A cracking good oater
Wyoming Renegades is just the kind of Western I go for, a fast-paced 73-minute actioner with a strong cast, produced by Wallace MacDonald and helmed by good old Fred F Sears. It’s in Technicolor and has music by Randolph Scott-Western favorite composer Mischa Bakaleinikoff, and the tight story and script (historically absurd but a lot of fun) was by David Lang, who wrote four Philip Carey oaters.
For yes, this one has Phil leading the cast. I always liked Carey in Westerns: he was tough and convincing. He worked five times for producer MacDonald (The Nebraskan, Massacre Canyon, The Outlaw Stallion and Return to Warbow were the others). Wyoming Renegades is a Wild Bunch yarn but put out of your mind the endearing wisecracking buddies Butch and Sundance that Newman and Redford got us used to. This is a very butch Butch (Gene Evans), a brutal murderer, and this Sundance (William Bishop) is a leering sadist. They are out-and-out bad guys. The gang members are loathsome too. I especially liked eye-patched George Keymas as Kid Curry but we also get Elza Lay (Henry Rowland), Ben Kilpatrick (Don C Harvey), and, as an extra, Black Jack Ketchum (Guy Teague) – I’m not sure if he is California stage robber Tom Ketchum or Blackjack Ketchum, Desperado (Howard Duff) of Columbia’s following year’s Western, but one or the other, probably. Most amusing of all is the simpleton Petie, played by none other than Aaron Spelling, later to stun the artistic world by becoming producer of Charlie’s Angels.
Their Hole in the Wall looks suspiciously like Bronson Canyon and Wyoming a lot like Iverson Ranch but never mind. The town of Broken Bow, where former Wild Buncher Phil returns after serving time in the pen, now determined to go straight, is of course the Columbia Western town lot, and nothing wrong with that.
Brady Sutton (that’s Phil) wants to re-open the family smithy in Broken Bow and resume blacksmithing, and his loyal girl Nancy (Grace Kelly-wannabe Martha Hyer, 21 feature Westerns, in a superbly awful 1950s hairdo) encourages him. She defends him stoutly when the citizens try to run him out of town, but though the stout sheriff (our old pal Roy Roberts) doesn’t care for Brady’s presence (the lawman suspects him of future backsliding into outlawish ways) he can’t banish him because he hasn’t broken any law. I like the way Sheriff Roy carries his star in his shirt pocket, peeking out.
We kinda know right away that Brady’s going to be forced, however unwillingly, back into the outlaw gang, and sure enough… But before then he’s befriended by newcomer in town Charlie Veer (Douglas Kennedy) who stands up for him against the miserable townsfolk and becomes a partner in the smithing business, which goes well. Charlie does Veer about, at first seeming a goody, then a baddy, then, oh well, it’s complicated.
Nancy’s pa is the local banker (another ole pal, Don Beddoe) and of course the Wild Bunch have their eye on that there bank. Sundance cases the joint and spots his erstwhile co-worker Brady. The plot thickens, as plots in 50s Westerns are wont to do.
There’s a night gunfight on the Columbia town street, which is rather good, and a couple of the W/Bunch are killed but the rest get away. Brady gets the blame. They think he was the Bunch’s inside man. So of course the townsmen want to string him up, you know how they do, but Charlie comes to his aid again, with a Winchester, and the two flee – to the Hole in the Wall. They are not made very welcome there, especially by Sundance, who engages Brady in the first of the movie’s three bouts of fisticuffs (losing each time to our hero Phil).
The pace of the picture may now be described as breakneck, as robberies galore are carried out. You won’t nod off, I tell you. Charlie is revealed (spoiler alert, oops, too late) to be a Pinkerton agent (there’s a good bit in the telegraph office) and he hoodwinks the gang, telling them the loot they seek is on a train, when it isn’t, and this will lead to his demise, poor Charlie. But Butch won’t give up. He determines to go back to Broken Bow and get that money.
Thus we get to the highlight of the film because you see Martha is constrained, under threat to her lover’s life, to persuade the sheriff and all Broken Bow’s men to quit town in a great posse, leaving it defenseless when the Wild Bunch ride in. However, little do they know that – yet nay, I shall not spoil this for you because it’s the best bit. Phil Hardy said, “This sequence is among the best ever in a B-Western.”
It’s gripping stuff, I can tell you, just my kind of Western. I do recommend it if you haven’t seen it. It’s on DVD and sometimes comes up on Encore.