Movie Review – Warlock (1959)

Director: Edward Dmytryk

Stars: Richard Widmark, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Dorothy Malone, Dolores Michaels, Tom Drake, DeForest Kelley

The small town of Warlock is being hounded by outlaws. After losing deputy sheriffs at an alarming rate they hire a renowned gunslinger, Clay Blaisedell (Fonda) who comes with his friend Tom Morgan (Quinn). After this, one of the outlaws, Johnny Gannon (Widmark), takes up position of deputy sheriff and forms an uneasy truce with Blaisedell, because although the gunslinger helped out the town he was technically doing it against the law.

There’s a lot going on in Warlock and it highlights some of the conventions of the genre. Blaisedell is the weary gunslinger, well versed in the way of his life. As soon as he gets into town he tells them that although they see him as a hero they’ll eventually come to resent him, as that’s the way it always goes. It’s quite a deconstruction of the Western hero as usually he’s accompanied by great fanfare. His friendship with Morgan is complex and both actors do well showing the changing fortunes of their characters. My favourite arc was that of Johnny Gannon, who finds himself the last hope for the law. He came across as earnest without being weak and held his own against Blaisedell, who naturally had more of an edge to him.

Because of all these plot elements, for there are a couple of romances thrown in as well as a woman from Morgan and Blaisedell’s past, the film can be jarring at times. There are a lot of moving pieces and I feel it could have been streamlined. The romances are very shallow and some of the decisions at the end feel abrupt, like Blaisedell’s change of heart. There are some good shoot outs though as well as gorgeous scenery. The townspeople are a character en masse, and I liked how they wanted the law but felt they had to turn outside of it when the law let them down. There was some nice imagery as well, particularly the names of the sheriffs carved into the wall, with most of them marked with an ‘x’. It also holds some personal interest for me as the Star Trek actor DeForest Kelley makes a good appearance.

Although it can feel disjointed at times I think Warlock is a good Western that doesn’t simply play up to the myth of the gunslinger. It doesn’t develop all the aspects as well as I would have liked but it gets my recommendation.

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