Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Glenn Ford, and Brian Keith star in THE VIOLENT MEN, a better-than-average psychological western featuring impressive CinemaScope photography and some hard-charging action scenes.
Small rancher John Parrish (Glenn Ford) wants to settle down in the West, but finds himself clashing with crippled land baron Lew Wilkison (Edward G. Robinson). Wilkison, along with his greedy wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) and his violent brother Cole (Brian Keith)--who are secretly having an
affair--are pushing out all the squatters in the area. Parrish's pacifist streak, brought about by his horrific Civil War experiences, coupled with his fiancee's (Caroline Vail) desire to move East, restrain him from fighting back, and he agrees to sell his land to Wilkison. But when Wilkison's
sadistic gunfighter Matlock (Richard Jaeckel) kills one of Parrish's men, Parrish is pushed over the edge and shoots Matlock down.
After Parrish's fiancee breaks off their engagement, he mounts a guerrilla war against Wilkison with some other farmers. He allows his ranch to be burnt down by Wilkison's men in order to set up an ambush, then starts a stampede of Wilkison's herd and sets his house on fire. When Wilkison gets
trapped in the fire, Martha throws his crutches away and leaves him for dead, but he survives and is saved by his daughter Judith (Dianne Foster). Cole and Martha tell the sheriff that Parrish has killed Wilkison and they offer a reward for his capture. Judith brings her father to Parrish and
explains that all of the violence against the farmers was started by her evil uncle Cole. Parrish, Wilkison, and Judith ride back to Wilkison's ranch and Cole is killed in a gunfight with Parrish. Martha is then killed by Cole's Mexican mistress (Lita Milan), and Parrish agrees to Wilkison's
request that he stay on and be foreman of his ranch.
THE VIOLENT MEN is a pretty good example of a middle-level 1950s "adult" western, replete with a dysfunctional family and a heavy-breathing emphasis on sex and violence. The excellent cast spends most of its time snarling at each other, delivering such lines as "I'm tired of being married to only
half a man." Stanwyck is in prime nasty form as the domineering Martha and she's matched by the coolly villainous Cole, played to perfection by a mustachioed, black-haired Brian Keith in one of his first films. Robinson brings quiet authority and sympathy to his role and Ford is good in his usual
persona of a tightly-wound character who's provoked into violence, while the always enjoyable Richard Jaeckel has one of his showiest roles as the pint-sized, baby-face gunslinger Matlock.
Though overly talky, the film is quite exciting as long as it stays outdoors and sticks to action, such as the realistic looking stampede and fire sequences. The early CinemaScope photography adds a sense of importance and grandeur to the proceedings and Max Steiner's pulsating score is a decided
asset. Along with D.O.A. (1950) and THE DARK PAST (1948), it's one of the better films directed by Rudolph Mate, whose directorial career was generally undistinguished, despite having been a brilliant cinematographer who started his career with Carl Dreyer (in what may or may not be an in-joke,
one of the film's supporting characters is named "Dryer"). (Violence.)
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Glenn Ford, and Brian Keith star in THE VIOLENT MEN, a better-than-average psychological western featuring impressive CinemaScope photography and some hard-charging action scenes. Small rancher John Parrish (Glenn For… (more)