Directed by H. Bruce Humberstone
Written by Kenneth Gamet
The Western genre is one of the most important in the history of cinema, or I wouldn’t be doing a crazy, years/decades long marathon of 300+ titles. It may no longer hold the esteem and popularity as it once did, but in its hay day there was a western coming out somewhere pretty much every week. It was a machine which included countless stars and notable names involved in the assembly line. As with any genre, some were larger scope, had larger stars, covered more “prestigious” topics. And just like any other genre, there are many B-movie entries as well, with secondary stars who made careers out of starring in these movies set in Arizona ghost towns that were built up specifically to support the western industry. I’ve even been a tourist in one of these old studio lots in the desert in Arizona! Randolph Scott is one of those B level stars who had a career long vacation in Arizona, occasionally trying some acting on for size.
Adam (Lester Matthews) is a lawyer heading west to Ocotillo, where he meets up with his brother John (Randolph Scott), who is a rancher there. However, nearby rancher Wick (Richard Boone) comes over to help spoil the welcome party. When Wick’s young ward Maria (Donna Martell) starts to fall for Adam’s son Howie, Wick becomes extremely jealous, hoping to have Maria for himself. Wick takes extreme measures to exact his rage and jealousy, leading to tense and violent conditions in Ocotillo. John, the hero, rises to the occasion to take on Wick and his posse of thugs (which includes an early performance from Lee Van Cleef), protecting the valley, his ranch, and his nephew from the evil Wick.
Throughout this marathon, to this point and in the future, I will be discovering some of the genre’s true classics, and in some cases revisiting them because I’ve seen them before and they’re just that good that I have to see them again. But with 300+ titles, there are also going to be a handful of films that just aren’t very good, and that’s even after tireless research to curate the list to make sure I’m hitting as many good films as possible. And I think the presence of Randolph Scott is a good enough reason for Ten Wanted Men to have made my list, as he is an important figure in the history of the genre, but there has to be many better examples I could have pulled for his career. I’ve already reviewed some of them. If memory serves, I’m not the biggest Scott fan, and this film only helps to reinforce that.
Scott is somehow the bad version of Gary Cooper. He’s a bit stoic and wooden, but lacks the same charisma and on screen presence that if often enough to carry the film. He’s not as earnest either. Cooper’s charm comes from his believability as a great guy, a true hero. Scott feels like he has a bit of an evil streak in him. And in Ten Wanted Men, he has a real phone it in type of performance. What a life, and I can’t blame him for it, but he looks and feels like he can’t wait to get back to his ranch, pool, and golf course. Not only the performance, but the film itself doesn’t really work either, going through the motions of a scenario it feels like I’ve seen so many times before. And sure, the film I reviewed just before this, The Violent Men, deals with noble rancher helping take on the valley bully, but that Glenn Ford film does it in so many more interesting ways. Not even an early look at western legend Lee Van Cleef can help elevate this from a sleepwalk viewing.
Not all can be winners, and Ten Wanted Men is just so obviously an assembly line product that looks like all the other ones just like it. It follows a formula for a reason, the formula is mostly good, and for that reason this film isn’t really all as bad as I’m making it sound, but it’s extremely disappointing. There is no passion, no buy-in from the cast to help elevate the formula above itself. Richard Boone is largely hamming it up as the villain here, but instead of fun, it just feels cringey instead. I think there are some B-westerns that are definitely diamonds in the rough, and we’ve seen a few in this marathon already, but they are B for a reason, and to find the diamonds, sometimes you really have to dig through the rough.