Quantez

Men ride longer over blood than money.

The western as a chamber piece almost seems like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it? The entire genre is built around the concept of the frontier, of space and expansion, of looking out rather than looking in. In purely physical terms, the western is at heart an outdoor creature. For all that, it’s not so difficult to find examples of the genre retreating indoors, tales withdrawing into a confined space to better facilitate their telling. Off the  top  of my head, Day of the Outlaw, Hangman’s Knot, The Secret of Convict Lake  and The Outcasts of Poker Flat are just a handful of titles adopting this approach that I’ve featured on this site. Quantez (1957) slots comfortably into this category and offers an object lesson in how to maximize the potential of a superficially narrow setup.

Quantez is a movie full of contrast and even the shape of the narrative is a reflection of this, alternating between urgency and torpor, light and dark, a flight from fear and a race towards renewal. The opening is all pace, urgency and desperation, figures in the primal landscape of the west running for their lives. That they are outlaws is soon apparent and those in pursuit are seeking justice for robbery and murder. Heller (John Larch) is the leader, a bully and sadist who is keen to build his notoriety, yet he still defers to some extent to the terse and enigmatic Gentry (Fred MacMurray), sensing perhaps that he’s in the presence of someone who can be neither bested nor intimidated. The remainder of the party is made up of Chaney (Dorothy Malone), who has the dubious honor of being Heller’s woman, a brooding young man by the name of Teach (John Gavin), and a bitterly resentful half-Apache called Gato (Sydney Chaplin).  These five are making for the town of Quantez in the hope of evading the posse on their heels. However, their arrival reveals the town as an abandoned shell of a settlement, a place whose residents have hastily vacated and which is being observed by a threatening Apache band. So, amid the dust and debris, the five fugitives in search of salvation have landed in what is in effect an anteroom, the last stop before redemption or retribution. Which is it to be? An evening of enforced confinement will eventually lead to a decisive confrontation, and for one of them at least, a form of spiritual rapprochement.

Quantez is very much the chamber piece I spoke of at the top of this piece and acts as a useful illustration of how this form can be applied successfully to a western setting. It’s the juxtaposition of perspectives which works to its overall advantage. The classic western protagonist is one who is forever in pursuit of freedom, sometimes from the constraints of the old world, and sometimes from the encroachment of civilization and its deceptive allure in the new. Who better to demonstrate this than fugitives from the law? Essentially damned by their previous actions, they are forced by circumstances into confinement, where the physical restrictions imposed give rise to heightened emotional pressure. The effects of this pressure and the increasingly powerful draw of those open vistas that are left behind, but remain tantalizingly near in the future, have the potential to produce a purer distillation of drama.

Director Harry Keller did a lot of TV work as well a string of B westerns, none of which I can claim to be familiar with. He also had a run of interesting looking features in the mid to late 1950 and only a few of those are readily available. I have seen and enjoyed Six Black Horses but Quantez is even stronger. Of course it has to be acknowledged that a good deal of what makes this movie so attractive is the visuals, and cinematographer Carl E Guthrie worked some genuine magic with his lighting and his shooting of the interiors.

I know there are those who feel Face of a Fugitive sees Fred MacMurray at his best in a western role, and it is unquestionably a fine movie with a strong central performance from the lead. Nevertheless, I’m of the opinion that Quantez tops it, and I’m especially fond of the shading MacMurray brings to his characterization of Gentry, the ultimate fugitive on the run from the law, the past and the whispers of his own conscience. He brings confidence to his movements, conveying the experience and assuredness of the character perfectly. His delivery of the dialogue is spot on too, that clipped abruptness making it seem as though the words were rushing to catch up with their meaning.

Dorothy Malone could do little wrong around this time. She had just come off an Oscar winning role for Douglas Sirk in Written on the Wind and would go on to do equally good work for the same director in The Tarnished Angels. The part of Chaney gave her an opportunity to portray a woman who has almost given up on self-respect, but not entirely – there’s still a fragile thread to cling on to. In some ways I was reminded of Claire Trevor’s fading moll in Key Largo, not least when she was enduring humiliation for her singing at the hands of John Larch. The latter manages to nail the brutal worthlessness of his character, a man who has yet to meet a moral he hasn’t spat on. While John Gavin and Sydney Chaplin essay varying degrees of good and bad with moderate success they end up somewhat overshadowed by those around them. On the other hand, James Barton is excellent as the nameless minstrel, a figure who drifts in as though from some classical tragedy and whose song and art serve to dispel some of the shadows of the past and also inspire a rebirth of sorts.

