Directed by Rudolph Mate
Written by Harry Kleiner
Coming off the violence, assumed or not, of Vera Cruz, and into a movie titled The Violent Men, I start to wonder whether there is a notable turn in the western genre oncoming which will shift away from the fun sort traditional western dramatic style into a more hardened, grimy, violent era for film. Starring Edward G. Robinson, notable gangster film star, and the always wonderfully grimy Barbara Stanwyck , The Violent Men also features a newcomer (I believe) to this marathon in star Glenn Ford. But I will say that after seeing the film, the open violence is not a theme that really comes up, but much like Vera Cruz before it, there is an undercurrent of rage in the title character which comes up and rears its head. So while there may not be the gruesome violence directly on screen, there are some really stirring and unsettling things that happen throughout the film, which continue the narrative of a little more mature direction for the genre.
The Wilkison “Anchor” Ranch is the dominant land bearer in the valley, using the persuasion and might of its patriarch Lew (Edward G. Robinson), who after a leg injury has called upon his brother Cole (Brian Keith) and wife Martha (Barbara Stanwyck) to help him rule his empire. John Parrish (Glenn Ford) is a neighboring rancher who came to the valley to heal after a wartime injury. Now healthy again, he sets his sights on selling to Wilkison, despite the urgings of other ranchers against providing Anchor even more ammunition, and move back East. But after an insulting offer, and a series of events which offend him deeply, the former Army captain employs his farmhands to exact revenge and bring justice back to the valley.
Having not seen Glenn Ford in this marathon previous, I didn’t know quite what to expect not only from his performance, but also the film in general. Seeing that Robinson and Stanwyck were cast alongside him certainly gave me a sense of hope and heightened expectation, but nothing is ever guaranteed of course. I must say, I was quite taken by Ford as a leading man in this western. Certainly the character does a lot of the work. He is a principled man who is non-violent in his dealings, looking out for himself and his own well being while building his ranch up, treating his hands fairly, and not looking to start any kind of fight where he doesn’t have a dog in the race. Ford is charismatic and assured in his performance, flipping the switch as his character needs midway through the film, going from passive observer to alpha leader just like that. Ford’s performance has me very excited to observe his progression through the genre, as it is one of the highlights of The Violent Men.
It takes a lot to overshadow the likes of Robinson and Stanwyck, but Ford accomplishes this. But the cast all around is quite good, a definite strength of the film. The plotting and execution is also a cut above the standard fare. The main premise may well be a very well-trodden, traditional set-up: noble rancher stands up to bullying land baron when he stands to not gain anything from his nobility, but in this instance, it’s really well executed and believable. Parrish is a complex character, with various motives. He sees his neighbors, new as they may be for a man who has only come to the valley recently to help heal himself, and sees they need his help, they need a leader who will advocate for their needs and wants, their basic rights. Standing up to a bully is no easy task, but I think Robinson’s performance is layered as well, with the drama between his wife and brother expertly handled by Mate.
Principally a cinematographer, Mate made a number of sort of B-level productions as a director in his career, and while I’ve only also seen noir classic Union Station, he seems like a craftsman type filmmaker, a hired hand who can capably deliver the goods when the goods are delivered to him. With The Violent Men, he gets a good script, and executes it well, getting wonderful performances from his cast, and using his cinematography background to capture the town and the valley in wonderful technicolor. He has a great sense of time and place, spacing and choreography to execute some of the action and confrontation scenes in The Violent Men. It’s not a film you hear an awful lot about, and doesn’t get uttered in the same breath as the genre classics, but The Violent Men is a quality western and one worth seeking out. It gets the job done and is well worth your time.