Friday 30 September 2022

Movie Review: Showdown At Boot Hill (1958)

A ponderous western, Showdown At Boot Hill is an uneven collection of stranded philosophical ideas. 

New-in-town Luke Welch (Charles Bronson) is a combination Marshall and bounty hunter, emotionally intimidated by his lack of physical stature. He guns down popular fugitive Con Maynor, but cannot claim the $200 bounty because the resentful townsfolk refuse to confirm the dead man's identity. Luke has to wait around the town facing local hostility whipped up by businessman Sloane (Robert Hutton), who admired Maynor. 

The local doctor/barber Doc Weber (John Carradine) sympathizes with Luke's predicament and offers abstract words of advice. Luke attempts to initiate a romance with hesitant hotel server Sally Crane (Fintan Meyler), who prefers a plain lifestyle in contrast to her saloon madame mother Jill (Carole Mathews). With Luke's prolonged presence upping tensions, more violence is threatened.

An early starring role for Charles Bronson, Showdown At Boot Hill is more odd than good. Louis Vittes' story and Gene Fowler Jr.'s directing are both clearly inspired by the man-against-town theme of High Noon, but here budget and talent limitations truncate any ambitions of profundity. So while it's interesting that Luke has an inferiority complex, Charles Bronson can never look uncomfortable in his skin. And the town closing ranks by refusing to certify a dead man's identity is a flimsy source of tension, not helped by a failure to expand on the context of outlaw Con Maynor's popularity.

As a result, the meagre running time of 71 minutes feels longer, as the lonely hearts romance between Luke and Sally gets bogged down in circular conversations about confidence and assertiveness. The plot meanders towards the debris of the relationship between Sally and her mother Jill, and men who enjoy saloon girls and are keen to test themselves against fast guns like Luke. The central bounty hunting story and the town's loyalty towards a fallen gangster are all but forgotten until the dead man's brother appears for the burial, setting up an unusual  - if not confusing - confrontation.

The lanky John Carradine is an indomitable presence and the most prominent supporting character, a patient seen-it-all veteran with a bullet-in-the-knee story. The rest of the secondary cast members fail to rise above stock representations. Showdown At Boot Hill stumbles onto some quirks, but lacks both quality and cohesion.

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