CITY OF BAD MEN came and went in 1953, barely registering at 224th place, the $700,000 take a jarring blow to the $740,000 production tab. Posterity has left it to lonely, dogged reviewers to raise a hand from the back row and say “Hey, um, how about…?” It’s a nifty western, with a good script, attractively appointed, well directed, peopled with an array of genre-vetted pros. A neat discovery for sofa cowpokes who think they’ve grazed ’em all.
1897, Carson City, Nevada. Throngs descend on the capital burg to witness the heavyweight championship bout between ‘Gentleman Jim’ Corbett and Bob Fitzsimmons. Since over a hundred grand in tickets will be generated ($3,576,000 in 2023), it’s only natural that the fight will attract those less keen on the manly art of self-defense than the lure of loot (some later outlaw would be smug enough to dub public scamming “The Art Of The Deal”). Among interested gun & grab guys are those led by the Stanton brothers, ‘Brett’ (Dale Robertson) and ‘Gar’ (Lloyd Bridges), and those of rival thugster, the ever-useful ‘Johnny Ringo’ (Richard Boone). Brett’s former flame ‘Linda Culligan’ (Joanne Dru) is on hand, with her bland-as-sawdust fiancé, the fight promoter.
The intelligent script was written by George W. George (who later produced My Dinner With Andre: go figure) and George F. Slavin, and direction was in hands of expert editor Harmon Jones (Anna And The King Of Siam, Gentleman’s Agreement, Panic In The Streets), who when given honcho reins delivered viable genre items The Silver Whip and A Day Of Fury as well as the cultish fun Gorilla At Large. Jones zesty staging and the skill of cameraman Charles G. Clarke make the $740,000 expenditure look considerably larger in scale.
Though first-billed, Dru, flashing emerald eyes, costume cinched to squeeze a waist that would turn Scarlett O’Hara green, is almost incidental to blithely confident Robertson, rolling out one of 13 westerns he made before settling into 201 episodes of TVs Tales Of Wells Fargo (1957-62). Bridges is shoehorned into one of the many ‘disgruntled’ types he was assigned in the 40s and 50s before, like Robertson, being thrown a TV hero lifeline via Sea Hunt, 1957-61. Boone as well, was mostly confined to bad guys until the small screen’s Have Gun, Will Travel,1957-63, made him an unlikely but welcome star. The spirited lady and no-nonsense men are backed by a choice lineup of supporting players who are practically a casting chart for the genre and era: Leo Gordon (debut), John Doucette, Rodolfo Acosta, Don Haggerty, James Best, Percy Helton, King Donovan, Frank Ferguson and Maudie Prickett. *
The real-life fight slugged it out over 90 minutes, was the first boxing match captured on camera, the first flicker to last over an hour, and one of the first feature films. Though not as historic, the entertaining City Of Bad Men deserves belated recognition, 82 minutes of fiction that will surprise and please western fans. With Carole Matthews, Hugh Sanders, Carl Betz and Pascual García Peña.
* Robertson’s casual Oklahoma manner served him well, facing off with 50’s B-list genre competition from Audie Murphy, Rory Calhoun, George Montgomery and—up the holster a shell—Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott. Top guns went to John Wayne, James Stewart, Richard Widmark and Glenn Ford.