Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Along the Great Divide

Walter Brennan was one of the stars TCM spotlighted in this year's 31 Days of Summer. However, one of his movies that I recorded was actually run for a different star's day: Along the Great Divide, honoring Kirk Douglas.

Kirk Douglas plays Len Merrick, a US Marshal out on his new assignment. He shows up just in time, as a bunch of cattlemen led by Ed Roden (Morris Ankrum) are about to lynch homesteader Pop Keith (that's Brennan), on the grounds that he rustled cattle and murdered Ed's son. Keith may well be guilty, but the marshal points out that this is for a court and jury to decide. As the marshal, it's his job to bring the accused into town for a trial.

However, it's going to be a difficult journey, as they're all out in a desert area relatively far away from the town and justice. More important, however, is that Roden and his son Dan (James Anderson) are pissed. They want "justice", which for them means hanging Keith right now. Since they can't really start the journey to town at night, Keith offers to let Merrick and his deputies stay at their place before heading off across the desert to town.

It's partly a ruse, of course; Pop has a daughter there in Ann (Virginia Mayo). If she can do anything about it, she's not about to let the marshal bring her dad into town. But of course there's also Roden and his men, and she's not about to let them kill her father, either. It helps that she's at least halfway capable with a shot.

So, there's an uneasy alliance heading off across the desert, with the Keiths going only for their own survival against Roden's men. Eventually, they get ambushed by the Rodens, but they're able to take Dan hostage, making Ed withdraw until the party gets to town -- if they can.

At this point, the movie turns from more action to more of a psychological drama. In the ambush, the marshal and his party lost their water packs that the spare horse was carrying, so there's a darn good chance of running out of water. And now with one of the Rodens in the group, there's even more people working against the marshal.

Along the Great Divide is a pretty good movie that probably would have benefited from Technicolor photography. I'm not certain if Douglas had done any westerns before this one, but he already shows an adeptness for the genre. Mayo, as with almost all Hollywood star actresses, still looks a bit too glamorous for the harsh west, but this isn't her fault. Brennan is an actor I generally find irritating, but at least here that character trait is a plot point as he's deliberately wheedling the marshal, something that's understandable since Pop doesn't want to have to face justice (which he expects to be a miscarriage of justice anyway).

Along the Great Divide is availalbe on DVD courtesy of the Warner Archive collection, and is one that I think western fans will really like.

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