The Man from Bitter Ridge


Treading well worn paths is a practice that tends to be looked on with a certain disdain with regard to any artistic endeavor, and with good reason. If familiarity does not necessarily have breed contempt, it can surely sap the enthusiasm and interest of the viewer. While that may be broadly true, it should also be acknowledged that watching movies is not an activity we indulge in for only one reason. As a rule, the better the film, the greater the challenge or stimulation offered, but that is not to say that  work providing the comfort and reassurance of the familiar has no worth. The Man from Bitter Ridge (1955) breaks no new ground, the situations and characters are all recognizable “types” that even casual western watchers will have seen on countless occasions. For all that though, it is the kind of movie that is hard to actively dislike.

The story begins with something of a bang, namely the explosion that brings down a tree and blocks the trail of a stagecoach. The purpose is to facilitate a robbery, one carried out with precision and ruthlessness. A man ends up dead for noticing more than he ought to and the thieves make their escape. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say all but one of the thieves. A passing stranger suffers the misfortune of being held up by one of the fugitives who finds himself in need of a mount as his own horse has gone lame. This stranger is Jeff Carr (Lex Barker) and his ill-starred encounter means he almost winds up being lynched in error.  All of this happens in the first five minutes or so and a lot of plot detail is packed in here,  not least the fact the stage has been robbed by those working for Rance Jackman (John Dehner), local bigwig and candidate for sheriff in the upcoming election. To further complicate matters, the posse members who were so keen on stringing up Carr in a hurry are headed up by Jackman’s younger brother Linc (Warren Stevens). There’s probably enough story right there but the script is arguably overloaded as the idea of a corrupt man seeking ever greater power and influence is mixed in with a simmering feud between cattlemen and sheep herders, the latter group represented by Alec Black (Stephen McNally). Of course no yarn can be truly complete without some love interest, ideally involving conflict. That comes courtesy of a romantic triangle, the points of which are Carr, Black and Holly Kenton (Mara Corday), another of the sheep herders. As such, we have a decidedly tangled skein on our hands, although it is all unraveled (via brawls, gunfights, fire and fury) in a largely satisfactory manner by the time the credits roll about an hour and a quarter later.

Mention the name of Jack Arnold to movie fans and the chances are you’ll hear comments about such Sci-Fi classics such as It Came from Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man or The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Nevertheless, as was the case with most directors of the time, he worked in a range of genres and turned out some fine pictures in all of them. Among his movies are a handful of westerns; Red Sundown and No Name on the Bullet are right out of the top drawer and are highly recommended. The Man from Bitter Ridge is, without question, a lesser effort. I prefer to look at a movie in terms of what it is and what it aims for as opposed to what it isn’t or doesn’t aspire to be. Still, there’s no denying that there’s not much depth to this one. I may be using the wrong label here, but I tend to think of films like this as matinee movies – straightforward, no-frills, unpretentious pictures that tell their stories in a pacy and entertaining way, no more and no less. Taken on those terms, it’s fine and does what it says on the tin. Another bonus is that “look” which is to be found in most Universal-International westerns, the visual aesthetic is appealing and (again) familiar, the very least one might expect from a cinematographer as talented as Russell Metty.

As for the performances, Lex Barker followed up his stint as Tarzan with a number of western roles and he would do further work in the genre when he later moved to Europe, especially in Germany. His role here is of a type – an undercover operative for the stagecoach company – that Randolph Scott played on more than one occasion. Of course Barker had previously been cast opposite Scott a couple of years before in the more interesting Thunder Over the Plains for André De Toth. He cuts a heroic figure and acquits himself just fine in the action scenes, of which there is no shortage, but he’s probably a bit too sunny and upbeat. Stephen McNally is his typically sharp self, assured and polished and enjoying his time as one of the good guys.

Mara Corday is an actress I am always happy to see and she is very appealing as the pistol-packing sheep farmer who finds her affections trapped betwixt and between McNally and Barker . She was in the middle of a run of generally good movies at this point, although I have to say she had a far more absorbing part in Joseph Pevney’s Foxfire that same year. With regard to villainy, it’s difficult to go far wrong when there is a solid lineup composed of John Dehner, Ray Teal, Myron Healey and Warren Stevens available. Their characters are all entirely one-dimensional, but most entertainingly so.

The Man from Bitter Ridge was released on a handsome DVD some time ago by Koch Media in Germany, but I think that may have drifted out of print now and it appears to have been replaced by a Blu-ray from the same company. The older disc looks pretty good, offering a colorful widescreen presentation of this brisk and undemanding western. I know Jack Arnold made better and more original movies and The Man From Bitter Ridge shouldn’t be seen as representative of his work in general, but it is a relaxing and mostly fun watch, and sometimes that’s good enough.

