Set in the post-Civil War Old West, the film begins as Peck leads a band of seven masked desperadoes in a bank robbery. Loading the bullion into their saddlebags, the robbers gallop off, the US Cavalry in hot pursuit. An enormous salt flat is the outlaws' only conceivable avenue of escape,
so Peck leads his men into the arid, sun-blistered area. Their water gone, the dehydrated desperadoes chance upon a ghost town, heralded by a sign that reads "Yellow Sky--fastest growing town in the territory." The town is completely deserted, save for dotty old prospector Barton and his tomboy
granddaughter Baxter. Greed for both the gold and the girl causes dissension among the men, a situation further exacerbated when Barton hides the outlaws' loot. Villain Widmark makes a try at wresting the role of leader from Peck and poses a threat to both beautiful Baxter and her grandfather. A
The unlikely ending doesn't injure this brilliantly filmed and directed Western, which qualifies as one of the best of the genre. The high-contrast black-and-white photography by MacDonald is stunning; the salt-flat scenes made audiences run to the theater lobby water fountain. Dialogue is all the
more telling for being sparse; the story is carried visually. The music by Newman is fine, beginning the action of each scene, then fading as stark realism takes hold and only natural sounds are heard. Peck is thoroughly believable in a part which contrasts so greatly with many of his others.
Tanned and lined, etched with fatigue and thirst, his usually pallid countenance completely altered by makeup artist Nye's fine simulation of the ravages of weather, the leadership qualities of Peck's strong, short-of-speech badman are never in doubt. Basically a formula Western, the film was
transmuted into a movie of major impact by the talents of its production staff and its cast. In his first film in this genre, Widmark plays the sort of smiling psychopath that brought him fame in his screen debut, KISS OF DEATH. The supporting cast members all do a fine job. Screenwriter Trotti
and author Burnett received an award from the Writers Guild of America for Best Written American Western of the year.
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- Rating: NR
- Review: Set in the post-Civil War Old West, the film begins as Peck leads a band of seven masked desperadoes in a bank robbery. Loading the bullion into their saddlebags, the robbers gallop off, the US Cavalry in hot pursuit. An enormous salt flat is the outlaws'… (more)