Starring: Paul Newman, Fredric March, Richard Boone, Diane Cilento
Director: Martin Ritt
John Russell (Newman) inherits some property and heads out to claim it. He’s a quiet man, rough and direct, and he’s disliked and distrusted because he was raised by Native Americans. But when the stage coach he’s travelling back on comes under threat by outlaws, he shows that he’s made of better stuff than the people he’s travelling with who are perhaps more socially acceptable.
A Western of the new order, rather than the native population being the bad guys and the settlers being the moral core, this film pokes holes in these stock Wild West types, which was a story that was becoming more acceptable in the 60’s. Newman is cold and detached as a man who owes nobody anything, and he bites back at those who show their hatred and prejudice. But there’s an honest and moral core to him, chinks in his armour.
I like the way that this film creates types of characters, lets us know who they are, and then breaks them down. A man who seems devoted to his wife and who is a respected man in the community won’t lift his hand to save his spouse when it means putting his own neck at risk. A young bride who is bored gets more than she bargained for when she does come across adventure. But my favourite was Diane Cilento as Jessie, she’s kind of John Russell’s love interest, though she does more of the chasing than he does. She’s kind of cynical, having been married and widowed and running a boarding house. She’s very real somehow, with no illusions about life or people, and yet, there’s something about her that is both tough and vulnerable. She’s not the most vibrant or the most wealthy, but she has a solid core, and I really liked her scenes, especially when paired with stoic Newman.
It’s a simple film in a lot of ways. Journey from A to B which will test the mettle of those involved, characters who should be the strong ones turn out to be weak and vice versa. But the focus on each character and their development and relationships is the strength of the film. It’s the inner journey that’s more powerful and interesting than the outer one. It seems like a simple film now, but it does have great performances and some decent tension and suspense as we see characters show who they really are when set upon by bad guys and when the choice comes down to them or another.
See It If: you’ve ever been judged on social status rather than inner qualities. All the characters and performances are strong, but Newman and Cilento are really lovely.