Written & Directed by James Edward Grant
John Wayne may not yet be a star in Westerns, with the majority of his noteworthy films yet to come in this marathon, save Stagecoach, but that didn’t stop him from producing one here: Angel and the Badman. Seeing The Duke in front of the camera is often electric, but I would have never thought about his ability behind it. I’m not sure the background for this project, which is written/directed by James Edward Grant. Did Grant come to Wayne? Wayne to Grant? Was this just a film the studio system didn’t feel as strongly as Wayne did? Whatever the case may be, I can’t say I know what influence Wayne had on the film behind the camera, only in front of it. And he is his usual self of course, which makes it plenty watchable, which is about all I ask for going into these numerous western titles.
Quirt Evans (John Wayne) is on the run from the law, tirelessly traversing the western landscape until neither her, nor his horse can continue on. Collapsing at the house of a devout Quaker family, they nurse him back to health, outlaw or not. But when Quirt finally awakes, he soon falls in love with the daughter of the family, Penelope (Gail Russell), which throws a wrench in his plans. He has an ongoing feud with fellow outlaw Laredo (Bruce Cabot), which is monitored closely by the marshal (Harry Carey), but will Quirt go back to his evil, sinning ways, or will he find himself a reformed man, capable of once again being a good man?
If you were looking for a rowdy shootout western featuring John Wayne, this is not the one for you. Angel and the Badman doesn’t feature much in the way of action or even all that much mystique. It really does feel like a fairly cheaply made film, with not much in the way of production values. However, this is not a film fueled by its visual aesthetic. Rather, it is narratively very strong. The reformed outlaw is not a unique story line, in fact we will see it numerous more times I am sure, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting or compelling, especially when that outlaw is played by John Wayne. Admittedly, Wayne is not at his best here, but his charisma is still perfectly evident.
The themes of the western were one of the many things that drew me to embarking on this marathon, and I have discovered and covered a lot of different themes already in the process. With Angel and the Badman, the theme of reformation is on display here. I am not sure I remember whether we learn of why the Worth family has traveled west, but I can surmise that Quirt at least has fallen into the lawlessness of the land in his journey there. In My Darling Clementine, I talked about how Henry Fonda’s character is working to bring civilization to the land while awaiting his revenge. Here, the same can be said of the Worth’s, as they hold themselves to a higher standard than the territory holds itself to. Their altruism represents a part of the Western past that often gets overlooked for the more flashy and exciting outlaw history that is so often highlighted and glorified by westerns.
By that same token, the transformation of Quirt is a fascinating character arc. This is not your typical good versus evil, where one wins and the other loses. Instead this is evil becoming good. The evil is extinguished in a different, more humane way. It’s a good change of pace from much of what this marathon has been and will be. I can’t say I’m pining to see more of these types of tales, I think I prefer the bad outlaw versus the good lawman stories, but as a reprieve, Angel and the Badman is both a refreshing style change and a well made, entertaining film.