Red Mountain

One of the reasons I started this site many years ago was the opportunity it afforded me to write on and maybe draw some attention to movies (many of which happened to be westerns) that appeared to  have slipped between the cracks and drifted into relative obscurity. That wasn’t the only reason of course, but it was certainly a signficant one. Over time I’ve tried to broaden my base and mix up my content in a way that pleases me and, I hope, engages and attracts a wide range of visitors. Red Mountain (1951) could be seen as a return to my blogging roots in a sense as it is the type of movie I had in mind at the outset, a western with a big name star and directed by a well regarded filmmaker, with some equally impressive names among the crew, but one which rarely gets mentioned.

This is a fanciful tale, one likely to drive the history buffs crazy as it plays fast and loose with historical facts. However, we’re talking about movies here, where artistic license should be granted and where minor matters such as accuracy and fidelity to the known facts are of no more than incidental interest. It opens well, with a faceless killer shooting down an assayer in the town of Broken Bow, the assailant recognizable only by the spurs on his boots. It would seem likely at this stage that we would see a tale focusing on the hunt for this anonymous gunman, and that does appear to be the direction we’re headed in, not least when an innocent man is accused and a vengeful posse summoned. That innocent man is Lane Waldron (Arthur Kennedy), one on whom suspicion is heaped not only because he had been seen in the vicinity but largely because he was once a soldier of the Confederacy and these are the dying days of the Civil War. The townsmen all regard him as a potential traitor and are only too willing to set out with the aim of lynching this interloper. Indeed he comes within a hair’s breadth of this fate but is spared when Brett Sherwood (Alan Ladd) breaks up the party and rescues the happless Waldron. Sherwood is the real killer of the assayer – this is only confirmed right at the end of the movie but it’s acknowledged quite early on in proceedings – and his feelings of guilt and responsibility for Waldron, and later some stronger feelings for the latter’s woman Chris (Lizabeth Scott), drive the plot. All of this is intensified when the infamous Quantrill (John Ireland) comes on the scene. The notorious guerilla leader is in the process of stirring up unrest among the Indian tribes, starting with the Utes, with the aim of opening a new front in the west, one with the potential to derail the Union march towards victory.

One doesn’t think of German director William Dieterle as a natural for  westerns. That said, there’s no earthly reason why we should exclude someone like this – the beauty of the western as a genre is its malleability and the kind of inclusiveness it bred among filmmakers where so many diverse types were able to make strong and successful contributions. That Old West setting was the ideal backdrop for so many tales, a largely untouched landscape invested with enough opportunity and presenting so many physial and ethical challenges that almost any human drama was enhanced when it played out there. Dieterle (who apparently was replaced for a time by an uncredited John Farrow due to ill health) uses the New Mexico locations well, presenting a similar view to that pioneered by John Ford with the vast and imposing natural features framing the conflicts dramatically and simultaneously suggesting their relative lack of consequence in the grand scheme – those towering hills and cliffs and endless horizons prevail and gaze impassively on the petty squabbles acted out in the their shadows and dwarfed by their permanence. Charles Lang’s cinematography makes the most of the natural beauty and is equally effective in the numerous night time shots. The driving and powerful (perhaps occasionally overpowering) score by Franz Waxman adds urgency and also complements some of the grimmer moments in the film.

Red Mountain was the third western for Alan Ladd, following on successfully from Whispering Smith and Branded and paving the way for his signature role in the timeless Shane. While I’m not entirely convinced by some of the writing and characterization in this film, I can’t say that any of that affects the quality of the performances. Ladd’s star was still in the ascendency at this point and he was tremendously good at tapping into the growing uncertainty of his character; there’s a touch of ambiguity there too but it’s the burgeoning sense of unease at the path chosen, the war raging within his own soul, which impresses most.

In contrast, Lizabeth Scott’s career had already peaked and  a few years later any chance of reviving it would be torpedoed by the disgraceful actions of Confidential magazine. She handles her part as the embittered victim of Quantrill’s razing of Lawrence, Kansas with assurance. She is sometimes regarded as a film noir actress first and foremost, and she has some stellar credits in that genre to back that view up, but her work in this film and Silver Lode is just fine as far as I am concerned. Arthur Kennedy fades a little as the story develops, a strong start sees him squaring off against Ladd but his character’s injury sees him sidelined to some extent and the writing I mentioned above does him no favors. John Ireland’s Quantrill offers an interesting study in fanaticism. I particularly appreciated the actors physicality here, using a kind of stiff discomfort to great effect, suggesting a man aware of his own unhinged nature and struggling with some moral straitjacket of his own design. There are also welcome if limited supporting roles for Whit Bissell, Neville Brand and Jeff Corey.

