A rather typical Regal B
Escape from Red Rock was the tenth of the Westerns Robert L Lippert of Regal Films made for Fox in the mid-1950s. They were all modest-budget affairs, usually about $125,000, and black & white, though they were filmed in Fox’s CinemaScope, which they called Regalscope. Some of them were pretty crummy, if truth be told, made to fill lower halves of double-bills as cheaply as possible, poorly written and and starring actors on a downward career path. Occasionally one of the pictures wasn’t bad, even pretty good (The Black Whip, The Quiet Gun) but usually they weren’t.
Escape does have its moments, but I wouldn’t put it in the ‘good’ category. The Hollywood Reporter called it “original and tightly-conceived” and Variety said that it was “sufficiently different to warrant good suspense.” Myself, I think original is stretching it a bit but yes, there is some tension.
The film was produced by the Lippertesque Bernard Glasser, who had also fallen in love with motion pictures at a tender age and made a career out of them. It was written and directed by Glasser’s friend and business partner Edward Bernds, a former sound man who’d worked with Capra at Columbia, who then graduated to directing shorts, second features and comedies, Three Stooges epics in particular, produced by Glasser. Bernds was once nominated for an Oscar. But it was a mistake; the Academy got the wrong chap. He still framed the nomination and hung it on the wall. Bernds and Glasser made four pictures for Regal.
The cast headlined Brian Donlevy, though his screen time is very limited and I reckon he probably did all his scenes in a day. I’m not a great fan of Donlevy in Westerns, though I think he was very good elsewhere, but at least in this one he plays the villain. He was always better as bad guy. I’m not quite sure why he did the picture. He was quite a name, and had recently done films of the repute of The Big Combo and The Quatermass Xperiment. But he was also doing a lot of TV work at the time. Maybe he was glad of the gig.
The hero, though, is played by an actor unknown to me, Gary Murray (he had a small part in a Bel-Air Western the year before and did a couple of Western TV show episodes but that’s all). He is Cal, a young man who is enamored of a tomboyish girl in the town, Janie (former child actor Eilene Janssen). She is abused by her wicked stepfather (he hits her but darker abuse is hinted at) and the young couple will eventually flee and get hitched on the way to Mexico.
The local law is Jay C Flippen, so that’s good, and he tries tough love on Cal, who is always getting into trouble. “You’re not a man, you’re a fool kid,” he tells the boy. Teenage rebellion was of course also all the rage at the time.
Cal hears that his brother Judd (Rick Vallin) has been involved in a bank robbery and he finds his bro in Donlevy’s cabin, badly wounded, for he was hit in the chest by a bullet. Donlevy convinces Cal to case the town’s express office for a job he plans to pull there, and the boy reluctantly agrees in order to get a doctor for his brother, thus incriminating himself.
For the thugs do rob the express and one of them stupidly shoots a townswoman in the process and the citizens are not best pleased. They organize a posse, more of a lynch mob actually. The posse grabs the wounded Judd (curtains for him) but the young couple escape the riders and there’s a charmingly naïve moment when they smooch, out in the rocks at night, and Cal breaks off mid-kiss, saying, “We gotta get married!” Well, it was the 1950s.
Donlevy is written out for all the middle bit of the film as the two meet a Mexican family and do indeed wed. They come across a cabin whose occupants have been murdered by Apaches and they find a baby girl hidden, and care for her. This is the aah, how sweet moment. Their flight across the border will have to wait. Heart-warming stuff.
But then the outlaws turn up again, and are really quite rude. One (William Phipps) tries to rape Janie – done discreetly of course, mustn’t frighten the horses. Good news: the other thug is Myron Healey (billed as Michael Healey), and Myron’s always good to see. Donlevy shows himself to be an outlaw chief with a heart, keeping the two brutish henchmen in check. Shades of Gregory Peck in Yellow Sky or Burl Ives in Day of the Outlaw.
Brian will still have to perish, though, as Hollywood mores required. It’s an Apache arrow that does him in, as the poster already told us, while the other two fall out among themselves, Phipps killing Healey before being killed himself, cruelly but fortunately off-screen, by them Indians.
So the happy couple and the baby are saved. Sheriff Flippen turns up in the last reel and Stagecoachishly lets the couple go free to cross the border. The End.
At one point the hero says he’s met Al Sieber, so he knows all about Apaches.
So, then, original? No. In fact it’s all rather derivative. There are very distinct echoes of 1948’s Four Faces West, for example, though that was a far better film. But this one is maybe a cut above some of the other Regal oaters. There’s the odd thoughtful line and some tension does build. In their short bit of screentime, Donlevy and Flippen do add a bit of weight.
It’s the sort of B-Western you could watch. Or not.