Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

Dead Man’s Revenge (USA Network, 1994)


A Dern nasty chief villain


A made-for-TV Western of the early 1990s directed by Alan J Levi (probably best known for helming Battlestar Galactica episodes on TV), Dead Man’s Revenge wasn’t, to be brutally frank, terribly good. But it did have one advantage: topping the billing was Bruce Dern.


Dern plays Payton McCay, the bad guy, obviously, and he is that classic Western villain, the ruthless railroad boss. Oft have I waxed lyrical (posh English, huh) on the badman qualities of Mr Dern. Hell, he even shot John Wayne dead in one movie. Lately, Quentin Tarantino has appreciated Dern’s villainous CV enough to give him roles as seriously repellent old characters in some of his films.  In this one he is still quite young (58) but, balding on top but with white hair over his collar, shaping up well to be a repellent geezer. In the opening scene he gets hold of the title-deed to a homestead that lies on the projected route of his railroad (the Great South Western Railway) by falsely arresting the unfortunately named homesteader Luck Hatcher (Michael Ironside) for horse theft, murdering the man’s sick wife in the cabin and having a henchman shoot in the back their fleeing ten-year-old son. That really is Western villain terrain.


Bruce is bad


The chief good guy is a deputy US marshal, a certain Bodine – rather oddly because usually names ending in –ine or –een are bad guys in oaters, but it’s OK because it soon transpires that Bodine is an assumed name. He’s really that little boy, Tom Hatcher, whom we assumed brutally slain in the first reel (if TV movies have reels), but he survived, you see, and grew up to be an implacable law man, hunting down wicked mother-killers. We are now 12 years on. Actually, he only signed on as a peace officer in order to be able to track down and do in the wicked McCay. Bodine/Tom is played by fourth-billed Keith Coulouris (his only Western, poor soul). His tough marshal boss is Randy Travis.


Good guy Keith


Bodine/Tom comes up against a bounty hunter who is a kind of rival. It’s Jessup Bush (Vondie Curtis-Hall), and Tom (let’s call him that, it’s shorter) makes Jessup drop his pants because he says it makes men feel more vulnerable. Well, I guess it would. The effect of this act in the movie is somewhat diminished by said trousers having an anachronistic zip fly. It later seems that this Jessup is working for the railroad, so def a bad guy, but then even later it is revealed that the railroad job is a ploy; he’s after McCay too. It’s quite a complex plot. You have to pay attention.


Good guy? Bad guy? It varies. Great hat though.


That homesteader Luck, Tom’s pa, arrested for horse stealing, you recall, was imprisoned but he escaped and he’s in cahoots with Jessup. Together, they fake Luck’s death. Apparently shot down in the street, Luck is very much alive. You getting all this?


Luck can change


Anyway, the good guys will combine finally to thwart the evil railroad man. They’ll be aided by some belles dames, one of them (Daphne Ashbrook) the local banker and the other (Melora Walters) a saloon gal.


An elderly Doug McLure play one of McCay’s gunmen, Granger. Doug worked for John and Clay Granger up on Shiloh, didn’t he? He gets rather a raw deal in this movie. McLure was at the end of a long Western career. This picture, Maverick the same year and another TV movie in ’95 were the end of the trail for him. He died aged only 65 of cancer soon after. My mom was more than half in love with Doug, I reckon.


Doug still doing his thing


Another henchman, Bullock, played by Tobin Bell, is a nasty type. He demeans Jessup with racial epithets. But of course in sheer evil all the hoodlums are outclassed by their boss Bruce.


There’s some business about a horrid gang of Comancheros coming to attack the railroad boss as well, so there’s a lot going on.


The whole thing has a semi-comic tone, which doesn’t quite work. As I said in my first para, the picture isn’t marvelous. Still, you could watch it if you had a spare 100 minutes, to watch old Doug and enjoy Dern’s baddiness.




See Jeff’s homage to Bruce Dern by clicking the link.


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