Quantez is quite widely available on DVD and there has also been a satisfactory Blu-ray release in Germany  from Koch Media. That said, it’s worth pointing out that there is a US Blu-ray in the pipeline which will feature a commentary track recorded by Toby Roan. This is a little gem of a western which remains criminally underrated. I’ve been a fan of it for ages now and I’d urge anyone who hasn’t seen it to check it out.

87 thoughts on “Quantez

  1. I can occasionally have a bit of a problem with ‘chamber pieces’, and especially in westerns as they can too easily descend into rather trite talkfests. The western needs to ‘move’ and take us into the wide open spaces.
    Fortunately there are examples where this format handles the restriction successfully and avoids that trap. “HANGMAN’S KNOT” is most definitely one and “QUANTEZ” is another. The characters are well-drawn and tension is successfully maintained throughout. I am a sucker for Fred MacMurray in westerns generally and “QUANTEZ” has to be one of his best, as good (almost anyway) as “FACE OF A FUGITIVE”.
    It is always a pleasure and a joy to read one of your pieces on the western in particular, Colin. We share a love for the genre and our favourites coincide more often than not, I have observed. I know you have not dipped your toe into series westerns’ waters much, if at all, but Harry Keller directed several of those over at Republic starring Allan ‘Rocky’ Lane which could be very entertaining.

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    • With chamber pieces, I think it all depends on how it’s executed, Jerry. If they are presented in the right way, with dialogue, and camerawork matched up to extract the maximum dramatic potential, then the results an be most satisfying. The theme here is strong, in my opinion, and the cinematography of Guthrie adds so much. As much as I like Face of a Fugitive, exerts a more powerful draw for me.

      You’re right about series westerns. I haven’t had much exposure to them and rarely feel qualified to pass comment on them.

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  2. Not seen this one but you make it sound a bit like an Elmore Leonard story, the kind we might associate with Boetticher at the time (though it doesn’t sound like Scott could or would have played the MacMurray role). Sounds great!

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    • I hadn’t thought about that. I can see how it might come across that way of course – the small, tight-knit cast characters forced to interact and the drama resulting from that. However, the perspectives are different to those in the Boetticher/Scott movies. Scott tended to be cast as a figure driven by a traumatic past towards some redemptive goal, perhaps through an ultimately abortive quest for revenge. On the other hand, MacMurray is running all the time here, seeking escape from his past and himself (even trying to lose his very identity) – the destinations sought are very different. And then Boetticher tended to use villains with a touch of ambiguity and something of their soul still intact. There’s no such ambiguity about John Larch’s character though, he’s rotten all the way through.

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  3. When I showed up Fred McMurray was flaunting Flubber. In later years I was surprised to learn of his many roles as a romantic lead and hero of action. So I missed out on all these great movies of yester yore. Thanks for bringing them back to us Colin.

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    • Fred MacMurray was a fine actor and a versatile one. He was terrific in screwball comedies with Carole Lombard in the 30s but later in his career he demonstrated that he could do dark complex roles (notably in The Caine Mutiny).

      And Dorothy Malone was pretty awesome in the 50s.

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      • MacMurray’s work in The Caine Mutiny is excellent, and brave too. It takes guts to play such a louse.

        Dorothy Malone was indeed awesome – she could do no wrong as far as I’m concerned.

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    • It’s nice to be able to appreciate actors in roles which we hadn’t realized they had played, especially if there’s quite a radical difference involved. Dick Powell’s mid-career switch, and John Payne’s too for that matter, springs to mind.

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      • I think I would add Jimmy Stewart to those names. His tough and not always heroic characters that started with “WINCHESTER 73” maybe would have taken many filmgoers of the time aback.

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        • Of course, and it was remiss of me not to have thought of him in the first place. I’d have said the darker moments, and there are a good many of those, in It’s a Wonderful Life showed where he was capable of going, but his post-war work in general is revelatory.

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        • Jerry, I have heard and read similar comments about Stweart not always playing heroic characters, but I have never found that or those performances.

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    • I’ve seen a few people complain about McMurray in Westerns and Noirs, because they only knew him from My Three Sons.
      As I’ve never seen that show (I’m not really into family sitcoms/shows) and would give a wide berth to Son of Flubber, I never had a problem with him in either romantic or tough roles.

