Plot. A gang of robbers led by bad man Dan Marady (James Millican) hatches a scheme to rob a casino. They first hold up a stagecoach and draw the local sheriff and his posse into a wild goose chase. This trick leaves the town defenseless while the gang returns to rob the casino.
At the start of the picture, Scott is riding shotgun on the stage but is lured away before the holdup by the opportunity to find Millican and settle an old score. Millican’s man Pinto (Charles Bronson) takes Scott prisoner instead, ties him up and leaves him to die.
When Scott manages to escape and gets to town, he finds that the stage has been robbed, the driver and his rider have been killed, and a female passenger wounded. The evidence is circumstantial, but the townsfolk quickly assume Scott is one of the gang and get lynch fever.
Three people attempt to protect him. A Mexican cantina owner lets him take shelter in his place of business. An old friend, now deputy sheriff (Wayne Morris), tries to cool down the mob, which lays siege to the cantina. The daughter of the casino owner (Joan Weldon) has a romantic interest in Scott, believes he’s innocent, and does what little she can to help him.
Suspense builds, and the gang filters into town to find its citizens distracted by their effort to take Scott and hang him. The robbery of the casino proceeds as planned, and Scott manages to escape in time to stop them from getting away with the loot. In the shootout, Millican and Bronson are shot. The rest are surprised to find the cinches cut on their saddles, and they’re quickly taken prisoner.
|Scott being manhandled by Charles Bronson|
Highlights. The style of this film is much like André de Toth’s Thunder Over the Plains (1953), reviewed here recently. Despite a large cast of secondary characters, who make up the assemblage of townsfolk in the street, the script, camerawork, and editing make them all stand out as individual personalities. This is partly achieved through judicious use of close-ups.
Wayne Morris’ deputy sheriff is a nicely serio-comic role. Called “Tub” for his prominent gut and habit of withdrawing from the action to the town’s Lunch Room for a meal, he struggles manfully to keep the crowd in check. But the hot heads among them eventually force him to “do his job.”
Coming at the height of Hollywood blacklisting, the film invites parallels with the impact of Congressional witch-hunts on the film industry. The bloodthirsty crowd is whipped into a frenzy by the hysteria and rage of the most vocal among them, including one who is a member of the gang (Bronson). They become an unreasoning mob, ready to rush a man to justice without benefit of trial.
|Scott, Richard Patrick, and Joan Weldon|
Wrapping up. Shot in WarnerColor and standard ratio, the film is only 73 minutes long. In general, after more than fifty years, it holds up fairly well. Its female lead, Joan Weldon has a not very substantial role. The steamy picture of her character on the poster does not go with the properly respectable woman she portrays in the film. Trained as an operatic singer, Weldon played mostly in westerns for both film and TV. For Charles Bronson, it was one of his first credited roles, when he was still performing under his birth name, Charles Buchinsky.
The film's few weaknesses are minor flaws. German-born Fritz Feld, who plays a cantina operator named Fritz, had a Hollywood career that began with the silents and extended through over 200 screen roles, mostly on TV. His overacting as an excitable Mexican with a large family gets wearing. The repetitive rants of the more voluble in the crowd have a similar effect.
Scott can be heard at numerous times doing a voice-over narration that seems unneeded. His escape unnoticed from the cantina, which is supposed to be surrounded, is not too plausible. It occasions one of the few stunts in the film, as his character jumps from the roof onto a man with a rifle passing in the street below.
The script was by Thomas Blackburn and based on a story by veteran western writer, Kenneth Perkins (1890-1951). FictionMags Index lists more than 70 stories, novels, and serials by Perkins published over a period of 30 years, many of them appearing in Street & Smith publications.
Curiously, the film came near the end of the careers of two of its actors. Wayne Morris, regarded as “the last of the B-western stars,” had been a much-decorated Navy pilot during World War II. Returning to Hollywood, he appeared in a handful of pictures, including Kubrik’s Paths of Glory (1957) before dying in 1959 at the age of 45. James Millican, after an extensive acting career over most of 25 years, died in 1955, also at the age of 45.
Riding Shotgun is currently available on a three-movie DVD at netflix and at amazon and Barnes&Noble. For more of Tuesday’s Overlooked Movies click over to Todd Mason’s blog, Sweet Freedom.
Coming up: Dane Coolidge, photographer