I continue to study the Western genre. I have now launched a podcast about the making of Western films. Listen here
Henry King didn’t make a lot of Westerns, not enough to meet the criteria for the book I’m writing, but he certainly made two of the most unique entries in the genre. They both starred Gregory Peck and one of them, The Gunfighter, would rank near the top of my all time list. The Bravados does not reach the heights of the director and star’s previous effort but it is nonetheless a fascinating, unusual Western.
Peck is once again a dark hero, more reminiscent of a protagonist in Anthony Mann’s pictures than the saintly heroes the movie star is most remembered for. His dark, brooding demeanor is matched with a calm, calculated strategy for finding his prey, a refreshing take on the vengeful character type.
Based on the visuals, I feel cinematographer Leon Shamroy should be a name I’m familiar with. It turns out that he did shoot a lot of films I’m fond of and from now on his name will mean much more when I see it listed. The photography here is beyond stunning and would make the picture worth watching even if the story was no good. The mixture of warm and cool textures makes for striking images. His use of silhouettes heightens the dark tone of King’s direction. A combination of their efforts makes the extended day-for-night sequence with the jail break one of the best in the genre.
Though I clearly have a lot of affection for this picture, some things didn’t work for me. The Joan Collins role is not well written or well played. I’ll give one example: after finally learning Peck’s motivation for revenge, her first reaction is to tell him not to go after the outlaws, to let them go. Really? Moments later she reverses this decision completely based on one violent incident, though many have come before. That’s just one example of how little the filmmakers and actress do to have this character make any sense. And their failure to do so hurts the ending of the film.
Speaking of the finale, I love the concept of the twist but have issues with its execution. I can’t say much more without spoiling the ending for you. I’ll just say that the truth of the situation feels a little tacked on and not well thought-through, unlike the rest of the picture which makes me wish King would have made many Westerns.
Watched on Criterion Channel.