. Of all Universal-International movies, THE MISSISSIPPI GAMBLER still seems definitive to me just for aesthetics, the way it looks and sounds, and for that reason I prefer it even to BRANDED, also excellent and logically his best Western. But the other Westerns are more variable, SIEGE AT RED RIVER and THE RAWHIDE YEARS (maybe trying to recapture a little of GAMBLER’s magic) likable enough, but THE FAR HORIZONS mostly sustained visually and THREE VIOLENT PEOPLE, by far the least, unexpectedly leaden for reasons I can’t account for at all. For me, THE VIOLENT MEN does fall in third there–but he just doesn’t bring enough to it and I’ve tried to look at what is and is not there and figure out why that is. But I guess I’d have to figure out better what he deeply responds to and just haven’t quite been able to do it with those films of his that I do like so much.

    But as you see, I’m looking at it all in different ways, from the standpoint of the writing, and within the genre, but inevitably as an auteurist too. And I only hope folks who run down that word so much will understand why that is. Directorial inflection is the most crucial thing. For me it always is.

    As I said, I wanted to offer some thoughts–but know they are not definitive. As you and others indicated, it has a place in a great decade of Westerns but not on a plateau with the most outstanding ones. That’s hardly negligible–for me, I have plenty of time for all those middle range ones and always enjoy the time spent watching them.

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    • Now I must say I really enjoyed reading that, Blake. Whether or not you feel it was a definitive answer to the question I posed here, it’s an extremely thoughtful and fascinating one. I’m sure anyone else reading it here will feel the same, so thank you for taking the time to compose that superb reply.
      You raise some terrific points and I’d like the chance to chew some of it over before getting back to you.

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      • I’ve viewed this film a number of times. Oddly for the reason of wondering why it missed the mark of being much better than it could have been. Two things stand out to me…..1) although I felt it was beautifully shot, the scenes involving the characters gave me a feeling of watching a stage play from a distance. I never felt I connected emotionally with any of them. 2) along those same lines there were few closeup shots of a given character projecting the intensity of a given situation. It just never brought me into their angst which ultimately projected a lack of character development in creating a real emotional substance to their given roles. My goodness, we have three fine actors…..Stanwyck, Robinson and Ford that have shown us numerous times they possess the skills and ability to connect and bring it home. It just did not happen here…..at no fault of their own.

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        • Sorry one other observation……I felt there was a lack of fluidity in taking us from event to event, scene to scene. It never quite felt I was on a path that stayed with me. Reviewing the movie in my mind’s eye, I get sort of a disjointed feeling of it all. Maybe if the key events of the screenplay would have laid out a better foundation of player characterization of the task that confronted them maybe that would have better taken us to and through each event. I don’t know…….maybe it was just a lack of celluloid and trying to cram a lot of fast moving events and action in 96 minutes.

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          • It’s odd, isn’t it, but sometimes I think it’s more interesting, or let’s say challenging, to look at movies which have some flaw. It doesn’t even have to be something major or obvious; perhaps it’s actually better when, as is the case here, the flaw is hard to define and pin down.

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  10. As always, Blake manages to convey thoughts one has had (as well as so much more) in such a coherent and thought-provoking piece that I couldn’t begin to put together. So enjoyable.

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  11. Colin, I must say that I’m really enjoying the commentary that your fine write-up of THE VIOLENT MEN(1955) is bringing forth. First of all, in my opinion, I think this Western is a really good one that deserves more attention than it has received in the past. Personally, I think this says a lot about the high quality of Western movies made during the postwar period of 1946-62. By this I mean, that the movie is considered by many just to be average, or slightly above. When you place THE VIOLENT MEN in the mix with JUBAL(1956), 3:10 TO YUMA(1957), COWBOY(1958), THE SHEEPMAN(1958), or one of the greatest Westerns ever made, THE MAN FROM LARAMIE(1955), it does seem to pale in comparison. What if this Western, by miracle, was made today? We would probably be hailing it as the best Western made in years.