44 thoughts on “The Man from Bitter Ridge

  1. Hi, Colin – I happened to watch this movie two days ago. To me, it was quite entertaining, with enough attractive features to keep me watching to see how it all played out. I thought Stephen McNally was terrific in this, bringing an energy and intensity to his performance that made Lex Barker look a little wan at times. Ray Teal shone in his role, too: his timing with delivering his lines is wonderful. One thing that is predictable about these “matinee movies” is a barely developed role for the love interest and Mara Corday isn’t given a lot to work with. I thought the love triangle narrative could have been better written, bringing out some deeper issues and avoiding such a limp fizzling out. But, of course, these movies are about action, not emotion. As always, your review is balanced in weighing up the film’s strengths and weaknesses and giving the reader a strong impression of what the watching experience would be like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steve, I think we had a broadly similar reaction to this one as it is an entertaining and attractive movie, and I don’t believe it was ever supposed to be anything more than that. I don’t think it’s anything special but that’s not always necessary and I can’t see anyone coming away from the film feeling disappointed.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Looked for this after having enjoyed Red Sundown and No Name On The Bullet from Jack Arnold some time ago. Found it to be watchable. Have seen most of Lex’s Hollywood westerns and they are good time fillers. I did watch one of those German westerns (could not remember its title) only because of the presence of Stewart Granger (later sequels to be replaced by Lex ) and did not like it.

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  3. Yes, MAN FROM BITTER RIDGE is the least of Arnold’s Universal International Westerns but as a programmer it really moves and the cast is hard to resist. I actually like Lex Barker in Westerns and I’m sure he would have earned far more money starring in those “Euro” Westerns than he would have,had he stayed in Hollywood turning up in,no doubt A.C.Lyles programmers.
    Actually Lex Barker was first to star in those “Winnetou” German Westerns followed by Stewart Granger (Barker & Granger had the same agent) followed by Rod Cameron for one final effort. The best of the lot was OLD SHATTERHAND (aka Apache’s Last Battle) which had the advantage of a huge budget,70mm and Hugo Fregonese at the helm who knew a thing or two about making Westerns. Guy Madison was also onboard who starred in scores of Euro Westerns, Peplums and War Flicks. Someone sent me an uncut Euro version mostly in German and I was surprised to see a Daliah Lavi full frontal scene where she goes skinny dipping by a waterfall. This scene was certainly not in the abridged version shown in the UK. These Winnetou films were big money makers especially in Europe and did make their way over to The States and England. Really the plots were incredibly old fashioned more like an old Bob Steele B Western from the 30’s and the “Spaghetti” crowd ignore them because they are generally non violent. I’d certainly jump at an uncut version of OLD SHATTERHAND if released by say, Arrow and if an English soundtrack could be sourced for the complete version. Sadly Arrow and the like only seem to be interested in Spaghetti’s : the more violent the better.
    THE MAN FROM BITTER RIDGE was released by Koch on a very nice looking Blu Ray but sadly Koch have given up releasing Westerns which mean we now have only Explosive Media ( a Swiss company,I believe aimed at the German market) to rely on for classic Westerns.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You manage to make those German-made westerns sound rather attractive, and I’d certainly not be averse to trying out some of them at some point. I does sadden me a bit that UK labels appear focused a lot of material in which I have little interest. To be honest, apart from Network and the odd HMV Premium Collection release, I’ve pretty much given up on UK companies.

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    • I went through a spaghetti western phase and they became tedious very quickly. Mostly I love Italian movies of the 60s and 70s but the spaghetti westerns don’t have the visual imagination that is what I look for in Italian movies.

      I’d love to check out some of the sauerkraut westerns.

      Like

  4. Off topic,
    I just received Network’s Blu Ray of THE WEAPON. The film is presented in two versions 2.35 and 4×3 I’ve only had a cursory look but the remastering looks fine. There’s a nice extra with interviews of two people who actually worked on the film and a nice touch was two Network trailers with an ABC Cinemas Presents logo intact. We were talking about Lawrence Huntington on the last thread and interestingly one of these trailers is for CONTRABAND SPAIN (1955) Huntington’s last feature until 1959 when he worked non stop on 1/2 hour TV episodes. CONTRABAND SPAIN looks quiet interesting and has the advantage of being shot in color. In 1956 THE WEAPON played as the main feature at the Odeon circuit and the support feature was HOME AND AWAY a comedy with Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrrison. The same week the other Rank Circuit The Gaumont were showing RUN FOR THE SUN supported by REBEL IN TOWN and the ABC Circuit were showing SAILOR BEWARE supported by FINGER MAN.
    Network have a whole heap of TV series arriving on DVD & Blu Ray from The Danzieger Brothers….the complete series of THE PURSUERS starring John Ireland, MARK SABER and THE VISE starring Donald Gray and RICHARD THE LIONHEART starring Dermot Walsh.
    I wonder if Talking Pictures TV will pick up any of these series?

