Violence and piety are twin impulses in the American frontier, the annual mass takes place on the eve of a mass hanging. "Your prayers will help them," the padre says, but the stranger with "the face of a hunter” (Gregory Peck) isn’t listening. Leon Shamroy’s cinematography has a fine coup, an icy-steel blue filter to imbue day-for-night images with the almost supernatural light that unmasks the sham executioner (Curly-to-be Joe DeRita) and frees the outlaw quartet. Peck’s wife has been raped and murdered, the homesteader turns vigilante and follows the fugitives into the desert; Stephen Boyd strokes his rifle barrel while mentally undressing their hostage (Kathleen Gallant), Albert Salmi and Lee Van Cleef are fellow sinners, Henry Silva has taciturn Indian wisdom ("You’ll never hear the shot that kills you"). There are absurdities -- Joan Collins in rancher duds, or a church, in the middle of an arid small burg, that’s as big as the Vatican and where every white gown in the 200-boy choir has been washed the day before -- yet Henry King’s stroll into Anthony Mann Country is a stronger, more limber, more complex Western than The Gunfighter. The landscape is a series of parched vistas, the ride is a descent with pit stops like the forest with its hanging trees, and Gene Evans’ adobe cabin with its dark secrets under broad daylight. Across the border Peck confronts Boyd at the cantina (where Leone got the For a Few Dollar More pocket watch, assuredly) but is unmoored by revelation at Silva’s family home. It’s about ingrown rage, persecution, doubt, the crackup of the cowboy: The Fifties and today, in other words, with the hero, shamed and drained, emerging into applause for the loss of his humanity. Written by Philip Yordan. With Barry Coe, George Voskovec, Herbert Rudley, Andrew Duggan, and Ken Scott.
--- Fernando F. Croce