I’m not sure if Red Mountain has received an official release anywhere, which is a pity as the movie has a good deal to recommend it. It represents a strong entry in the filmography of Alan Ladd as he was building his credentials as a western hero and it also adds another layer to the Hollywood work of William Dieterle. Frankly, it’s the kind of film that would look just dandy on Blu-ray if it were given a bit of a clean up. I’d like to think that might happen one day.

61 thoughts on “Red Mountain

  1. It is always welcome with me to see you return to a review of a western, Colin, and the one you have chosen is a film I like a lot. 1951 was a good year for the western and this film lives up to expectations.

    As you say, there is quite a lot of night-time setting and Charles Lang does a great job with the lighting so that it is never too dark to see action clearly. A fine cast in my book – Ladd still at his peak, Ireland and Kennedy both good character actors and Lizabeth Scott. I also tend to see her as a ‘noir’ specialist mainly but she is just fine here.

    I have a Spanish release which presents the film in fine picture and sound quality.

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  2. I’m glad that you reviewed “Red Mountain”, Colin as I have long been intrigued with this film because of its cast and crew. I think the fact that it has been totally ignored by the critics dampened my enthusiasm towards it. However, I found a decent print online and, with your positive review, I’m going to watch it in the near future. As far as William Dieterle is concerned, I’ll always hold him in esteem for his magnificent “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”.

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  3. I’ve added this to my “Must Find” list, Colin, on the strength of the cast alone. I always find Ladd very watchable and am a big fan of Kennedy, starting from when I first saw him in the Mann/Stewart movies (BEND OF THE RIVER was released the year after Red Mountain) and moving on to several other roles he played convincingly. My estimation of Scott has risen in recent years, seeming now to me an actress of some skill. That view was strengthened when I recently saw her in THE WEAPON, a Val Guest thriller from 1956, where she successfully plays against her femme fatale persona. Must track down more information on your reference to the destruction of her career, though I have a feeling what the articles were about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope you manage to track down the film, Steve, and I think it would be something that would appeal to you.
      I recently picked up the new Blu-ray of The Weapon myself, which is a pretty good movie. Like yourself, I have come to enjoy Lizabeth Scott’s work more over time. It’s not difficult to find out what that publicity was about, although I’m not going to rehash it here.

      Liked by 1 person

    • He took to the genre very naturally and made a fair number. Some are obviously better than others and the earlier ones benefit from the fact his general health was stronger and so on, but all those I have seen have their good points.

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  4. Colin

    Nice review as always my good man. Saw it many moons ago so it needs a re-watch. I see it is up on ok.ru so i should get to it in a week or so. One of the few films where Ladd did not use pal John F. Seitz as the cinematographer. Seitz shot 21 of Ladd’s films.

    Again, well done Colin
    Gord

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Western2017 as you are a Kennedy fan, catch him in The Man From Laramie and Rancho Notorius (the latter with Marlene Dietrich). Colin did a review of the latter some time ago.

    Liked by 1 person

      • westerns2017……..Wow!!! So a big fan of Arthur Kennedy and not seen RANCHO NOTORIOUS. Well……you are in for a big treat. In Rancho, he’s got the male lead, central to the plot and is quite good. I consider Rancho his best effort in a western. Tell us what you think.

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          • I also liked Arthur Kennedy in “Champion”, “Peyton Place”, “Some Came Running”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Nevada Smith”, “The Glass Menagerie”, “They Died with Their Boots On”, and “Elmer Gantry”. I didn’t like his cameo in “Cheyanne Autumn” but that’s because, in my opinion, it’s an ill-conceived scene. I know we have to take the Academy Awards with a grain of salt, but it is impressive that Kennedy was nominated five times for best-supporting actor or best actor. I loved him in his two movies with Anthony Mann especially in “The Man from Laramie”. He wasn’t nominated for an oscar but to me, this is his best performance.

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            • The characterization in The Man from Laramie is very affecting, there’s genuine tragedy on display there and Kennedy gets that aspect over very successfully.
              I too have problems with that interlude in Cheyenne Autumn. I think I understand what Ford was trying to do with it but that doesn’t mean I like it any better.

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              • Yes, I understand that Ford often interjects humor into his serious films. Some say he does this in, say, “The Searchers” to give some relief to the unrelenting tension of the film. Sometimes it works but sometimes it makes me wince. I think some of the subtle humor in “Wagon Master” is near perfect. But I can do without Charlie McCrory and the brawling in “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon”. But I love both movies and have always considered “The Searchers” to be a masterpiece.

