VENGEANCE VALLEY makes for a rewarding destination for western fans; forgotten today, the excellently written and well-acted 1951 relationship drama (with plenty of cows) is a neat rediscovery. After five years in the business, Burt Lancaster’s 13th film was the first of 14 westerns he’d make over the next 30 years. Allowed to fall into ‘public domain’, it’s pictorial quality has faded, a shame since the Colorado Rockies location work showcases impressive vistas (with plenty of cows). A couple of good fistfights are banged up as well.
Honest and steady ranch foreman Lancaster is half-brother to weak-willed schemer Robert Walker, married to Joanne Dru, who we soon see is clearly better suited to Burt. When Walker fails to own up to fathering a child by waitress Sally Forrest, her vengeful brothers show up (John Ireland, Hugh O’Brian). Lancaster tries to sort things out, but sometimes lead is the only cure for poisoned blood. *
Moving in a comforting canter for a lean 83 minutes, ably directed by Richard Thorpe, it benefits from naturalistic performances of the quite good dialogue in the script, written by Irving Ravetch off a story from Luke Short, who penned 52 novels in the genre.
On hand: Ray Collins, Carleton Carpenter, Ted de Corsia, Will Wright and Glenn Strange. Collins had this acting job in his genes/jeans more than just as a thespian: he came from from a pioneer California family. Great-grandfather John Ridwell was commandant of Sutter’s Fort back before the Gold Rush began. Produced for $1,008,000, this came in 57th place for 1951, earning $3,146,000.
* Bad blood, indeed. Walker and Dru played husband and wife, but the actress was in no mood for friendliness, as the rage-prone alcoholic Walker, recently institutionalized for mental illness, had been briefly married to her friend Barbara Ford, daughter of John Ford. That 5-month mismatch came to a nasty end after Walker beat her severely. Dru got her out of the house, responding to the incident (Ward Bond was intent on delivering a Sonny Corleone beat-down to Walker but was prevented by the elder Ford). On this movie, Dru was married to co-star Ireland, no slouch at finding trouble, so Walker aced the part of slimy, friendless weasel without much digging. He followed up with his classic job in Strangers On A Train, then death from a sedative overdose mixed with booze resulted later in 1951. He was 32.
On a happier note, also of interest in this adult-minded western is Sally Forrest, who was being groomed for stardom, with six vehicles in ’51. She later married her agent and skipped a movie career. It had started with her as a dancer: you owe to yourself to try and find a clip of her wild hooch-koochie number from 1955’s Son of Sinbad—it was clipped by censors. The Sally in that exotic abandon is a far cry from her demure frontier gal in this tale.