"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky (RKO, 1952)

Marshal Preston faces Scratchy Wilson

In 1898 Stephen Crane published a short story in McClure’s Magazine entitled The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky. It tells of Texas marshal Jack Potter returning to his town of Yellow Sky with a new bride and coming up against the drunken gunfighter Scratchy Wilson, who has treed the town in Potter’s absence.

The story inspired a 1967 opera of the same name but also a film. In 1952 RKO released a rather curious two-story picture known as an ‘omnibus feature’ which had James Mason starring in a 50-minute version of Joseph Conrad’s sea story The Secret Sharer and a 40-minute treatment of the Crane tale starring Robert Preston. I’ll skip the non-Western first story here (a rather poor adaptation in which one character says, “Not like you and I, Mr. Robinson,” an ugly phrase that Conrad would never have allowed) and look at Yellow Sky.

 Even in the poster Minor Watson is overdoing it

Yellow Sky is not the ghost town Stretch Dawson came to in the WR Burnett novel, nor where Gregory Peck met Anne Baxter in 1948, in the movie of that name vaguely based on it, but a town “on the Texas plains at the turn of the century”. Marshal Jack Potter (Robert Preston, excellent as ever) leaves his prisoner to let himself out and go get food at the saloon while he, the lawman, sets off on a “business trip” to San Antone. How the nosey townsfolk long to know why he goes there so often! But he doesn’t let on.

All is revealed (to us) though when we see him returning on the train with beautiful young Marjorie Steele as his (unnamed) bride. Ms. Steele, 22, is charming and clearly in love with the marshal. It was her only Western; indeed it was one of only four films she made. She was the producer’s wife.


Marcellus T Wilson, known to the town as Scratchy, is played by Minor Watson, rather hamming it up, it must be said. Mr. Watson normally specialized in jovial, friendly doctors and uncles and the like but here, aged 63, he lets himself go as the all-round meanie.

Scratchy Wilson

Olive Carey is Laura Lee, the tough, no-nonsense woman behind the bar in the saloon, so that’s good.

Olive Carey tends bar

There are echoes of High Noon (the same year) as the treed town depends on the single-handed marshal, but there is no final shoot-out.

Marjorie Steele as the bride

The Crane story was adapted by James Agee. It was his only Western but he clearly had a lot of fun.

Always good

I would watch this for the curiosity value and because Preston is always worth seeing. He keeps his usual charming roguery in check in this picture. But I wouldn’t pretend it’s High Noon


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Count Three and Pray (Columbia, 1955)

Van the preacher man

In this, Van Heflin’s eighth Western (of thirteen), he plays a soldier, Luke Fargo, home from the Civil War and determined to be a preacher. It’s difficult for various reasons: for one thing, his uniform is blue and it’s a Southern town. He is hated, and the chances of success are slim. The church has burned down, too. His pre-war reputation was that of a rake. He seems to have overlooked the formality of getting ordained. And the powerful and evil town boss Yancey Huggins (Raymond Burr) hates him. It doesn’t look good, does it, although it’s one of those movies where you kinda guess that he will overcome.

Home from the war, bible in hand

The screenplay was written by Herb Meadow from his own story and it has certain interesting features. I like the way that three soldiers, two in gray and one in blue, return home together to the tune of Johnny Comes Marching Home and they are perfectly at ease with each other. They were friends before the war and see no reason to change that, and the camaraderie of the soldier who has undergone such an ordeal, on either side, is great – far greater than the prejudiced hatreds of the non-combatant townspeople. Meadow was a very experienced writer of TV Western shows and had also worked on the Joel McCrea film Stranger on Horseback.

One slightly odd aspect of the screenplay, though, is that all the women are unpleasant. Well, almost. When Luke gets back he finds that his parsonage is inhabited by a squatter, an orphan tomboy girl, Lissie (Joanne Woodward in her first film role) who will shoot as soon as blink and lies and steals with abandon. You want to punch her. The wife of one of the Rebs spits hatred at Luke and is generally spiteful. Then there’s a former flame, Georgina (Allison Hayes), who is as arrogant as she is high and mighty. Her drunken mother is even worse. They’re a ghastly crew, the lot of ‘em. Only the brothel madam Selma (Jean Willes) shows some decency and friendship to the returning soldier.
Selma and the preacher

Philip Carey is quite good as the sawmill owner Loomis who provides the lumber for the new church. He has to: he loses a horse race against Luke and that’s the stake.

Burr is satisfactorily nasty as the store owner Yankee hater. He has a gloved ‘dead’ hand, perhaps a result of the war though we are not told. It seems to have made him bitter and twisted.

Badman Burr

Tomboy Lissie gradually softens and is slowly civilized under the preacher’s tutelage, and ‘love’ springs on Luke all unawares. The poor man has no choice. The movie finishes with a scene that borders on the silly, as the Bishop conducts a shotgun wedding.