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      • You know, I’ve seen people insist that Robert Taylor didn’t belong in westerns, which I think is an inexplicable position to adopt. That said, I do know that I have been guilty myself in the past of declaiming that actor A had no business playing a role in genre B based on some preconceived notion I’d cooked up. I’ve weaned myself off that kind of didactic posturing over the years though as it’s nonsense really when one stops to think about it and there’s little to be gained from trying to evaluate anything unless its taken on its own terms.

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          • Robert Taylor is really good in Westerns. Starting with Ambush (a favorite), I really like him in Westward the Women, The Hangman, The Law and Jake Wade and at his most despicable in The Last Hunt. All worth seeking out.

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              • Of course everybody will respond to film in different ways, but I have to say that both Taylor and Granger did some of their very strongest work on that picture and the depiction of the diverging ethical and spiritual paths undertaken by their characters could hardly be bettered.
                The movie, to me anyway, has great power and while aspects of it are tough and unpleasant, there is genuine beauty in its thematic pursuit of redemption and the reestablishment of personal integrity. It might be the best thing Richard Brooks ever did.

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  4. If you tell me MacMurray tops Face of a Fugitive here, I take that word to be sacrosanct. There are times, in the quiet of a night when the chamber western is what is called for and I now have something “new.”
    James Barton, eh? How Yellow Sky of them.
    MacMurray always convinces me whether it is comedy or drama. I attribute this to his beginnings as a musician; he knows how to play the notes on the page as they should be, plus how to improvise when needed.

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    • Is Quantez better than Face of a Fugitive? As someone once said, I’d hate to have to live on the difference, but I can only say that my response to the former is always a touch deeper and therefore it shades it for me. Others may disagree and that’s fine as the movies aren’t in competition and besides, what speaks more urgently to one viewer may whisper more softly to another.
      For those unfamiliar with the movie, the trailer is worth a look, even if it is a little murky:

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  5. From memory, I enjoyed Face Of A Fugitive better as it was fast moving. Will find the time to watch them later. Remembered, it was at the spur of the moment to watch a movie my Dad in haste found Quantez to be showing in one of the theatres then. After booking the tickets and to our utter dismay, it was Rock Around The Clock instead! The advert in the newspaper for Quantez was splashed very prominently in the newspaper, but it was for screening the next day and my Dad missed it!

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  6. Colin
    I would agree with Mister Murtha with his pick of Allen H. Miner’s GHOST TOWN as a similar film. I would also throw in THE PROUD ONES 1956 as a film with a QUANTEZ confined like feel.

    Gord

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  7. Another very fine review, Colin and I have added the movie to my list of must-haves. Nearly all my favourite Westerns feature much use of rugged landscapes and scenes of hard riding. The chamber pieces present the Director with special challenges and can only work if all the elements – direction, script, acting and cinematography – are very good. Sounds like Quantez achieves the challenging melding of elements very well. Chamber Westerns have a lot in common with those movies which see a desperate criminal on the run invade the home of ordinary good folks. I’ve always wondered (heresy follows) whether High Noon was really a Western because almost all of its action was confined indoors or to a few town streets. I think it could equally have been set in the 20th Century, rather like Bad Day at Black Rock. But then I think that latter movie is really a Western …

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      • The film’s title ‘Bad Day at Black Rock’ screams out this movie has got to be a western. But, that is as far as it goes for me. In other words…….’Hicksville USA’, that would not even show up on a map if it weren’t for a post office and rarely used whistle stop.

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  8. Colin
    Another two westerns could be classified as chamber westerns, Apache Territory (Calhoun) and Only The Valiant (Peck). Best regards.

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  9. Weekend watching for Sunday will be 1971’s MAN IN THE WILDERNESS, with Richard Harris and John Huston. I saw this at the drive-in cinema back in the day on a double bill with A MAN CALLED HORSE. To be honest, I really do not recall much of either film. We always snuck in a couple dozen beer in with us. I sure miss drive-ins.
    Gord

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  10. Scott
    The last couple years of high school, drive ins were the “in” place to take your dolly for a date. Girls, beer and movies! LOL You were right about the films, they were generally the last reason we went.
    Gord

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  11. Face of a Fugitive was based on a short story by Peter Dawson ( the brother of famous western author Luke Short ) called “Long Gone” and was a much tighter and ambiguous piece , in it the MacMurray character was really a bad lot on the run from a botched hold up and only redeemed himself when he saved a .young lawman to fight off the villains in the climatic gunfight for reasons he himself didn’t really understand, dying in the process. This scene is used in the Film without MacMurray being killed but
    actually this is similar to MacMurray’s end in “Quantez” when he is killed saving Gavin and malone

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  12. A year or two ago, someone here said they were looking for 1960s PASSPORT TO CHINA with Richard Basehart. The film is up on You-Tube right now. Type in PASSPORT TO CHINA or VISA TO CANTON and it will pop up.

