Each Monday, I continue to share Western movie reviews as I go through the process of making my own 12 Westerns in 12 Months during 2020. I am watching these films not from an audience perspective but as a filmmaker, as a student of the genre.


Week Eighty Two: Warlock

This was my second viewing of Warlock, a film I loved years ago and wanted to investigate again now that I’ve seen and made many more Westerns. I also felt it was a good choice to show to my parents, one that I told my dad was not a “usual Western”. The film does hold up on this closer look, proving itself to be a standout in the under-appreciated psychological corner of the genre.

What I liked most about Warlock years ago was how complex the character motivations were. Now, this seems less of a surprise, perhaps because I’ve explored more Westerns and discovered other similar explorations like the work of Delmer Daves. But this film, directed by the never-discussed Edward Dmytryk, remains an in depth study of the lawman and his position in the changing Western landscape. I explained to my parents at the end that this film demonstrates as good as any other one of the key themes of Westerns: that the lawman must be uncivilized in order to protect and pave the way for civilization, a task that he accomplishes only to find that he no longer fits in the world he has helped create. That is so well demonstrated in the characters played by Fonda, Quinn, and Widmark. Their journeys are the textbook example of the Western genre arch.

Having just watched Fonda in Leone’s bloated epic and not buying his bad guy, I found this role to be much more suited for the actor. He is dangerous here but not fighting against his nature as a truly good hearted human. It stretches the performer but not to the point of breaking his boundaries. Quinn is the wild card in the film and damn good at it. His character motivations are the most complex and fascinating to discover as the picture moves along. My favorite character though is Widmark, another underdog facing a powerful enemy but standing up regardless and not asking for help, Howard Hawks-style. The actor was so natural in every performance; I can’t think of a film or moment where I didn’t believe him. The scene with his hand injury is one of the best violent moments in any Western.

If you haven’t seen Warlock and you like your Westerns to not just be cut and dry all the time, I highly suggest you queue it up!

Seen on Tubi.