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    • I picked up Blu-rays of both The Weapon and Contraband Spain last summer and they do look very attractive. I have a few other Network releases on my wish list and next time they pop up in a sale I’ll grab them.
      By the way, I went for their release of Dial 999 last weekend when it was on offer. Now I have to wait for it to arrive.

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  5. Whoops….I hope Barry Lane never reads the above he’ll never forgive me 🙂 The John Ireland series,of course was THE CHEATERS
    Great to see Network releasing this sort of stuff but very time-consuming for us older buffs…will we live that long? What I’d settle for would be a single Blu Ray with the best episodes of each series-the set I’d really like would be THE CHEATERS especially for Ireland’s presence.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Follow-up thought: John had some continuing interest in The Cheaters and in 1985 tried to interest me in a remount. It was a good idea of his, but I was more than blase about it, and in retrospect, he was right.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I used to watch those Danziger TV series when they originally appeared on ITV channel here, then later some showed up on Sky’s BRAVO channel and I quite enjoyed Mark Saber all over again. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find them turning up on Talking Pictures TV (I hope).

    I think your review of “MAN FROM BITTER RIDGE” was spot-on, Colin. There was no pretense at making a classic western but nearly all of those westerns put out by U.I. were enjoyable at the least and several were really superior westerns. I think the Jack Arnold film was much better than Lex’s other western for U.I., “YELLOW MOUNTAIN”.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. While pontificating above on people’s acting skills and the role of women in the matinee Western, I didn’t say much about what I actually liked about the movie. It is, of course, the almost continual action – fist fights, hard riding, fire and dynamite attacks and shoot outs – all of which are decently staged and photographed. I should also have acknowledged John Dehner’s typically polished performance – like Ray Teal, he never disappoints.

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  8. Pingback: Midnight - Crime Film Hub Daily: April 4th

  9. Not something I had ever seen. Sounds like a solid duster that deserves a look see. I like the cast. Found a print on You-Tube last night so I hope to get to it by the weekend.

    Gord

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  10. R.I.P. Nehemiah Persoff 1919-2022
    Longtime film and television actor Nehemiah Persoff has left us. On the big screen from 1948 in THE NAKED CITY. His other film work included bits in MEN IN WAR, THE BADLANDERS and THE HARDER THEY FALL. He also was a popular guest on over 200 diff television episodes. He was 102 years old.

    Gord

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  11. Off Topic a bit
    As a big Dr Who fan I recorded a pair of films I had never seen before off TCM yesterday. DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS 1965 and DALEKS: INVASION EARTH 1966. Both star Peter Cushing as the Dr. Anyone here know if these are decent efforts?

    Gord

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  12. Weekend films are…

    First up is Colin’s choice for the week, “The Man from Bitter Ridge. Then the 1959 adventure film, “North West Frontier”.. This one stars Kenneth More, Lauren Bacall, and Herbert Lom.

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    • I watched North West Frontier again a couple of months ago. It is a very well made adventure largely shot in Spain and looking quite splendid at times. Kenneth More was an engaging leading man and the movie was made when he was at the top of his game. He plays well off Bacall and the supporting cast of Wilfrid Hyde-White, Herbert Lom, I S Johar et al is very appealing.
      Given the screenwriting input of regular John Ford collaborator Frank Nugent and the director’s son Patrick, there is something of a sense of a relocated western about the whole affair.

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  13. Watched “The Man from Bitter Ridge” early this morning. As Colin stated, an adequate western that holds it own on all fronts. The Black Hat bunch were particularly good. But what else can one expect from the likes of John Dehner. and Ray Teal. LOL, I must admit I kept waiting for Barker to slip behind a bush and emerge in a Tarzan loincloth.