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                • I know that Ford’s sense of humor and his use of it movies is not to everyone’s taste – is anyhting really more subjective than humor anyway? For the most part, I’m fine with it though I find it blends in satisfactorily. But the sequence in Cheyenne Autumn is a misstep in my view – it comes out of nowhere essentially, introduces unnecessary characters, and goes on too long. It just does not work for me.

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              • That’s harsh, Barry. Whatever one’s feelings on the effectiveness of the movie or the casting, and I’ve come across criticism of both, I think it’s unfair to describe it as pretentious. Let’s face it, Ford was one of the greatest of all directors and he had almost 50 years of work behind him at that time, much of it highly acclaimed at that. I don’t reckon he needed to be pretentious by that stage, if ever.

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                • Colin, he was done, and I am not reviewing his career, but in the thirties self, conscious arty pretensions were all over the place in Ford’s work. Check out Mary of Scotland. As for Cheyenne Autumn, I stand by my comment, and to make the film worse, Widmark’s part was prepared for John Wayne, who while still a social friend of Ford, would not work for him again after Donovan’s Reef. Widmark was awful, Karl Malden beyond that, and it took forever although, in this brief moment or two as Secretary Stanton, Edward G. Robinson managed to bring a little life to the screen, so add him to Kennedy and James Stewart.

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                • A final thought regarding Ford’s pretension; they were the product of both old age and the subject matter, neither of which, and I am older now the Ford when he died, matter at all. On a personal note, where would any of us be, in the entire free world, had the landmass known as the United States not been settled and developed by the people who prevailed? The Americans, as just a single example, stayed clear of the Second World War until they were personally and pointlessly attacked. So from September 1939 through December 7, 1941, the allies got the crap beat out of them because we inNorth America was too sweet and good to participate. Then the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor happened and ultimately the world was saved. The idiotic peace movement goes back to General Mitchell in the 1920′, proposing AirPower. for his insight, he was court-martialed and turfed from the service. As for the film, Ford was a helpless old drunk in failing health by this time, and throughout his life, that drunkenness was a constant.

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  6. Watched the first two of this weekend’s trio of films. First was the Restored version of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY. It was a nice sharp looking print that I had recorded off TCM a week or so ago.

    Then I took in RIFIFI 1955 for the first time ever. What a hell of a noir! The perfect plan of course turns out to be anything but. The heist bit was brilliant with nary a word spoken for a good 20 minutes! Wow!!!!!!!

    Gord

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    • The heist sequence from Dassin’s movie is celebrated and justifiably so – tense and absorbing, superb filmmaking.

      I take it the restored version of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly is the extended one? I didn’t think the added footage was of much value last time I saw it and, in all honesty, the newly recorded dialogue jarred a little, especially with Eli Wallach sounding so much older.

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      • Colin
        There were a few bits of film I do not recall from previous viewings. LOL! I thought the same thing in regard to Wallach sounding slightly diff.

        As for Dassin, American films, THE NAKED CITY and BRUTE FORCE. UK film, NIGHT AND THE CITY and a French production, all superb films. How many directors can say that..

        Liked by 1 person

        • “Night and the City” is my favorite film-noir. It’s simply a great, great film. I love the scene where Googie Withers begs a dead Phil (Francis L. Sullivan ) to take her back and then Molly the Flower Lady emerges from out of the dark drinking whiskey to inform her that Phil has left everything to her. That was scary! And of course, the wrestling scene between “The Strangler” (Mike Mazurki) and Gregorius (Stanislaus Zbyszko) is brilliantly staged — it’s one of the best “fight” scenes in the movies.

          I recommend two other French films — “Touchez Pas au Grisbi” which is also about gangsters and an escape movie called “Le Trou”. Both are directed by Jacques Becker. The great director Jean-Pierre Melville called Le Trou “the greatest French film of all time.

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I watched “Red Mountain”. It held my interest but in the end, it just didn’t click for me. But I’m glad I watched it because I’d always be wondering about what I missed. I liked Jeff Corey’s in his small role and it was fun to see Whit Bissell in high octane mode. I also liked Francis McDonald as the sheriff. Waxman’s score got on my nerves at times. There were a lot of moving pieces (the love triangle, conflicted loyalties, Quantrill, Indians, the posse, the gold) that resulted in rather a choppy ride. And I really wish the calvary didn’t come to the rescue at the end. But this is just my subjective take and I can see where other viewers would find “Red Mountain” an engaging film.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found it engaging overall, but I also agree with your criticisms. The writing is where some problems arise – there is arguably too much packed in and consequently not enough time available to deal with all of it satisfactorily. It started off quite tight and it might have been better if that narrower focus had been maintained.

