Saturday 27 January 2024

Movie Review: Return Of The Bad Men (1948)

Genre: Western  
Director: Ray Enright  
Starring: Randolph Scott, Robert Ryan, George "Gabby" Hayes, Anne Jeffreys  
Running Time: 90 minutes  

Synopsis: It's the 1880s in the Oklahoma territories. Populations are on the move as statehood and a land rush looms, and outlaws like the Youngers, the Daltons, and Billy the Kid plot to take advantage of the lawlessness. In the town of Braxton, rancher and former lawman Vance Cordell (Randolph Scott) is engaged to Madge (Jacqueline White), daughter of crusty banker John Pettit (George "Gabby" Hayes). Vance's plans to relocate to California are disrupted when the gang of Bill Doolin (Robert Armstrong), which includes Bill's niece Cheyenne (Anne Jeffreys) and brutal killer the Sundance Kid (Robert Ryan), targets John's bank.

What Works Well: The director and producer combination of Ray Enright and Nat Holt team up again for a successor to 1946's Badman's Territory, featuring the same historical setting and many of the same cast members (but in different roles). This is a notably better effort with rational pacing and an engaging plot line extending to two towns (Braxton is abandoned and the characters settle in Guthrie). A viable love triangle and a redemption arc (through Cheyenne's story) add texture, and shades of grey emerge among the outlaws. Robert Ryan makes for a chilling villain, and George "Gabby" Hayes spreads his wings (a bit) in a role other than "sidekick".

What Does Not Work As Well: The production never threatens to exceed solid B groundings. The historical explanation about towns abandoned for other towns is sketchy at best, the action scenes are executed with practiced clunkiness, and the idea of stuffing most of the famous bandits of the west into the same time and place is blatantly contrived and in any case toothless.

Conclusion: Trots straight between proficient and unexceptional.

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