    Gord

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  13. Last night I caught a one off series pilot from 1957 called CHICAGO 2-1-2. Frank Lovejoy plays an investigator for the Chicago Fire Department. There has been a string of arsons in a small rundown area of the city. Lovejoy is sent in to have a look, he soon has a suspect, Roy Thinnes, but he needs to catch the rat in action. Not great, but not bad either. Of note here is the crew. Big screen director Norm Foster (KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS) helms the episode while 2 time Oscar nominated Bert (STAGECOACH) Glennon is the cinematographer.

    Gord.

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    • Sounds interesting. Coincidentally, I rewatched Lovejoy, along with Glenn Ford, in William Castle’s The Americano the other day with a view to a possible write up. Lovejoy was one of the best things in it, but I have to say I found it a lot less satisfying than I remembered.

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  14. People
    Has any of you every seen the Henry King and Tyrone Power film from 1955 called, UNTAMED? It is a big budget outdoor adventure set in the 1850s in South Africa. The cast includes Susan Hayward and Richard Egan. A bunch of Boer and Irish settlers head off to homestead in the interior. Of course nature, the Zulus and a love triangle muddy the waters. Been a long, long time since I saw it, but I recall liking it. Just wondering if any of you good folks had a take on it.

    Gord

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  15. Late in the day here but better late than never as they say.
    Firstly I enjoyed Colin’s piece on “Chamber Westerns” and the aforementioned GHOST TOWN certainly fits that description. Heresy,no doubt but I thought Colin’s review actually better than the film deserves-the section in the ghost town drags on forever despite a stellar opening and closing section in the wide open spaces. I liked Carl Guthrie’s natural lighting of the interiors it’s almost as if Bruce Surtees and Clint Eastwood used Guthrie’s lighting as a template on how they wanted their Westerns to look.

    Re THE AMERICANO it was oiriginally going to star Glenn Ford and Arthur Kennedy with Budd Boetticher directing-what a different picture
    that would have been.

    UNTAMED was a big budget Fox CinemaScope picture and has Western elements especially the gunfight at the film’s climax-pretty entertaining
    big on set pieces. I understand George Sherman used stock footage from UNTAMED in his South African Western THE FIERCEST HEART with Stuart Whitman. THE FIERCEST HEART remains unseen for years and is not available on DVD or Blu Ray although it’s the sort of picture Talking Pictures TV (UK) might show with their newly minted deal with Fox. I dread to think how Talking Pictures will show THE FIERCEST HEART a horrible pan & scan like their recent THE CANADIANS which was horrendous to say the least. There is no excuse for showing these 4×3 pan & scan horrors in this day and age of the widescreen TV-in fact I’d rather they never showed them at all. Fox CinemaScope films like THE CANADIANS,THE FIERCEST HEART and SIERRA BARON need to be remastered and released on Blu-ray.

    Fred’s Fox 50’s Western THE OREGON TRAIL gets a lot of flak but it’s not as bad as it’s reputation-a most capable cast I might add. The Spanish DVD from several years back was lovely and shows the film in a most appealing transfer-one of many rare Fox titles released by the Spanish Impulso label and not “bootlegs” I might add.

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    • Great to hear from you, John, as always. Impulso in Spain had some great releases, hard to find movies, at the time anyway, and frequently in good quality transfers. There were a few non-anamorphic ‘Scope titles but, for the most part, their output was fine.
      As for TPTV and the like, I think those less than ideal screenings of chopped down ‘Scope movies is a result of the copies supplied to them rather than a conscious choice on their part, at least I would assume that’s the case. I agree though, that kind of viewing is not to be recommended.

