Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Law and Jake Wade (1958)

What an enjoyable Western! I really loved this movie and will have to pick it up on DVD at some point. Robert Taylor, Richard Widmark, and Patricia Owens star, John Sturges directed. I'm not particularly a Robert Taylor fan, though I also don't mind him either. He's quiet a large chunk of the time, his character lost in thought -- plans and self-recriminations -- and he does the brooding/scheming thing here pretty well. His silence is countered by Richard Widmark, who is absolutely delightful here as Taylor's opposite -- a quite garrulous outlaw who appears to love the sound of his own voice as he uses words to undermine Taylor. He's also just as smart and calculating. More so, in some ways than Taylor's character. They are very well-matched for cat-and-mousing with each other.

This movie wastes no time whatsoever jumping into the action. Taylor, a former outlaw now turned lawman, busts Widmark out of jail in the first five minutes. They were partners awhile back, but Taylor couldn't stomach the killing and went straight. Only problem is, when he quit, he ran out on Widmark with the all the money from their last bank holdup. So, not only is Widmark sore at being betrayed, he wants his money back. The rest of the movie is a quest to retrieve those buried funds. Throw in Patricia Owens as Taylor's girl, who Widmark kidnaps and brings along as insurance for Taylor's good behavior, and Widmark's gang of ne'er-do-wells, and the requisite Indian attack and there's plenty of action to keep the film moving.

What I particularly loved about this movie was Widmark's character, Clint, and the contrast between him and Taylor's character, Jake. Clint has no morals, no qualms or even a flash of conscience over killing, robbing, whatever. At the same time, though, he has a very distinct code of honor, and he never lies in the film. He's, ironically, more loyal to Jake than Jake is to him. Wouldn't stop him from killing Jake, but there's respect and genuine friendship there too. You get the feeling Jake's death would be the only killing he might regret, even as he recognizes the necessity. He likes Jake, even after being betrayed. Clint is also brave and pretty darn fearless, going after the Indians alone.

I love me a well-rounded and complex bad guy, and Clint is that. Smart too. He knows Jake well enough to take serious precautions on preventing him from escaping or gaining the upper-hand. For example, he insists on keeping Jake's hands bound behind him while they travel, refusing to untie him, because he knows darned well what Jake's capable of. I loved that when Clint reluctantly relents and gives in to the repeated protests of his own gang to untie him, as he's been expecting, the second he does Jake bolts. And I love even more that Clint does not berate his men for what is really his own failing. He knew better. So he just gives them a look, and takes steps to regain custody of his former partner. Widmark is so perfect in the role. And naturally, there's the inevitable showdown between the Jake and Clint, with some great dialogue, and a last exciting bit of cat and mouse.

The movie is filmed around Lone Pine, so there is also lovely Alabama Hills, Death Valley, and Sierra scenery. It's beautiful.

All in all, a very satisfactory Western.

1 comment:

  1. "I love me a well-rounded and complex bad guy"

    Me too! And I think that's why Richard Widmark was so great. He really knew how to do it...