The Lawless Breed

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THE LAWLESS BREED, soggy western matinee fodder from 1953, a whitewash of the  legendarily lethal gunslinger John Wesley Hardin, isn’t a feather in the cap of rising star Rock Hudson or estimable director Raoul Walsh. As history, it’s bull-puckey, but it does sport one good laugh when an outraged official proclaims that Hardin “has made the name of Texas stink in the nostrils of justice.” That’s one heck of a Durante-Malden snootful when you consider some of the officials the Lone Star State has hawked up. *

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Released from the pen in 1896, middle-aged and reformed outlaw John Wesley Hardin (Rock) gives his autobiography to a publisher; a flashback to the early 1870s reveals the “true story” behind his body-littered past. Always drawing in “self-defense”, headstrong (sounds better than hair-trigger homicidal) John W. has a Bible-thumpin Pa (John McIntire, bearded up to look like John Brown), but his uncle (also McIntire) is more forgiving. Homey gal ‘Jane Brown’ (Mary Castle, hit the snooze button) gets conveniently shot (as do much of the supporting cast), so saloon sizzler ‘Rosie’ (Julie Adams, hit the fire alarm) gets to semi-tame Hardin into a life less-punctuated by fast passages of hot lead.

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Universal was grooming the still-learning 27-year-old Hudson with a slew of action pictures; this was one of three he did with old school rascal Walsh in ’53, the others Sea Devils and Gun Fury. One of 11 westerns Hudson made, not one of the better: it’s obvious a stunt double was used in riding scenes. His performance is—to be kind—earnest, but then the script, written by Bernard Gordon, is not exactly Tolstoy. **

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Earning their keep over 83 minutes are Hugh O’Brian, Lee Van Cleef, Forrest Lewis, Race Gentry, Michael Ansara, Dennis Weaver, Richard Garland and Glenn Strange. The obnoxious music score is from Herman Stein, who was not credited (who’d want it?). Earning $3,900,000, the tyke-pacifying nonsense hung spurs on the 92nd stall in ’53.

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* John Wesley Hardin—the guy had a name made for wanted posters—managed to live  a few months past 42, when he was shot in the back by another frontier badass, John Selman.  Mr.Selman was himself dispatched 8 months later by lawman George Scarborough. That rowdy dude died four years later, by complications from—wild guess, anyone?—a gunshot wound. Meanwhile, back to John Wesley—-the movie does a major softening job on the easily irritated gentleman, who killed…forty-three men. Can we assume they were not all in “self-defense”. His stay in prison saw him become a lawyer, probably realizing he could do more damage with a license than a six-gun.

Public infamy and personal artillery: in our more enlightened age Hardin’s guns fetched $168,000 and $100,000 from collectors, and in 2002 an auction house in San Francisco sold the bullet that killed Hardin for $80,000. 

** The Lawless Breed may not have been screenwriter Bernard Gordon’s finest hour, but it was his last on-screen credit before being blacklisted (he was a Commie) thanks to finking by this film’s producer, William Alland. Gordon fronted for others for years, and eventually wrote a book, “Hollywood Exile, or How I Learned To Love the Blacklist”. Though it’s certainly shameful Gordon, 35, was blacklisted, it’s also rather sad to peruse some of the crud he later typed out under aliases—Hellcats Of The Navy, Zombies of Mora Tau, Custer Of The West, Krakatoa: East Of Java…if pride goeth before a fall, apparently it can shrivel like a salted slug when you’re on your back.

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