My last post looked at a superior little film scripted by Sydney Boehm, and that writer is the common thread linking into this one. Where The Raid was rich and fairly original in terms of theme, Rough Night in Jericho (1967) is an altogether simpler and, ultimately, less rewarding experience. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie, just that the plot treads a more worn path and the characterization has less depth and complexity. Generally, it’s a picture with lower ambitions, aiming for entertainment as opposed to any notions of profundity. What is does have in its favour are unusual casting, some instances of striking photography, and a couple of first class set pieces.
The tale told here is a familiar one: a town which, through weakness, has allowed itself to succumb gradually to the tyranny of one man. The town is Jericho and the man is Alex Flood (Dean Martin), a former lawman who has come to realize that there’s a better percentage (51% to be precise) to be had in simply ruling the roost. Bit by bit, Flood has acquired a controlling interest in just about every enterprise of value in the town. The one business he has yet to muscle in on is the stage line run by Molly Lang (Jean Simmons), twice widowed and Flood’s former lover. Working on the principle of fighting fire with fire, Molly has taken on a couple of partners she hopes will prove capable of facing down Flood. These men are Ben Hickman (John McIntire) and Dolan (George Peppard), two ex-peacekeepers who also want to try and turn a profit. The movie opens with Flood ambushing the new stagecoach driven by his would-be rivals, and establishes the confrontational tone that runs throughout. When the two men limp into town the first view to greet them is a graphic illustration of Flood’s handiwork – the corpse of a man who crossed him strung up from the hanging tree. With Hickman laid up in bed in Molly’s house recuperating from a gunshot wound sustained in the ambush, Dolan is essentially on his own. He’s a gambler, a man who always does the arithmetic in his head before acting, and he dislikes the odds stacked against him. While he neither likes nor approves of Flood and his tactics, he can’t see that anything’s to be gained in taking him on. The first half of the film basically involves these two natural rivals circling each other warily without either one of them wanting to overtly provoke the other. The scales are finally tipped by two factors: Dolan’s inability to crack the stubborn resolve of his aging partner, and a crude assault on Molly by Flood’s henchmen. When the gauntlet is thrown down, Dolan is bound to a path than can only lead relentlessly to a final showdown with Flood.
Director Arnold Laven’s television credits far exceed his movie work, and I think that background is highlighted in certain aspects of Rough Night in Jericho. A large proportion of the action takes place within the confines of the town – particularly Molly’s home and Flood’s saloon – where both the filming and editing have a TV vibe about them. Whenever the characters venture out into the wilderness around Jericho there’s a far more cinematic atmosphere about it all, probably due to Russell Metty’s presence behind the camera. For the most part, Laven’s work on this picture is competent if not spectacular, though the final stalking scene in the brush is both overextended and clumsy in its editing. There are, however, two memorable sequences that raise the quality considerably. The first is a long, brutal fight between George Peppard and Slim Pickens with the weapons of choice ranging from a bullwhip to chains. Even now the scene carries some clout, and I can only wonder how audiences back in 1967 reacted to the savagery on display. The other notable scene comes towards the end when an exciting and well-staged shootout takes place in the saloon, John McIntire’s shotgun creating some particularly satisfying mayhem.
And now to the casting. Dean Martin is never going to lauded as a great actor, but his easy-going charm and natural affability meant he was never an unwelcome addition to any production. His portrayal of Alex Flood turns all expectations completely on their head though. Nearly all traces of the usual Dino persona are washed away as he plays Flood as a man without a shred of common decency. His actions right from the beginning – humiliating a deputy, orchestrating a lynching, sadistically beating a woman, back-shooting – prove there can be no doubt as to his ruthlessness. While it’s certainly a shock to see him in such an unsympathetic role I think he just about carries it off. George Peppard is also effective as the reluctant hero up against Flood and his hired killers, his mostly sombre clothes and cheroot hinting at a reference to Leone and Corbucci. John McIntire was always a reliable presence in movies, especially westerns, and his cool professionalism acts as a stabilising force here. English actress Jean Simmons had already demonstrated her ability to slot comfortably into the world of the old west with her role in The Big Country, and does so again in this film. Her tough widow is the only significant female part amid all the macho posturing and she’s perfectly credible as a frontier survivor. It has to be said though that she – along with Peppard – is involved in one of the least successful scenes in the whole movie. It’s a comic interlude that sees Molly and Dolan matching one another drink for drink before collapsing into bed. The scene isn’t especially badly played or filmed, but it’s tone is completely at odds with the rest of the picture and it draws attention to itself for all the wrong reasons.
The German DVD of Rough Night in Jericho by Koch Media has the film looking wonderful in anamorphic scope. Colour and detail levels appeared acceptably high to my eyes, and I wasn’t aware of any significant print damage. The disc offers either the original English soundtrack or a German dub – there are no subtitles to worry about. Extras consist of the trailer, a gallery and an inlay card with notes in German. At this point, I ought to mention that the film is due to go in sale in the UK at the end of this month via Pegasus. If the transfer is up to the standard of the company’s other recent Universal releases then it should represent a viable (and more economical) alternative. This is a film whose plot offers nothing new or startling to western fans, who will have seen countless variations on the tale. Nevertheless, there’s a good deal of entertainment to be had along the way, and the cast all do a perfectly satisfactory job. It’s a solid and unpretentious late-60s western whose strengths and weaknesses just about balance each other out.