    Let me tell you, I enjoyed reading Blake Lucas’ excellent reflective comments. I think he just may have hit the nail on the head, for me anyway. I first saw the movie when I was a youngster and I always connected with the everyman Glenn Ford in whatever movie genre he was in. The overall movie has a lot going for it, although I don’t really care for the title. I like writer Donald Hamilton’s title “Smoky Valley,” which was first serialized in the SATURDAY EVENING POST(December, 1953/January, 1954). Smoky, as in the dark or black valley, which can be used literally or figuratively speaking. First and foremost this movie has a class cast that makes it a pleasure to view. The story is a good one with several good lines for the characters to voice. The beautiful photography of the treasured Lone Pine locations is always a top notch co-star in any Western. The direction of Rudolph Mate is competent, but I still wonder what if Delmer Daves had been at the helm, because he and Glenn Ford were so in sync during the 1950’s.

    THE VIOLENT MEN has a lot more positives than negatives and I think it is very much worth watching. I would rather watch it than HOSTILES(2017) any day of the week.

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    • I’ve been having a good time following the comments myself, Walter, and your own contribution now adds to the discussion.

      I guess it’s all about context in the end. Isolate the film and imagine it made today and I’d probably rate it a lot higher too, not that I exactly rate it extremely low in the first place, mind.
      I’m someone who liked Hostiles quite a bit when it came out last year, although I do think it could use some pruning in the middle to tighten it up. It’s a film that does strive for, and to an extent capture, some of the sensibility of the classic era westerns. Taken in context, with well over half a century separating it from that era, I feel it’s very satisfactory. But it appear somewhat lacking if it were transposed to the mid-50s and placed in direct competition with the finest those years had to offer.

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  12. That is a very good point made by Walter there – that there was such a good number of superb westerns coming out during the decade of the 1950s that a pretty good western like “The Violent Men'” suffers in comparison in such company. That decade was truly the ‘high water mark’ for the western.

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  13. Colin and Jerry, Yes it was most definitely a “high water mark” for the Western and that is clearly why we love to discuss that amazingly creative artistic period(1946-62). Yesterday I pulled out THE SEARCHERS(1956) to watch. I hadn’t watched the movie in awhile, and it brought back memories of the first time that I viewed this masterpiece of movie making. I was a 12-year-old growing up on a small ranch in the over lapping lands of the Arkansas/Missouri Ozark Mountain region. My ancestors were frontiersmen/frontierswomen pioneers. I, along with my family, loved to watch Westerns.

    On a Friday night, before the 10:00 PM news, I tuned in to CBS Affiliate WREC-TV Channel 3 Memphis, Tennessee to see what would be on the LATE MOVIE at 10:30. The movie would be THE SEARCHERS starring John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter. I liked both Wayne and Hunter, so I thought it would be a good movie to watch on my older brother’s RCA black and white 13 inch screen TV. I turned the sound down low, so that I wouldn’t wake my parents. I sat there at the foot of my bed and when the Warner Bros. emblem appeared, accompanied by the thundering music of Max Steiner, which synced into the Sons of the Pioneers singing Stan Jones’ “Ride Away” I knew that I was going to watch a Western.

    I had never seen a Western movie like THE SEARCHERS ever before, or any movie, for that matter. I had never seen John Wayne in a role like this before, and he was outstanding. I thought it was a GREAT movie and I couldn’t get it out of my mind’s eye. What an impact that movie made on me, and I took a lot away within my mind’s eye. The next day I went down to the nearby creek where my brother and I had built a miniature log cabin. I went up and down, then crossed over the creek, pretending to be one of THE SEARCHERS.

    From that time forward I wanted to know more about the History of Western movies, and I began my searching journey of study.

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    • I loved your story about watching The Searchers, Walter. You put the reader right there with you, late at night on your ranch watching on that small TV. I know a signifant part of my love for the Westerns from that classic period is nostalgia for my little boy self watching them on a Saturday afternoon at my local cinema In Brisbane. Audie Murphy was my hero.

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      • May I call you Steve? Thank you for your kind remarks. Back in the day, for me anyway, during the 1960’s and ’70’s I didn’t live near a movie theater, so TV was it until I was old enough to drive myself to town, which was 20 miles away. Yes, our youngsterhood is part of our love for Westerns. I also really like Audie Murphy in Westerns.

