Movie Diary 9/19/2018

Showdown (R.G. Springsteen, 1963). An Audie Murphy vehicle that acquits itself better than you might expect for one of his mid-career low-budget Westerns. Murphy and Charles Drake are saddle pals caught in the wake of a notorious criminal (Harold J. Stone). In its straightforward way, the film touches on reassuringly familiar themes of comradely loyalty and code-of-honor bargains among thieves, plus there’s a dance-hall girl who can’t sing (Kathleen Crowley) and refreshingly admits as much. At the center of the story is an incredibly baroque town “jail,” built outside in the main square: a pike connected to a dozen neck cuffs on long chains. I don’t know what basis this has in reality, but it’s a heckuva central image. The dandy supporting cast includes Strother Martin, L.Q. Jones, and Skip Homeier.

Ramrod (Andre de Toth, 1947). An offbeat Western from de Toth, directing his then-wife Veronica Lake in a scorching role. The movie needs more of her, in fact, as its rather lackadaisical pace allows it to wander away from Lake’s would-be sheep rancher. The film’s got a curious cold start, in the midst of a confrontation, as though the opening sequences had been left out; when everything shakes down, it’s Joel McCrea’s hired hand protecting Lake’s interests against the town cattle baron (Preston Foster) and his flunkies, who include her own father (Charlie Ruggles). There’s almost too much going on in the film, but the ranginess allows for felicities such as Don DeFore’s roguish good-time guy, who flagrantly cheats on his ladylove (Arleen Whelan); he’s so charming the movie doesn’t bother to disapprove.