Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Secret of Convict Lake

The Fox Movie Channel is showing the interesting western The Secret of Convict Lake tomorrow morning at 7:30 AM ET.

Glenn Ford stars as Jim Canfield, leading a band of escaped prisoners in a remote area of rural Sierra Nevada mountains. They get to a settlement during the middle of a snowstorm, and find out that all of the men have gone out -- presumably, as part of the posse looking for them. The women naturally have the dilemma of what to do: there's a worry about the men trying to overpower them, but one of the men is sick and besides, can they really let the men escape? So, the men are allowed to stay in one of the cabins while the women take turns guarding it.

Of course, Canfield, as a cat among the pigeons, is going to start trying to manipulate the women. He quickly falls for Marcia Stoddard (Gene Tierney), who happens to be engaged to the brother of spinster Rachel Schaeffer (Ann Dvorak). Canfield tries to convince Stoddard that he is in fact innocent, and was framed by somebody, but Rachel will have none of it. Meanwhile, the other escapees try to form their own romantic attachments, but only for the purposes of turning on the women: they're not gentlemen like Canfield. Trying to oversee all of this is elderly Ethel Barrymore, who's getting infirm but has more smarts than all the other women. It all leads to a tense standoff that can't possibly be resolved until the town's menfolk return.

That having been said, as much as Canfield and the rest of the escapees are trying to manipulate the women, the escapees aren't operating from a position of unanimity themselves. Canfield, although he professes his innocence, was convicted as part of a robbery of a large sum of money, and fellow escapee Johnny Greer (Zachary Scott) thinks that Canfield has led them to this town because that's where the money's been hidden. All will be revealed in the climax, of course....

The Secret of Convict Lake is a moderately satisfying western, if by no means a great one. It doesn't really tread any new ground, but the performances are all more than adequate. Ford is doing here a lot of the same things he would later do in 3:10 to Yuma, except that in this case, he might actually be innocent. Gene Tierney is lovely as ever, as suitable as the somewhat naïve younger woman. Dvorak is nasty as her future sister-in-law, and Ethel Barrymore seems to be reprising the philosophical role she took on in Portrait of Jennie, albeit one that's a bit hardier. It all adds up to a movie that's good, but not as memorable as other movies in the genre.

The Secret of Convict Lake seems not to have been released to DVD, and the print that FMC showed the last time it aired wasn't the greatest, which is unfortunate. Still, that's about all we're going to get.

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