Producer partners Howard W Koch and Aubrey Schenck worked together on 35 feature films, starting with the Anthony Mann-directed noir T-Men in 1947, and a goodly number of these were Westerns. The first was War Paint in 1953 and later ones included others we have reviewed (see index) such asThe Yellow Tomahawk, Fort Yuma, Ghost Town, The Broken Star, Quincannon Frontier Scout and Rebel in Town. Outlaw’s Son was one of four oaters the pair made in 1957, under the banner of Bel-Air Productions, the company they founded in 1951.
Many of these oaters were filmed around Kanab, Utah, an area the pair so loved that they asked for their ashes to be scattered there after their demise. Outlaw’s Son, however, was shot in black & white by William Margulies (six Bel-Air ones) on the Iverson and other ranches in California.
These pictures were not exactly big-budget epics. In fact many were clearly made on a shoestring and had less than glittering casts. But they used decent enough directors as a rule and this one was helmed by our old pal Lesley Selander, a safe pair of hands.
The screenplay was by Richard Alan Simmons, who had six feature Westerns to his credit including three Koch/Schenck ones, from the Clifton Adams novel Gambling Man.
The cast was headed by Dane Clark, not perhaps the most stellar of leads. He was a self-described “Joe Average” and said, “An average-looking guy like me has a chance to get someplace, to portray people the way they really are, without any frills.” Well, quite, Dane. He got a contract with Warners in 1943 (“That was the best break of my life, hooking up with the Warners”). He did lead in five big-screen Westerns, but was hardly charismatic in them.
He is Nate Blaine and he turns up in the first reel of Outlaw’s Son after a long absence, to seek out his young son Jeff (child actor Joseph Richard Stafford) who is living with Nate’s sister-in-law, the boy’s frosty aunt, Ruth (Ellen Drew in her last film).
At first the boy spurns his negligent dad but Nate teaches him to shoot, and they bond. The shooting lesson (see our discussion here) features in a great many Westerns. Of course the tutor tells his student to squeeze the trigger, not pull it, because they always did and indeed it was often the only thing the teachers could think of to say.
The first part is quite slow-moving (unusual for Selander but maybe he couldn’t do much with the script) but once young Jeff has grown up and become Ben Cooper, things move along in a sprightlier fashion.
Cooper, you will know, was himself a child actor but had grown up to become Turkey Ralston in Johnny Guitar in 1954. You might also remember him in The Last Command, Duel at Apache Wells or Arizona Raiders. He would also have a biggish part in the Bel-Air Rebel in Town. He does the job in Outlaw’s Son as the conflicted youth who has grown up to be, like his papa, good with a gun. That shooting lesson evidently worked.
There are, as was traditional, two gals for him to dally between. This time it’s storekeeper’s daughter Amy (Cecile Rogers) and feisty rancher Lila (Lori Nelson). We have to wait till the very last scene before we know which one it will be wedded bliss with, though we do get a few clues along the way.
There’s a stagecoach robbery, a gunfight in the rocks and a saloon brawl, so many of the boxes are ticked.
Finally it turns out that the outlaw’s son discovers that his pa wasn’t an outlaw at all. Not really, anyway. He’s a good-badman, and he urges reconciliation all around on his deathbed, which the townsfolk all take dutifully to heart and kiss and make up.
It’s all harmless enough, though unlikely to set the prairies on fire.
United Artists put it in a double bill with that great biblical epic The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown, with Jane Russell. Nothing like mixing your genres, I guess.