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    • “A choppy ride”, indeed, is pretty much the way I see it too, Frank. They chopped it up to the point of relegating Arthur Kennedy’s character to little words and stupid looks to remind us he was still there. I don’t know, the story seemed to have potential, but lacked continuity on screen. For me, the single offering that held this movie together was the awesome daunting picturesque cinematography and camera work of Charles Lang,…….a good thing he and the landscapes came along for the ride.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I remember liking this one. You’re right about it looking dandy, nice use of the gorgeous locations and almost even better, choosing to focus on all those fascinating faces. To a friend who was into noirs but not westerns, I would always say they were not that dissimilar, and this one is a decent example of that. You get some noir regulars here, with juicy moral dilemmas and thrilling showdowns. Engaging for sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fascinating faces is a nice way of expressing what is on offer. I think a lot of actors of this era were blessed with the kind of features that coud be described in just such a way – glamorous in many cases but not in a bland way.
      While I don’t think this qualifies as a western noir I agree that the cast, the themes explored and the issues raised should catch the interest of viewers who are into noir. So if it isn’t exactly a crossover, it could be said to contain crossover appeal.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes well put, not a western noir but a nice entry point for anyone needing something familiar. Tangent here, but it’s an interesting subject, where and how and to what end do noir and western intersect. It’s cool to slap the noir label on many things but with the western being mostly a law/order/justice/good or redeemed guy genre, seems to me it only gets noir-ish the more it subverts or criticizes those core values. At which point it might be just a noir in a cowboy hat. Anyway back to this movie, to me Ladd westerns are one of the comfort food groups and this is one of his I’d happily revisit.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I take your point regarding noir and the western. This is something I ended up speaking about elsewhere very recently, although that was based around ideas of nihilism, noir and spaghetti westerns.
          The classic western takes a journey where the ultimate destination is for the most part positive or as you say redemptive. Noir may of course head down a similar path but the purer forms tend to drift towards a bleaker or more negative resolution. So yes, there could be said to be a disconnect at the core of the genres. Then again, if we take the view that noir isn’t so much a genre as a style which can be applied to various genres, then maybe convergence is easier to accept. What I think is safe to say is that certain filmmakers and performers brought a recognizably noir sensibility to their work in the western, adding that dark flavor to the mix if nothing else.

          And I agree on Ladd westerns and the comforting feel they create – even the lesser efforts are rewarding on some level.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Colin and Gord,
    Now that both of you guys have mentioned about that ‘tense’ heist from Dassin, please do not forget about his another heist in Topkapi starring Mercouri, Schell, Ustinov, Morley and Tamiroff.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Took in the 3rd of my weekend films today, THE NAKED CITY 1948.Since it had been more than a decade since my last watch, it was like a new film. One could call this the grandfather of all Police procedurals. Great cast, great story, wonderful location shooting and a two time Oscar winner. One for Best Cinematography, William H. Daniels, and another for Best Film Editing to Paul Weatherwax. Director Jules Dassin strikes gold again.

    Gordon

    Liked by 1 person

  11. RED MOUNTIAN is available on an all-region DVD set from Australia called The Alan Ladd Collection Volume One. (There are three in all to date). In addition to RED MOUNTAIN, the set contains TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST, CALCUTTA, THUNDER IN THE EAST and 13 WEST STREET. I don’t have this set, but have Volume Two and I was very pleased with the quality of the movies.

    It’s been awhile since I’ve seen RED MOUNTIAN but remember being disappointed that so much of it took place in a cave setting. I wanted more outdoor action and scenery. But with that cast I can happily re-watch it again.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Don Collier 1928-2021

    Veteran character player Don Collier has passed. He was in over 200 films and television episodes. Most will recall him from his costarring role in the western series, THE OUTLAWS and THE HIGH CHAPPARAL. He was also in series like BONANZA, GUNSMOKE and WAGON TRAIN. He had small bits in FORT APACHE, WAR WAGON, EL DORADO, RIO BRAVO, and THE UNDEFEATED with the Duke. I really liked his work on THE HIGH CHAPPARAL, which is my favorite western series ever.

    Gordon

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    • Oh, I had not yet heard of this, Gord, many thanks. Don Collier has long been a bit of a personal favourite western actor of mine.
      I first saw him as the star of his own TV western “OUTLAWS” (1960-62) when episodes were shown on UK TV. It was a good and underrated series that deserves to be restored and issued on DVD. From that he turned up in a co-starring or supporting role in “THE HIGH CHAPPARAL” where he made a solid contribution.

      R.I.P. Don Collier.

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  13. Happily I have all 50 episodes of “OUTLAWS”, Gord.
    Colin will have missed out on this fine series sadly as it has not seen the light of day since it was first shown. Series 2, which centred more specifically on Don Collier’s character, was peak viewing on Saturday nights here so it certainly made its mark at the time.

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  14. Pingback: The Accused | Riding the High Country

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