A superior western that mixes fine cinematography, terrific performances, and a script of higher caliber than most to produce a film still fondly remembered today. Cooper is a drifter who runs afoul of the law when he is falsely accused of stealing a horse. He is taken in front of Brennan,
who serves as a justice of the peace and is the "Law west of the Pecos," as a cemetery full of his victims will attest. He tries Cooper in a hasty mockery of justice and sentences him to hang, but Cooper, knowing Brennan's admiration and even love for stage star Lily Langtry (after whom Brennan
has named his town), convinces the judge that he is a personal friend of Langtry and will obtain a lock of her hair for the judge if the judge lets him go. Brennan is so love-struck that he doesn't see through this obvious lie, and the two men soon become friends of a sort. That night, Cooper
steals Brennan's gun and escapes, stopping at the farm of Stone and his daughter, Davenport. Brennan is conducting a campaign, through his deputies, aimed at driving the homesteaders off the range. Cooper, who has become smitten with Davenport, decides to stay in the area and be the advocate for
the homesteaders with Brennan. For a time things go smoothly, and Cooper gives Brennan a lock of Davenport's hair, telling him it is from Langtry; but then Brennan's terrorizing of the farmers takes on new fervor, and Stone is murdered. Cooper sets out for a reckoning with Brennan, but learns that
the judge has left Langtry to travel to Fort Davis, where he has bought every seat in the theater to see Langtry in person for the first time. The curtain rises, and it is Cooper who is standing there, guns at the ready. The two men shoot it out in the gaslit hall, and Cooper finally manages to
wound Brennan mortally. Dying, Brennan is taken backstage by Cooper to meet his dream, played here by Lilian Bond, whose hand he kisses before he dies.
Cooper was initially reluctant to take the part of the drifter, thinking it too minor for an actor of his stature. Director Wyler shamed him out of that attitude, though, with a variation of the "no small parts, only small actors" bit, and he gave Cooper enough good scenes to make the actor happy.
It is Brennan, however, who steals the picture, making Judge Roy Bean one of the most unforgettable characters ever seen in a western film, researching his character and adopting a neck dislocation to represent an injury the historical judge incurred when he was hanged and cut down.
Cinematographer Toland's work is superb, filling his western skies with gnarled trees and amazing clouds, and underscoring the story with a strangely somber tone. The score by Tiomkin was completely scrapped at the last minute and a new one written by Alfred Newman, though he did not receive
screen credit. Dana Andrews and Forrest Tucker made their debuts here.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: A superior western that mixes fine cinematography, terrific performances, and a script of higher caliber than most to produce a film still fondly remembered today. Cooper is a drifter who runs afoul of the law when he is falsely accused of stealing a horse… (more)