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        • Hi, Walter – very happy for you to call me Steve. I’ve almost always lived in the big cities in Australia (4 of them), so had good access to cinemas. Now, if I had to list my top 20 Westerns, none of Audie’s would be there. But they’re still enjoyable. I watched and liked Posse from Hell only a couple of days ago. With The Searchers, while I had watched it a few times on DVD and thought it very good, my estimation of it climbed when I was lucky enough to see it on a big cinema screen about 5 years ago. The cinematography came alive like it never had on a TV screen.

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  14. Steve and Walter,
    Like Walter, my earliest experience of westerns was mostly from TV and that was on small b&w screens whose quality wasn’t great. Nonetheless, I was hooked! Western comic books actually played their part too.
    When I was pretty young (in 1953) my parents took me to see my first big screen western, “LAW AND ORDER” starring Ronald Reagan. Wow! That big screen and the colour just jumped out at me and I was even more hooked.
    Today we enjoy these westerns maybe as much for their deep casts, cinematography techniques and locations. And I’m still hooked!

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    • Ah……LAW AND ORDER. If you want to see Western authenticity on celluloid see the original 1932 classic starring Walter Huston and Harry Carey. It set the standard for epic Tombstone versions to follow.

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    • Jerry and Steve, the first Western I remember viewing on the “Big Screen” was JUBAL(1956) starring Glenn Ford and Ernest Borgnine. I had first seen it on black and white TV, but nothing could compare to viewing it in glorious Technicolor and CinemaScope. At the public school I attended, movies would be shown as a way of raising money for fundraisers and that is where I saw JUBAL. I’m sure most Western fans remember their first “Big Screen” Western.

      Jerry, did you ever read or own the Dell comic of THE SEARCHERS(June, 1956)? I’m almost sure that Dell had to tone down the darkness of Ethan Edwards’ character. I saw where the comic is for sale on Ebay for $99.99 plus shipping.

      Steve, In my opinion, I think the POSSE FROM HELL(1961) is one of Audie Murphy’s best Westerns. He was really coming into is own, as an actor, by the the late 1950’s. I agree that probably none of Audie’s Westerns will make most top 20 lists(although, NO NAME ON THE BULLET, 1959, deserves a honorable mention), but he starred in a lot of good Westerns. Audie Murphy, Joel McCrea, and Randolph Scott gave Western fans plenty of enjoyable hours. I thank them for that.

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    • Dear Walter and Jerry – was trying to remember the first Western that made an impact on me at the cinema. I remembered it starred Audie Murphy and featured scenes of Murphy trying to ride a white horse up an impossibly steep climb. Couldn’t remember anything else and have never seen the movie since. Then, last night, on cable TV the late movie was a Western I had never seen before. Yep, it tuned out to feature Murphy and a white horse going up a vertical climb. It was the one I remembered from the late 50s, early 60s. It was called TUMBLEWEED. And I enjoyed it all over again.

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      • Steve, I think “TUMBLEWEED” is one of Audie’s best and certainly most charming westerns. Glad you enjoyed it all over again.
        When I finally got to see 1953’s “LAW AND ORDER” again, years later, it occurred to me to wonder if my parents realised in advance it was going to be quite a brutal film for a 6-yr old. I do remember it didn’t faze me one bit!!

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  15. Walter, I did indeed have the Dell comic of “THE SEARCHERS”. My dear Mum got rid of the piles of comics I had built up sadly (wish I had those today!) but somehow several slipped through her net. They are in my attic – I really must check because I just might still have “THE SEARCHERS”. All the Roy Rogers, Wild Bill Elliott and Johnny Mack Browns comics got burned to a crisp though!!

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    • Jerry and Walter – am fascinated by the concept of a comic of The Searchers. If aimed at children, it would have had to lighten up a lot of the movie’s themes for sure. John Wayne was excellent in the outstanding True Grit, for which he won the Oscar, but his performance in The Searchers was the better one, mastering a more complex and understated characterisation. Randolph and Joel feature in many fine Westerns and would appear more than once in my top 20. The Boetticher films with Randolph are masterpieces and I rewatch them regularly.

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  16. Steve, TUMBLEWEED(1953) is a really good Western coming from the Universal-International stable. Look at the deep cast of wonderful actors and actresses. Lori Nelson(who is still with us), Chill Wills, Roy Roberts, K.T. Stevens, Russell Johnson, and Lee Van Cleef. Also, a plus in this fine movie, is the white horse. I think this is a small gem in Audie Murphy’s list of enjoyable Westerns.

