A band of murderous cowboys have imposed a reign of terror on the town of Warlock. When the sheriff humiliatingly run out of town the residents hire the services of Clay Blaisedell as facto town marshal. He arrives along with his friend Tom Morgan and sets about restoring law and order on his own terms whilst also overseeing the establishment of a gambling house and saloon.
Rock of ages comes to Warlock in Dmytryk's excellent adult Western.
Warlock is a small town suffering from visits by a gang of thugs led by Abe McQuown. The honest townsfolk meet and decide to hire infamous gunslinger Clay Blaisedell to act as a Marshal. Blaisdell, aided by his trusty companion Tom Morgan, proceeds to clean up the town and promptly takes control of the gambling and dance parlour. But things are rarely straight forward in a town of this type, one of the thugs (Johnny Gannon) decides to reform himself and takes on the role of legal sheriff. Things are further complicated when a woman arrives in town proclaiming that Blaisedell and Morgan killed the love of her life! This coupled with the fact that McQuown and his thugs are plotting destructive revenge, means that Warlock and it's array of complex characters are heading for judgement day - one way or another.
The basic plot sounds like nothing out of the ordinary, the tough gunslinger with a reputation hired to clean up a town has been done a fair few times, with varying degrees of success. What lifts this Edward Dmytryk directed (and produced) Western above other films of its ilk is that it goes deeper than most of those other genre pieces. Blaisedell may be a fearsome gunslinger but we are at a time when a new breed of faster and more thuggish cowboys exist, and so his very being is crucial to the number of events that transpire in Warlock. Here all central characters are multi-layered, there is a plenty going on that begs the utmost attention, where tragedy hangs heavy with its looming presence, and Dmytryk threads all the story strands together with thoughtfully potent results.
Adapted by Robert Alan Aurthur from Oakley Hall's novel, Warlock boasts three excellent male lead performances and a firing on all cylinders supporting cast. Henry Fonda (Blaisedell), Richard Widmark (Gannon) and Anthony Quinn (Tom Morgan) are superb, while Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, Tom Drake, DeForest Kelly, Frank Gorshin (sadly uncredited) and Wallace Ford come up trumps with excellent shows for totally important characters. The only gripe I can come up with is that I would have liked a bit more use of the Utah location courtesy of Joseph MacDonald's Cinemascope Technicolor, but since this story is primarily set within the confines of Warlock the town, one can be and is a touch forgiving.
During the last few years I have spent a lot of time revisiting the Western genre, and I have been rewarded with a ream of excellent adult pieces by the likes of Anthony Mann, Henry King and Budd Boetticher. Few of them are as undervalued, and maybe as forgotten, as this first class effort from all involved, it's a must see for any serious Western fan. 9/10
20th Century Fox by Edward Dmytryk, Robert Alan Aurthur, Oakley Hall.
Stars: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone.
Genres: Drama, Western
Keywords: jealousy marshal blonde dress gunshot wound violence stagecoach robbery frontier town lynch mob hired gun two guns belt
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