Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Purple Hills

Earlier this year, when I blogged about Big Jim McLain, I suggested that it played out more like a TV episode than a movie. Some of the later B movies from after TV got up and going in a big way also play out that way, such as the western The Purple Hills, which is getting another airing on FXM tomorrow morning at 11:00 AM.

The movie starts off intriguingly. Out somewhere in the old west, a guy with dirty blond hair arrives at a bridge, which he uses to stalk another, dark-haird man, who is down in the dry riverbed below. The two get in a gun fight, with the blondish man killing the dark-haired guy, putting the dead man on his horse to take him back to town. But the horse winds up lame, so the man has to shoot the horse and bury the man. Cut to two other men, Barnes (Kent Taylor) and Chito (Danny Zapien). They're watching a figure coming toward them, thinking it's a man they're supposed to meet, named Beaumont. But they spot vultures, come up on a grave, and find that it's Beaumont who's been killed, at which point the Apaches, who were friends of Beaumont, arrive. Barnes tells them that the other guy killed Beaumont, and they'll go fetch him so that the Apaches can mete out justice.

Cut to town, where the blondish man arrives and goes to the marshal's (Russ Bender) office. There, we find out that the man is named Gil Shepard (played by Gene Nelson), and he's looking for the reward on Beaumont's head, which amounts to somthing a bit over $8,000, which was a substantial sum back in the 1870s. The only thing is, Shepard doesn't have the body, which you really need to claim the reward. However, he has the next best thing, which is Beaumont's holster and bandolier. Or, it would be the next best thing if Barnes hadn't beaten Shepard back to town to try to claim the reward for himself, providing Beaumont's belt buckle as evidence of having killed him. And since he saw the dead body and dead horse, he knows just as much about Beaumont as Shepard does. The marshal has a bright idea: since Shepard only uses a rifle and Barnes only uses a six-shooter, they'll go out to Beaumont's grave together, exhume the body, and find out what kind of bullets killed Beaumont, and therefore who gets the reward.

Into all of this walks Beaumont's long-lost brother Martin (Jerry Summers). He's an orphan, and since they couldn't find big brother when the parents died, Martin was sent to live with the closest thing to relatives, that being one Amy Carter (Joanna Barnes). The two of them have come out to this God-forsaken little town to identify the dead body. Marin, meanwhile, has come with another motive: he plans to kill whoever killed his brother! So all five of these souls make their way out the grave, which provides the drama for the second half of the movie. However, it's in Apache country, so they're also going to have to deal with the Apaches eventually, after a twist or two. It all leads to an ending that at least resolves everything, if it doesn't quite feel like everybody is in character.

It's fairly unoriginal material, although there's nothing particularly wrong with it. It's just that the acting, writing, and direction make the movie look more like it would have been suited to one of those TV westers: either cut it down from the hour to the 45 minutes or so that a one-hour TV western would be minus the commercials, or pad it a bit to fit into a 90-minute TV slot. The cinematography looks like it wouldn't be bad if FXM could be bothered to find a print in the original Cinemascope aspect ratio instead of 4:3. If you like westerns, The Purple Hills fits in reasonably well with all those other B westerns made over the years, entertaining for the 60 minutes that it's on but providing no particular staying power. If you're not necessarily a fan of westerns, I'd start with some of the more well-known stuff.

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