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Violent Men, The (Columbia 1958, Glenn Ford, Barbara Stanwyck)

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A small-holder stands alone against the brutal tactics of a tyrannical rancher’s plans for expansion. Based on the Donald Hamilton novel Smokey Valley, Rudolph Maté’s vicious Cold War western stars Glenn Ford, Edward G Robinson and the formidable Barbara Stanwyck.

Robinson plays the crippled, ruthless cattle baron Lew Wilkison, who’s building an empire in the Alabama Hills. He owns most of the surrounding land, but one pocket, belonging to defiant small-holder John Parrish (Ford), remains unconquered by his bully-boy buy-out tactics. Parrish is a pacifist, however, and can’t stand to see the good people of Smokey Valley being punished for his stubbornness. So he decides to sell up. But before he gets a chance to do a deal, one of his farm hands is murdered by Wilkison’s henchmen. It’s the final straw. Determining to fight fire with fire, he rallies the troops and heads off to Wilkison’s ranch for a violent dénouement.

Made in the aftermath of Senator McArthy’s Hollywood witch-hunts, the film is a thinly-veiled allegory to America’s allegedly ‘heroic’ stance against the Communist threat. What separates Maté’s work from similar B-movie westerns of the period, however, is its vicious representation of the Red Peril. The director had already shown a delicious nasty streak in his noire thrillers, D.O.A. and Double Indemnity (also starring Robinson and Stanwyck). Now he and his actors really went to town.

In Robinson’s hands, Lew Wilkison is a hybrid of Richard III and Joseph Stalin – a snarling, crutch-wielding tyrant, scything through obstacles to his ambition with the help of reptilian hit-man Wade Matlock (Richard Jaeckel). But he’s a puppy compared to his wife.

Martha is a queen bitch, a ball-busting dominatrix who schemes like Lady MacBeth and sleeps with brother-in-law Cole (Brian Keith) on the sly. There could only be one choice of actress for the role, and Barbara Stanwyck doesn’t disappoint. 48 years old and standing all of 5 ft 5, she’s a towering presence, sexy as sin and making mincemeat of the menfolk as they cower under her whip-wielding command. The final scene, when she refuses to give her husband his crutches and leaves him stranded in the burning ranch-house, is one of those magnificent cinematic moments.

UK Title: Rough Company.

production details
USA | Columbia | 96 minutes | 1955

Writer: Harry Kleiner (from a novel by Donald Hamilton)
Music: Max Steiner
Cinematography: Burnett Guffey, W. Howard Greene
Producer: Lewis J. Rachmil
Director: Rudolph Maté

cast
Glenn Ford as John Parrish
Edward G. Robinson as Lee Wilkison
Richard Farnsworth as Anchor Rider (uncredited)
Richard Jaeckel as Wade Matlock
James Westerfield as Sheriff Magruder
May Wynn as Caroline Vail
Jack Kelly as De Rosa–Parrish Rider
Willis Bouchey as Sheriff Martin Kenner
Warner Anderson as Jim McCloud
Barbara Stanwyck as Martha Wilkison
Dianne Foster as Judith Wilkison
Brian Keith as Cole Wilkison
Basil Ruysdael as Tex Hinkleman
Lita Milan as Elena
Harry Shannon as Purdue
Peter Hansen as George Menefee (uncredited)
Frank Ferguson as Mahoney (uncredited)
Katherine Warren as Mrs. Vail (uncredited)

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