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  16. Just been checking Talking Pictures forthcoming films and there’s a pretty rare British B movie THE WAY OUT (1956) with Mona Freeman and Gene Nelson a superior example of it’s type with a top notch supporting cast. Have not seen this one in ages but I do remember a nice shot of Mona boarding a 38 bus,or something like that. For lovers of Brit B flicks with Hollywood stars THE WAY OUT is a must see.

    Thankfully TPTV’s serial Flash Gordon is nearing it’s end…Thank God. I never was a Flash man and never understood all those ridiculous costumes-feathers in hats and the like. Talking Pictures next serial is far more up my street-one of the very best in fact RADAR MEN FROM THE MOON from Republic with the one and only George Wallace as the one & only Commander Cody-dang me that cat was so cool they even named a 60’s/70’s Country Rock/Western Swing band after him!

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    • I was a big fan of the Flash Gordon serials when I was a youngster, but I suppose whether or not that kind of thing works for you is dependent on the age one is when first viewed.

      I hope I get the chance to catch up with The Way Out AKA Dial 999 at some point. I do like British crime movies of the era quite a lot, and I think director Montgomery Tully deserves a bit more credit than he gets.

      BTW, for those not aware of it, and I hope he doesn’t mind my drawing attention to it here, John recently recorded a very entertaining podcast on Alfred L Werker for Western Movies:

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Colin-as if I would mind you drawing people’s attention to the podcast I did with Vincent at Western Movies France, thanks so much for that.
    I agree Montgomery Tully is underrated he did those B films so well and THE WAY OUT is certainly one of his very best. I still have not been able to track down MAN IN THE SHADOW with Zachary Scott and Faith Domergue which again is reputed to be superior of it’s type.
    Note: Jack Arnold’s MAN IN THE SHADOW was titled PAY THE DEVIL in the UK and Montgomery Tully’s MAN IN THE SHADOW was titled VIOLENT STRANGER in the USA.
    Colin – I guess you are aware that Network are releasing all 39 episodes of the TV series DIAL 999 with Robert Beatty. This series was ahead of its time with its gritty location work and the pilot episode directed by Alvin Rakoff with real energy corralled virtually every British character actor-wonderful London location work as well.

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    • I had heard about that Network release, or read about it, but it had completely slipped my mind – thanks so much for the reminder and it’s now going on my Network wish list to be picked up at a later date.

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      • My order for the Network release of the “DIAL 999” TV series is already in! That has long been a ‘wish’ for me and Network has delivered. Now, if only “FABIAN OF THE YARD” could get the same treatment…..

        Good to see you back in force, John.

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          • Knowing Network, Colin, I would say there is every likelihood that the p.q. will be very good. I remember watching the series 1959-60 on TV and really enjoying it at the time.
            I will gladly report back. Should be here in a couple of weeks or so hopefully.

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  18. John, Jerry, Colin and everyone else
    Top news about DIAL 999. I have 7-8 weather-beaten episodes on dvd-r here somewhere. An excellent police series for my money. Jerry I watched an episode of “FABIAN OF THE YARD” about a month ago that I found on You-Tube. I would like to see some more.
    Have a good week all.
    Gord

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    • Hi Gord,
      Yes, I have those same weather-beaten episodes. It will be great to see them as they should look.

      As far as I know there are 5 episodes of the 39-episode “FABIAN” series available. Quality varies but I am pleased to have them. A restoration of all 39 would be terrific. I used to see most of the series on UK TV as a small kid 1954-56 and absolutely loved it at the time. If only for all the London locations of the time it would be great to see them all again.

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      • Hi there Laura……

        Something that you once mentioned on your blog has been gnawing at me for quite awhile now. Only you can put a close to this mystery. Therefore, I submit to you…………who was it that resembled your HARRY WOODS lookalike? Thank you.

        Pardon me for cutting in on both you and Colin regarding Mark’s passing, but I didn’t want to leave the living before putting this to rest.

        Scott

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        • Hi Scott! I believe I was confusing Harry Woods and Glenn Strange, if that’s what you’re referring to…if you Google pictures of them, with mustaches, thick eyebrows, and cowboy hats it’s kinda hard for me to tell sometimes!

          Best wishes,
          Laura

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          • Thanks Laura for clearing that up. Yes, see what you mean about a Glenn Strange of the 30’s. For me, I kind of thought Jack Holt of the 20’s and 30’s mixed me up a bit at times. He too had that villainous staunch granite-jawed look.

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  19. Pingback: Ambush at Tomahawk Gap | Riding the High Country

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