Gregory Peck slips into vengeance mode full-tilt, riding down a quartet of blackhearted knaves: rapist Stephen Boyd, ambusher Albert Salmi, sneaky Lee Van Cleef and inscrutable Henry Silva. Swope Jr. Directed by Henry King. The Bravados is just the kind of western America liked in the late s, a big, bold and violent show with name stars and not too many big ideas. It can boast sensationally expressive Mexican locations, even by western standards.
Gregory Peck does well in a difficult role, mainly by ignoring subtleties and playing his cowpoke-out-for-vengeance stiff and straight. The film benefits from a story with clean lines and some halfway good surprises. He says he wants to see the men hang. Jim wins the confidence of the Sheriff and drinks a beer with Simms, and shares an uncomfortable exchange with Josefa Velarde Joan Collins , a local woman who once turned down his proposal of marriage. Learning that Jim is now married, Josefa excuses herself quickly, but later returns to invite him to attend church with her.
The criminals escape during the services, kidnapping young Emma Steinmetz Kathleen Gallant on their way out. The Padre Andrew Duggan tells Josefa why Jim is so intent on finding and killing the four men: they raped and murdered his wife, on his ranch about a hundred miles away. The four bad-guy bandits are neither self-destructing psychos nor misunderstood martyrs.
They make reasonable escape decisions and for the most part stick together. Each even volunteers to stay behind to slow up the posse. Douglass waves a cameo watch in their faces, but none reacts as if caught up in a lie. It even looks as though he spares the fourth bad guy, on the basis that the man has a wife and baby, the same as Jim.
None of this seems rational. Rio Arriba is set up to be so moral that everybody — the whole place — attends mass at night. These upstanding citizens want these bandits dead, and went to the trouble of sending away for a hangman to do the job legally.
Although two of the men are likely the actual killers — and one of them surely a rapist as well — ALL are guilty of murder, including Mr. Innocent at the finish. Jim ought to be wearing a halo. Not only is he cheered by the town, he picks up a ready-and-willing new wife, one sexier than anything this side of the Pecos, pilgrim.
Josefa is definitely from the Grace Kelly school of shifting moral positions. Seen in that light, The Bravados is an apology for whatever violence good Americans need to do, here or across the border, to Keep Things Decent. Your family will always be here for you. Another beautiful woman will be waiting if something happens to the one ya got. Henry King and his cameraman Leon Shamroy clearly enjoyed staging what amount to some nearly perfect widescreen action scenes on a series of impressive, dramatic Mexican locations.
It feels right, not exploitative. The movie really looks good, but the social setting is a little screwy for a border town in … Texas, likely. Rio Arriba is all Catholic and many of the names are Latino, but most of the speaking parts are played by Anglos. The drama benefits mightily from the presence of actors cast beneath their abilities, yet applying themselves at full strength. Fox had difficulty getting the handsome, talented Stephen Boyd to click with audiences; he would become immortal as the supporting villain in a massive Biblical epic.
Lee Van Cleef tended to be stiff when he had a lot of lines, but under director King he delivers what might be his most emotionally successful scene. How often do we sympathize with a Van Cleef character? This show gives us Henry Silva at his best, before he became a charter member of the Rat Pack. The actor also comes across as deeper and more soulful than usual, without histrionic tricks.
His casting is particularly shrewd: fans who know who he is will be less likely to question what his character is doing. Favorite Gene Evens has only a brief role. Ten years before in his noir pictures he was usually stuck in some pompous or awkward part.
The Twilight Time Blu-ray of The Bravados is a very good encoding of this extremely attractive western, from the year when I believe Eastman came out with an improved color stock. Technicolor always looked great, of course, but photochemical prints suddenly became a little less grainy. I remember Color-by-Deluxe movies looking very impressive — very rich. Those blue and yellow CinemaScope logos really popped off the screen. This particular movie seems to have been timed with a little more contrast than usual, to give those striking Mexican locations even more dynamism.
During some optical transitions, and during the main titles, the grain goes up a tiny bit, but overall the picture is extremely clean. The music credited to Lionel Newman is dominated by a strident, rather thin main theme that too quickly becomes repetitious, like a TV show sting that aims to establish brand familiarity. Several action scenes play without only light underscoring, a nice touch. Fox has supplied a pair of newsreel snippets associated with the picture. More interesting is an unedited reel that someone has dug up, a raw camera roll with flash-frames and speedups for camera stops.
The subject is some staged business outside a Fox screening room, with executives and actors pretending to enter to see The Bravados.
They align with actors we know were on the Fox lot in I just learned a while back that Aaron Spelling was at the time married to Carolyn Jones, and we see them entering together, laughing. Groucho Marx appears to have a real mustache. We have some stars today that possess this kind of instant star magnetism, but not many.
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