Monday, August 15, 2022

The Bounty Hunter

Randolph Scott is today's star in TCM's Summer Under the Stars, and while I have a couple of box sets of his westerns one that doesn't seem to be on those sets is The Bounty Hunter. It's on overnight tonighat at 12:45 AM, which would still be late this evening in more westerly time zones. So as I had DVRed it the last time it was on TCM, I made a point of watching it now to do a review here.

Scott, unsurprisingly, plays the titular bounty hunter, a man named Jim Kipp. At the start of the movie, he's pursuing a man who held up a couple of stagecoaches and killed a couple of people in conjunction with those robberies. This is otherwise unimportant to the plot, only serving as expository information to show us that Kipp is indeed a bounty hunter, and one with enough of a reputation that everybody knows who he is.

This everybody includes the Pinkerton detective agency, who have a baffling crime on their hands. A year earlier, a gang of three masked robbers held up a train carrying currency from the Philadelphia mint out to Dodge City. Nobody has seen hide nor hair of the three since, with the exception of an ambush in southwestern Kansas, and rumors that they've moved on further west. More oddly, none of the money has been seen, and there was a lot of money. This suggests that the three are still somewhere in the States -- well, technically, they might be in a territory, but they're still under US jurisdiction -- because otherwise, some of the money would have shown up in a foreign country that couldn't extradite them.

Kipp isn't interested in trying to find these three at first, until he hears of the reward for the return of the currency. This sends him west, and rumors eventually lead him to the town of Twin Forks. There, he goes to a hotel under a pseudonym, and finds George Williams running the joint, together with his wife Alice (Marie Windsor), although Alice doesn't tell Kipp that she's married to George, instead trying to pump Kipp for information. Kipp, knowing that one of the fugitives was shot in the leg in that ambush in Kansas, talks to the town's only doctor, Dr. Spencer (Harry Antrim), who ministers to the town together with his daughter Julie (Dolores Dorn). Dr. Spencer has a past, and this past leads him to tell an obvious mistruth to Kipp. So now Kipp knows he must be getting close to the three fugitives.

The next morning, however, a young man who had escaped from prison but is now leading an honest life as a rancher, spot Kipp and knows his true identity, revealing that identity to the town. So now, as with No Name on the Bullet a few years later, everybody in town wonders whether Kipp is after them. After all, they know that Kipp is a bounty hunter, but he deliberately hasn't told anybody, not even Sheriff Brand (Howard Petrie), exactly what criminal he's looking for.

The rest of the movie is a game of cat and mouse as Kipp accelerates matters by telling the postmaster he's learned that a letter with a photograph of one of the fugitives should reach him by the next stage. But it's a moderately appealing game for the viewer. The Bounty Hunter is the sort of programmer running around 80 minutes that Scott was churning out one after the other in the 1950s. Scott makes them all worth a watch, and thanks to direction from Andre de Toth here, The Bounty Hunter rises a bit above the other programmers, if not to the level of the prestige westerns or even the films Scott would later make with Budd Boetticher.

Two other things are worth noting. One is an early performance by Ernest Borgnine, playing a hotel receptionist who has a limp that could make him an obvious suspect in the train holdup. The other is something I spotted in the opening credits, which are in a "vanishing perspective" style where the letters all have lines leading to one focal point. This made me suspect that the movie was originally in 3D, and sure enough, there are multiple scenes where something gets thrown or aimed directly at the camera. However, The Bounty Hunter was apparently only released to theaters in a 2D print.

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