    Gord

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  14. Colin,
    Wandering off topic as I tend to do from time to time, I notice an off shoot of Flicker Alley are releasing an obscure Siodmak film THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS. Laura has also noted that she will review this title which has already been given a rave review by Glenn Erickson. I just tried to place a lengthy post on Laura’s blog but had problems with Google and I totally lost the darn thing-it was like getting into Fort Knox but there again, it’s probably just me!
    I’m very excited about this release-due next week I believe (a) because it’s Siodmak and (b) because it’s a really obscure picture. I understand the film was literally “thrown away” by Columbia but to be fair the film came at the tail end of Siodmak’s greatest era. I may have got the wrong end of the stick here Colin but did I get the impression that you are none too keen on “Social Dramas” which THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS certainly is. If I’m wrong about this I apologise and if I’m right I’m sure Siodmak will be the deal maker, as it were. Myself,I just love the way these obscure films are getting such loving care and attention with these beautiful restorations. I’ve just received Flicker Alley’s REPEAT PERFORMANCE and just cannot wait to get stuck into that one. Flicker Alley’s Blu Ray’s are region free.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s very interesting news , John. I’m certainly not averse to social drama, or any genre for that matter, and will happily give all types of movie a go. I’m not at all familiar with this but Siodmak’s name is a big draw for me and I’ll be on the lookout for it now for sure.
      I want to pick up a copy of Repeat Performance as well, but those Flicker Alley prices are a bit daunting.

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      • Yes, Flicker Alley are not cheap but the beautiful
        restorations and excellent extras make them so
        worthwhile.
        I’ve had some great deals on Flicker titles (among others)
        from an ebay seller called blowitoutahere and their parcels are
        delivered by courier (not mail) and arrive very quickly.
        They also have good prices on the Aussie Imprint label.
        Imprint’s Blu Ray’s are region free…they initially release
        in small runs (1500-2000) with very sturdy slipcases
        and alternate artwork when these go OOP they release
        “standard editions” (no slipcase,no alternate artwork)
        at a much reduced price. I note the OOP versions of the
        slipcase editions are fetching ridiculous “collectors” prices.

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  15. Paging Mr Barry Lane………….
    Barry, I’m sorry I missed your birthday the other day on Facebook-the truth is I’m hardly on Facebook these days and my online time is vastly consumed with trying to get the best deals on Blu Ray’s which is a full time job considering the ever shrinking £. Anyway,I hope that you had a good one!
    One good deal I did get recently was Kino Lorber’s Edgar G Ulmer Triple Sci Fi Bill which I sourced off Amazon UK at a great price delivered in 5 days from America. I’m hoping the same deal might apply with THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS
    Barry I note that Ulmer’s THE MAN FROM PLANET X was produced by Aubrey Wisberg and Jack Pollexfen and I mention this because Louis worked for these guys hardly a high point in his career I might add. I also note that leads Robert Clarke and Margaret Field (Sally’s Mom!) were paid literally peanuts and Ulmer not much more yet the movie made a fortune. Wisberg and Pollexfen have some wonderful B Movie credits and I hope more of their films surface in high definition restorations. If anyone would know about these two cats I guess It’s you Barry.

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    • John, Thanks for your birthday wishes. Regarding Wisberg and Pollexfen, and Louis Hayward.
      I did not know Jack Pollexfen but I did know Aubrey Wisberg who in the early sixties lived on 72nd Street and Central Park West directly across from the Dakota in what seemed to be in a furnished apartment. Louis thought well enough of him, but he did not work for either. This is the background.

      Louis and his agent Arthur Lyons had a falling out over Ruthless. I detailed this, and its direct influence on his career in an article Glenn Erickson wrote regarding House By the River. You may find it informative.
      Louis signed a four-film contract with Columbia, the first of these, Fortunes of Captain Blood, had a so-so script, but excellent direction by Gordon Douglas, and the performances were fine. The producer, Harry Joe Brown, and the intent was to make a series of medium-budget costume pictures on the order of his Randolph Scott westerns. The second film, Son of Dr. Jekyl, had credits that included Wisberg and Pollexfen, directed by Seymour Friedman, and produced, hurriedly. It played but was the first film in fifteen years with Hayward not to open first run in major cities. So Wisberg adnPollexfen was assigned but not employers. They would eventually become producers, Women of Pitcairn Island comes to my mind, but that is even worse than their Hayward films, and even more poorly produced. Ralph Murphy took over direction for Lady and the Bandit and Captain Pirate, films that may have had possibilities, but they were unrealized. The final film Murphy and Hayward did, was Lady in the Iron mask — which even as a young teenager made me shudder based on the title. In any case, while thye may have been credited producers, they were not. Eugene Frenke was hands on and Walter Wanger, in prison, well a prison farm produced. These were all career killers, but Louis did not get Robert Clarke money, he was in the $75,000 per picture class, and that was good enough. I will finish up with a direct Louis Hayward quote about Hollywood and the film industry:
      ‘If they give you $75, 000, paint your pubic hairs gold if that is what they want. If they give you $25,000, you actually have to read the script.’ Relative to that and many years later I spent a little time, about an hour with Robert Stack, a great gentleman, and his view, was this — first and foremost you have to think about what harm a project can do within the business. Stack was in my opinion, dead on.

      Liked by 1 person

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