Jeff Arnold’s West

The blog of a Western fan, for other Western fans

A Lust to Kill (BIP, 1958)


Another Jim Davis B-Western


In the late 1950s, Jim Davis, who had been pretty popular on the small screen as railroad detective Matt Clark in Stories of the Century 1954 – 55, did a whole series of low-budget black & white feature Westerns, never quite making it big. He did four in 1958 alone, one of which was a real B, A Lust to Kill.


Jim on the big screen too


It was directed by Oliver Drake, who was involved in one capacity or another in an astonishing 153 big-screen oaters, first directing a Lane Chandler picture in the early 1930s, helming a series with Dave O’Brien in the early 40s, then moving on to Jimmy Wakely and Sunset Carson oaters at different Poverty Row outfits. The year before A Lust to Kill he’d done The Parson and the Outlaw, which we reviewed recently. Actually, the direction of A Lust to Kill is noticeably poor, at least in terms of continuity; perhaps the editor shared the blame.


Ollie at the helm


We open with a classic B-Western horse chase, though so badly shot that we don’t get for quite some time who’s chasing and who’s being chased, but it turns out to be Marshal Matt Gordon (Jim) and his deputy, Kane Guthrie (Tom Hubbard, who wrote the story and screenplay, and had also written Jim’s 1957 Western The Badge of Marshal Brennan) who are pursuing a band of outlaws who have robbed a store of a goodly number of firearms, the better to carry out their outlawin’ ways.


These villains are led by burly bad guy Isaac Stancil (frequent B-movie baddy Gerald Milton) but when another of the gang, the young Luke Holland (uncredited actor), is hit, and falls, Isaac won’t go back for him. “Leave him!” he callously calls out. Nevertheless, another gang member, Luke’s bro in fact, Cheney Holland, returns to help the boy, and is captured by the two lawmen. The young Luke expires.


Burly bandit boss


Cheney is played by second-billed Don McGowan, a TV Western regular (he did 60 episodes of 27 different series) who had been the sheriff in The Werewolf a couple of years before. A certain amount of interest arises from his character in the sense that he starts out as a good-badman, going back to save his brother, then later in prison being nice to a little kid who hangs around the marshal’s office (he gives the boy his Colt .45 as a present; not sure how kind that was) but then, as the film wears on, getting more and more brutal. He is the one with a lust to kill, you see. Jim sonorously quotes scripture in the first and last reels, Ecclesiastes 3, in fact, putting heavy emphasis on the “a time to kill” part, as a rattler strikes onscreen. By the end of the film, Cheney is a real bad ‘un and will, of course, receive a (rather brutal) come-uppance.


He was Rod Cameronish


They bury Cheney’s kid brother but the townsfolk don’t cotton to it at all. The local parson won’t officiate and the townsmen spit as the hearse passes. It reminded me a bit of that great scene in The Magnificent Seven. I wonder if Sturges or his writers had seen A Lust to Kill.


The only one who turns up to pay respects is Sherry, Cheney’s (reluctant) woman, clearly a whore, though such a word could not be pronounced in a mainstream B-Western of the time. She slips Cheney a .45 while Jim is funeral-orating (in the absence of the reverend) and Cheney biffs Jim over the head with hit, shoots the surly gravedigger who wouldn’t help with the casket, and rides off with Sherry. Thus begins his shift from good-badman status to out-and-out villain. Later he will shoot dead the old-timer who didn’t want the outlaw buried in the same cemetery as his late wife, as well as the unwilling parson. Shooting old-timers and parsons isn’t really on, even if they did deserve it.


The funeral is not a dignified affair


Sherry is played by Allison Hayes, none other than the 50-Foot Woman three months before, though in this one she seems to pretty well sleepwalking through her (rather unrewarding) role. The same year she did another picture with Jim, Wolf Dog (see index).


Less than 50 foot this time


She’s Cheney’s woman. That’s the bordello madam with them (Claire Carleton).


The picture was shot on the director’s California ranch but looks very Arizona-like, and indeed is supposedly set in and around Maricopa.


The rest of the movie concerns Jim’s implacable pursuit of Cheney (and Isaac, let’s not forget) as he tracks them down to their lair. Cheney also wants Isaac, to kill him in fact, for not going back to help his kid brother, so it’s quite complex.


There’s a surprisingly daring (for a 50s B-Western) scene at a waterhole near the gang’s cabin in which they disport themselves and splash, and one of the ladies skinny-dips (though the water level comes up high enough, of course). When she gets out, and goes to dress behind a pegged-up blanket, coarse Isaac laughingly shoots the blanket down, but this part is cut in the version I saw, probably for TV. Gracious, there might be children watching.


There’s also a political sub-plot as the mayor, who is now running for governor, the smarmy McKenzie (John Holland) has equally two-faced Deputy Guthrie in his pocket, clearly a future replacement for Jim, and the electioneers arrive in the bawdy house to canvass for votes (it’s all highly improbable) and are there just in time for the climactic siege.


Sleazy politics too


The violence is also up a notch on the usual. Cheney gets Isaac, then obviously there’s a final showdown between Jim and Don, in which Jim drowns Don by holding his face down in a pool of pig slop. Not a nice way to go.


A Lust to Kill (two sins in a four-word title) might have gone down well in 50s Bible-Belt America or mid-West movie houses of a humbler kind but to be blunt, that is probably where it ought to have remained.


It was big in Denmark


2 Responses

  1. Except the far too multiple and too long horse rides and chases giving the whole thing an air of serial , it could have been fine if better shot. Disturbing Don Megowan reminds me not only Cameron but Scott Brady too. Both characters (Davis and him) and their relationship are interesting and would have deserved to be more developed.
    Allison Hayes plays also in Count 3 and pray, Gunslinger and Mohawk, all 3 extensively promoted in this blog and some TV shows. However Gerald Milton is very bad in my opinion for someone meant to inspire fear. If you are looking for an overweight villain, it is better to select Burl Ives, Robert Middleton or Ernest Borgnine in my opinion. Maybe it was a matter of budget…

    1. I agree, the basic idea had some potential but it was badly executed.
      Those heavy heavies you mentioned would have done very well!

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