Ted Post’s first theatrical Western
Ted Post was a highly prolific director who worked from 1950 thru 2002, helming very many episodes of TV shows, including over a hundred Westerns like Gunsmoke, Wagon Train, Rawhide, Laramie, The Virginian and so on. But he also directed features and is probably best known for the likes of Magnum Force and Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Three of these features were Westerns, most notably Clint Eastwood’s Hang ‘em High but also The Legend of Tom Dooley in 1959 with Michael Landon (upcoming review). The Peacemaker in 1956 was his very first big-screen film. Unfortunately, if understandably, it inhabits that twilight world between the big and small screens, and though a theatrical release, looks just like an 82-minute TV episode. It had a very modest setting, cast and crew. Well, you gotta start somewhere.
It was one of only three pictures of Hal R Makelim’s Makelim Pictures Inc (another of the three was a Western too, or sort of, Valerie) and the budget must have been, er, minimal. There are a couple of token location shots (Iverson Ranch, it looks like) but most is done in the studio with painted backdrops. It’s a rather talky ‘town Western’.
The film starred James Mitchell, who had small parts in Bob Steele, Allan Lane and Bill Elliott B-Westerns in the 1940s and a slightly bigger role in Devil’s Doorway, Colorado Territory and Stars in My Crown in the 50s but was an actor you wouldn’t really define as a Western specialist. He’s OK, I guess, as the stern-faced new parson who arrives in a town beset by a range war and tries to show that the Bible is mightier than the sword, or the six-gun anyway, even though, as it turns out, he used to be a gunslinger himself till he got religion. At one key point, when the bad guys kill his old-timer friend, he puts down his Bible and picks up that Colt .45 again: is he going back to his old gunslingin’ ways? But by strength of will he forces himself to put the gun back down So there’s a play on the word Peacemaker.
The big ranchers are at daggers (or six-guns anyway) drawn with the homesteaders, as was conventional in these yarns, and between them is a railroad man, Gray Arnett (Herbert Patterson, in his only big-screen Western) who at first seems benevolent and civilized, and he pays court to the fair Ann (Rosemarie Stack, Robert’s wife, in her only Western), the storekeeper’s daughter and the town belle, and seems to be winning her favors.
But of course he’s a railroad man, so will definitely turn out to be a wrong ‘un, and he duly does. In fact he’s the chief villain (spoiler alert, oops, too late). Ann will switch her attentions to the new preacher.
The ranchers are led by beefy Lathe Sawyer (Hugh Sanders, more recognizable to Westernistas, often a sheriff) while the farmers have as leading light Ed Halcomb (Jess Barker, at one time Mr Susan Hayward, five minor Westerns). The sheriff (habitual Warners bit-part tough guy Robert Armstrong, small parts in nine Westerns) who’s supposed to keep the peace between them, is ineffectual, if not downright corrupt, so it’s up to the reverend.
Probably the most noticeable figure is the railroad’s hired gun, habitual bad guy Jan Merlin as Viggo Tomlin, one of those sneering punkish Skip Homeier-style gunnies, whom you may remember from, say, Guns of Diablo or Cole Younger, Gunfighter. He will be the preacher’s biggest challenge.
The whole thing is rather earnest, not to say heavy-handed, with a moral that leaves no room for subtlety really, but it’s alright. I’ve seen worse.
Mind, I’ve seen a lot better too.