    I’ve really enjoyed the nostalgia of thinking about the first Western movie that made an impact on me on the Big Screen.

    I wonder if Jerry has had time to search for THE SEARCHERS Dell comic.

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    • Walter, TUMBLEWEED did indeed have a strong cast: I thought Chill Wills was very good in this. Another attractive feature of the movie was the scenes of hard riding in a spectacular, very dry landscape. Most of my favourite Westerns make extensive use of such landscapes. It appears Audie was doing the riding himself, too – not using a double.

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    • Yes, yes……TUMBLEWEED was a very good effort all around. I especially liked the way they weaved the narrative around the exploits of the White Horse…..so much in fact, should have been mentioned in the closing credits.

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  17. Thanks for that gentle kick, Walter – I will go up into the attic this very afternoon in search of…….THE SEARCHERS!! and get back to you fellers.

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  18. Walter and Steve, I’ve just had a look at what western comic books I have remaining.

    I DO have my original copy of “THE SEARCHERS”! At that time, Dell Comics were sold in the UK via WDL (World Distributors Ltd.) of Manchester. Also from WDL I have the comic of the film “THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES” (the Robert Wagner film) and “THE OX-BOW INCIDENT” but the latter is of the book, not the film. I must have nearly 20 comic books and, in addition, a goodly number of comic annuals and comic albums.
    Dell comics were later sold in the UK under that logo but by then I was collecting comics of various favourite TV westerns. Quite a lot of those were destroyed but I do still have quite a few.

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  19. Jerry, I think that it is neat that you still have these comics. THE SEARCHERS(June, 1956) is a valuable one. The Dell issue of THE LAST HUNT(February, 1956) would be another that would have to be toned down, because of Robert Taylor’s portrayal of Charlie Gilson. I’m sure THE OX-BOW INCIDENT was the 1955 CLASSIC ILLUSTRATED issue. The old CLASSIC ILLUSTRATED comics were really good.

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  20. I remember a long time ago they not only have Classics Illustrated comics but also movies of the same titles on tv. Somehow the movies were discontinued after some time.

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    • Was that the movie classic TV series that featured Douglas Fairbanks Jr. doing the intro? I don’t remember what it was exactly called…..something like Family Film Movie Classic series……or there about’s.

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        • Walter…..I’m thinking late 70’s to early-mid 80’s. The series of films ran weekly. KIT CARSON 1940 with Jon Hall as Carson and Dana Andrews as Fremont was one of the weekly installments. The film was presented and staged rather nicely by Fairbanks Jr. as an adventure movie classic…..that alone kind of surprised me.

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  21. Remembered saw The Deerslayer starring Steve Forest. The cinema version of the same name starred Lex Barker. There were some other movies but I can’t recall them.

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    • Chrisk, I think that you are remembering the Sunn Classics Pictures of the 1970’s. This Schick Razor owned production company specialized in family entertainment. Sunn Classics produced features and documentaries for movie theaters and TV. Some of the titles were: LAST OF THE MOHICANS(1977, TV), THE DEERSLAYER(1978,TV), THE TIME MACHINE(1978, TV), THE LIFE AND TIMES OF GRIZZLY ADAMS(1974), which later became a TV series, IN SEARCH OF NOAH’S ARK(1976), THE LINCOLN CONSPIRACY(1877), and several others.

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  22. I agree with you entirely…the film is lacking. I started watching it last year in autumn and then didn’t get around to finishing it till just last week. If you are willing to put off watching the end of a film that long, it means it isn’t as engaging as it should be. Anyway, the week earlier I saw Robert Wise’s “Tribute to a Bad Man” and THAT movie stood out for me as being great – perfect, in fact. So perhaps I was judging The Violent Men against that one when I was watching it, but I felt the characters were not as well-defined. Watching the film, I didn’t care for Glenn Ford and his plight, even though I should have. And the hint of impending romance between Dianne Foster and he wasn’t developed either. Even at the conclusion of the movie, you are left wondering whether they will last as a couple.

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    • Yes, I think it does, ultimately, boil down to fact it is hard to engage with the characters in the way you should. There is much that is right and done well about the movie yet there is something about the relationships and interactions that holds it back.
      I wrote a piece on Tribute to a Bad Man some years ago and I quite agree that it is a far stronger film.

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