Sam Elliott’s first Western lead
In Molly she plays a naïve, unfortunate and put-upon woman who finally stands on her own two feet and gets the better of the men who abuse her.
She is the wife of the odious Marshal Marvin Parker (John Anderson, solid as ever) of the one-horse town of Cactus, NM, who treats her abominably. Lonely, unloved, childless, she falls for a young man in the town jail, about to face trial and certain execution for robbery and murder, in a bank robbery we see in the opening scenes – which, by the way, contains one of the worst horse falls I have ever seen. I didn’t see the oft-mentioned quote about no animals being hurt in the filming of this movie but if there was such a statement it was false. Shame on producer, director and studio.
This outlaw, John Lawler, is played by Sam Elliott, then 28 and in his first Western lead role. Before this he had only been Missouri Townsman (uncredited) in The Way West and Card Player #2 in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now he got to be male lead, with second billing after Ms Miles. He looks very different, so that you hardly recognize him, but once he starts speaking it’s unmistakably Sam. Unfortunately, though, he plays a character so unpleasant that it is impossible to sympathize with him. And it’s one of the weaknesses of the film that every single character is loathsome, with the exception of Molly, who is, for the first half of the picture, silly and weak.
Mind, this was hardly megastardom for Sam. The picture was made by Malibu Productions (who?) and got its theatrical release from the Producers Distributing Corporation (not Cecil B DeMille’s silent movie company of that name). It pretty well sank without trace.
Another failing in this picture is the direction, by Gary Nelson, who produced a picture so slow that it is catatonic. The runtime of 98 minutes should have been cut by at least 20, if not more. The limited plot simply can’t take it. We have extremely lengthy scenes that can often only be described as tedious. Nelson had been one of the assistant directors on The Searchers and on Gunfight at the OK Corral but he doesn’t seem to have learned much from those experiences. He spent much of his career contributing to episodes of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp and Have Gun – Will Travel. There he might have learned economy and pace but nope. Sorry to be so critical but I speak as I find. To be fair, and in mitigation, I would say that he did at least a competent job on Santee with Glenn Ford the following year, though it was hardly a great film.
Nelson and his DP Charles F Wheeler (who had shot the James Garner Western Duel at Diablo) went for claustrophobic and dark interiors, perhaps in an attempt at realism or even art, but they overdo it. Some of the New Mexico locations are fine, though, especially the scenes at Puye Cliffs, Santa Clara Pueblo and in the White Sands National Monument.
The screenplay was by Terry Kingsley-Smith, this and three episodes of Daniel Boone being his only contribution to our noble genre.
There’s big swirly sub-Elmer Bernstein music by Gene Feldman and Johnny Mandel which seems somehow out of place, and it alternates with early-70s jazz which jars as being equally inappropriate. A dreary song by Renée Armand closes proceedings, and none too soon.