Wednesday, April 5, 2017


I watched Lawman over the weekend since I saw that it was coming up on StarzEncore Westerns for those of you who have the Encore package (or however your cable provider packages the premium channels). It'll be on tonight at 8:10 and overnight at 2:45 AM. The movie has been released to DVD, but as far as I can tell the DVD is out of print: it's available in limited quantities on Amazon and not available at the TCM Shop.

The movie starts off before the opening credits with a bunch of guy shooting up a town somewhere in the west. Then come the opening credits, with a man riding horseback with a dead man on the horse behind him, coming into another town, which is how we learn about both towns. The first own was Bannock, with Marshal Jared Maddox (Burt Lancaster). He's bringing the dead body back to Sabbath, as well as to see Sabbath's marshal, Cotton Ryan (Robert Ryan). Maddox informs Ryan that there are a bunch of people that Maddox wants to bring to trial in Bannock since the guys who shot up the town killed a man. Oh, and you can strike one of the men off the list, since that was the dead guy Maddox brought into Sabbath during the opening credits.

Ryan kindly informs Maddox that it's going to be kind of difficult to bring in those men, since they all work for Bronson (Lee J. Cobb). Bronson effectively owns Sabbath, having built it out of nothing with his cattle ranching. The townsfolk all feel they owe their livelihoods to Bronson, so there's no way any of them are going to turn his men in. Oh, and Ryan happens to consider himself bought by Bronson too. He's OK with it, since he's at the age where he just wants to lead a quiet life, and Sabbath is quiet as long as nobody crosses Bronson.

Of course, Maddox's arrival is going to cross Bronson, but not for a while yet. Bronson, despite having built up Sabbath, also sacrificed a lot in doing so, and given a choice would prefer not to have to resort to violence. He'd rather deal with his legal problems by buying Bannock, too, if that were possible. But the men who rode through Bannock are convinced that they're going to be made to hang for it, and naturally they have no desire to be stretched at the end of a rope. So Bronson's right-hand man Harvey (Albert Salmi) comes into town to try to deal with Maddox, and gets himself killed for it.

At this point, everybody starts gunning for Maddox in ones and twos. Meanwhile, the townsfolk, some of whom have a past with Maddox, also decide to form a citizens' committee to ride Maddox out of town. Most interesting among these are two people who weren't in Bannock at all. First is Laura (Sheree North). She's the common-law wife of one of the men who was in Bannock, and she was in love with Maddox way back when. But Maddox didn't want to settle down. The other is one of Bronson's younger workers, Crowe (Richard Jordan), a hothead who is confronting Maddox when somebody else tries to ambush Maddox.

The movie has an intersting plot, although it ultimately winds up in a less than satisfying place. The ending feels rushed and illogical. But what I found more jarring was the cinematography. Lawman dates from 1971, a time not long after more zoom lenses came into use. Directors starting using zooms incessantly, something that can really be noticed in many 60s and 70s films once you learn to watch for it. In Lawman, it's particularly noticeable, and used to ill effect a lot of the time. The cutting doesn't work as well as the director would hope for. I think it's notable that I recognized these things, as this is normally the sort of stuff I'm not paying such close attention too (especially the cutting), so if I see it, it's pretty blatant.

Overall, western fans and fans of Burt Lancaster or Robert Ryan will like this one. If I were going to introduce people to later westerns, I wouldn't start with this one, however.

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