Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Return of the Bad Men (RKO, 1948)

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A whoop-de-woo Randolph Scott oater

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1948 was a stellar year for Westerns but while the attention was on mighty examples of the genre such as Red River, Fort Apache and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the humble oater also continued on its excellent way, with many highly enjoyable examples. There were 138 Westerns that year (oh, blessed epoch).

 

Such an enjoyable one is Return of the Bad Men, a whoop-de-do Randolph Scott oater from good old RKO.

 

I love Westerns of that time. They were proper cowboy movies. None of your post-modernist revisionism, thank you very much, just classic gallopin’ and shootin’ and a showdown between the hero and the bad guy in the last reel. This time in a ghost town.
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Proper Western
 
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It was directed by good old Ray Enright who started in movies as an assistant cutter for Thomas Ince before the First World War, joined Warner Brothers in the 1920s and directed early talkies at the end of the decade. Probably his biggest picture was the 1942 version of The Spoilers with John Wayne, Randolph Scott and Marlene Dietrich but other classy oaters were Coroner Creek and Albuquerque with Randy too, the former seriously good. His movies were unpretentious, professionally turned out, energetic fun.
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Scott and Gabby Hayes had been a success in Badman’s Territory in 1946, one of those pictures that crammed as many outlaws as possible into one film (James gang, Daltons, Sam Bass, Belle Starr) and this was an attempt (a successful one) at a re-run. Actually, Return of the Badmen is quite unusual as a sequel in that it was better than the original. Badman’s Territory (directed by Tim Whelan) was a bit of a clunker, if truth be told.
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Marshal Randy and banker Gabby
 
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The plot is really very silly but great fun because they stuff in even more baddies, in fact they assemble the baddest gang of badmen you could ever wish for. Bill Doolin (Robert Armstrong) is the boss and in the ranks there are three Dalton brothers (Walter Reed, Michael Harvey and Lex Barker), three Younger brothers (Robert Bray, Tom Keene, Steve Brodie), Billy the Kid (Dean White) and The Sundance Kid (Robert Ryan, splendid), among others. Wow. And against all those, one lawman, Marshal Vance (Scott).
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Bill Doolin

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Billy the Kid
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Bob, Grat and Emmett Dalton
 
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We are in Oklahoma, 1889 (so Billy must have survived Fort Sumner) and it’s a land-rush picture. The townsfolk of Braxton are abandoning it to set up a new burg, Guthrie. Gabby Hayes is the cranky old banker and his posh daughter Madge (Jacqueline White) has fallen for Vance, though Doolin niece Cheyenne (sexy Anne Jeffreys) wants to muscle in. Get the picture?
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John, Jim and Cole Younger
 
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Stand-out is Robert Ryan, always one of the best bad guys available, as the Sundance Kid. Robert Redford he ain’t. His Sundance manages to murder an old unarmed Indian, strangle a blonde heroine and shoot a stranded accomplice in the back, among other assassinations, all in half an hour. Boy, is he bad. And when you look at the cast, Ryan is in fact the only really good actor apart from Scott on the set. He outshines the B screenplay to the point where you wonder what he is doing there. Brilliant.
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Ryan, splendid as the Sundance Kid
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Murder most foul; it’s almost a noir
 
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The action whips right along and there are trains and stages and all manner of rootin’, tootin’ and of course shootin’. Best is the posse’s attack on the ghost town with mucho blazing away in the dark. La Jeffreys and la White provide the glamour, Gabby gives us the comic relief, Ryan (all in black) is someone to boo and hiss. Great stuff. I heartily recommend Return of the Bad Men to your attention. It will be 90 minutes that will enrich your life, deepen your soul and make you a better person.
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You betcha
 
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Well, I may be getting a bit carried away there but you won’t regret it anyway.

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They’re off!

 

 

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2 Responses

  1. I often wondered why Robert Armstrong wasn't a bigger star. He is never short of compelling, and, at times, like King Kong, stupendous. I didn't know Armstrong made a movie with Scott, and it looks like your blog will inspire me to buy another film…..

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