BACKLASH —since I was old enough to remember The Alamo and storm the Halls Of Montezuma Richard Widmark was one of my favorite actors, and I grew up watching co-star Donna Reed as a backup Mom on her 8-year TV gig as ‘Mrs.Stone’ (we’ll leave hot daughter ‘Mary’ a.k.a. Shelley Fabares out of this discussion), but even they can’t salvage this 1956 frontier turkey buzzard from croaking on the range.
Not director John Sturges’ best, even with a gunfighter named—we kid you not— ‘Johnny Cool’, played over-the-horse-trough by William Campbell. Campbell’s ‘Cool’ seems closer to Laguna Beach than anywhere near the Pecos. “Suspense that cuts like a whip” the ads proclaimed. Good supporting cast: John McIntire, Barton MacLane, Harry Morgan, Robert Wilke, Jack Lambert, Roy Roberts, Edward Platt. It’s a revenge themed ‘adult western’ (been a few of them) with a mystery slant, written by Borden Chase.
“There’s things a man has to know and has to do, and it’s best that he does them alone.”
Stuff like that.
The original working title of the 84-minute, $1,025,000 Saturday matinée was “Fort Starvation” which didn’t seem likely to help the box-office diet. Like many another outdoor saga from the era, this mid-register item was filmed in Arizona, around Nogales and in the sets of ‘Old Tuscon. Temperatures ranged up to 107 degrees, and there was some further heat on-set between Widmark, who’d developed the project, and young turk Campbell, who told the director “I think we’re missing something. It’s a love affair between the kid and the wanderer” (that is, between Campbell’s ‘Johnny Cool’ and Widmark’s ‘Jim Slater’). The irritated star thought that was rather too Hollyweird, laying down the law replying “I want it THIS way, and that’s the way it’s going to be!” Star power (and common sense) won out: Colt’s were drawn according to tradition. Box office result was $3,520,000.
The hard-working star did better the same year with another saddle saga, directed by Delmer Daves, The Last Wagon. Sturges’ next picture was also a western filmed down in the same area, and that one was a smash hit, Gunfight At The O.K. Corral. Widmark and Sturges must have ironed out whatever issues that came up, as they worked together two years later on yet another cowboy flick, The Law And Jake Wade.