Joanne Woodward on her way to womanhood

Van Heflin had been a preacher in his very first Western back in 1937 (The Outcasts of Poker Flat) so I guess he was reverting to type.

The picture was directed by good old George Sherman.

I don’t mind this film, though I certainly wouldn’t say it was Van’s best Western.

He makes it

Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Bounty Killer (Embassy Pictures, 1965)

Old-timers ride again


As Gary Brumburgh writes on IMDb,

Dan Duryea was definitely the man you went to the movies for and loved to hate. His sniveling, deliberately taunting demeanor and snarling flat, nasal tones set the actor apart from other similar slimeballs of the 1940s and 1950s. From his very first picture, the highly acclaimed The Little Foxes (1941), in which he portrayed the snotty, avaricious nephew Leo Hubbard who would easily sell his own mother down the river for spare change, the tall, lean and mean Duryea became a particularly guilty pleasure, particularly in film noir, melodramas and westerns.

I always liked Duryea in Westerns. Even when he was (mis)cast as the nice guy, a luckily rare event, there was something méchant about him. His very first oater was Along Came Jones, the delightful 1945 Gary Cooper picture, in which he was the real Monte, the gunslinger naïf Coop was mistaken for. He was in seventeen Western movies altogether (and a heap of Western TV shows). He was in both versions of Winchester ’73, as Waco Johnny Dean of the hyena laugh in the James Stewart one in 1950, and as brother Bart in the made-for-TV version in 1967, the year before he died. It must be said that most of the Westerns he was in were B movies but he was always great in them. At the end of his career he even did a junk spaghetti western (The Hills Run Red in 1966) but it didn’t matter. Of course he overacted wildly but that was part of his charm. Watch him with John Payne in Silver Lode and Rails into Laramie, for example, or with Audie in Ride Clear of Diablo, or with Jimmy Stewart again in Night Passage, and I guarantee you an enjoyable experience. He is always worth watching.

Dan Duryea, badman supreme

In 1965, in the twilight of his career, he starred in a very B Western distributed by Embassy Pictures, The Bounty Killer. In its life as distributor Embassy had a few scoops, some big hits, notably The Graduate, The Lion in Winter, This is Spinal Tap and Escape from New York. That’s an impressive list. But many of its films were subtitled imports or cheap sword-and-sandal movies. Premiere Productions made The Bounty Killer. They only did two movies, this and Requiem for a Gunfighter the same year, also directed by Spencer G Bennet and also with Rod Cameron. Production values were far from high, the movie was very low-budget and old-fashioned in many ways, but it was nevertheless interesting.

For one thing, it really wheeled out the old-timers. Believe it or not, GM ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson was in it, as a man in the cantina. Anderson, as you doubtless know, had appeared in what many regard to be the very first Western movie, The Great Train Robbery in 1903 (he was the train passenger shot while trying to escape, among other roles), and had then become the first recognizable cowboy star. He was in a total of 328 Westerns! The Bounty Killer was the last of the 328 and his presence alone makes the movie of interest.

GM 'Broncho Billy' Anderson

Other superannuated cowboys stars make an appearance: Richard Arlen (54 Westerns, 1926 – 75) plays the father of the love-interest girl. The eternal sidekick Fuzzy Knight (128 Westerns, 1932 – 67) is Dan’s pal, the sea cap’n Luther. Johnny Mack Brown (131 Westerns, 1930 - 65) is the sheriff and Buster Crabbe (55 Westerns 1933 to 65) is there too. They all look a bit anno domini but hell, they’re entitled. Arlen was 66, Fuzzy 64, Johnny 61 and Buster 57. Dan himself was 61, and a little too old to play the young eloper, I fear, but doubtless winsome Audrey Dalton, 34, as heroine Carole, preferred the older man. It was the last Western of Anderson, Crabbe, Mack Brown and director Bennet.

Standing, Buster Crabbe, Richard Arlen, Fuzzy Knight, Dan Duryea
Front, GM Broncho Billy Anderson

The director, too, was no chicken. Known as ‘The King of Serial Directors’ (his epitaph reads ‘His Final Chapter’), Spencer Gordon Bennet (1893 – 1987) entered movies as a stuntman in 1914 and directed 122 pictures including 51 Westerns, 1924 – 65. All the Westerns were Bs and this was his last.

So there’s historical interest in the movie.

Eternal sidekick Fuzzy

But there are also some aspects of the film that make it worth watching apart from the curiosity value.

For example, it was co-written by Leo Gordon. Leo was, of course, one of the best Western tough-guy heavies ever. From Hondo in 1953 to the 1994 Maverick he terrified the daylights out of everyone. He was superb. But what is less known is that he also wrote Westerns. He wrote episodes of Maverick, Lawman, Sugarfoot, Tombstone Territory, Bat Masterson, Colt .45 and Cheyenne, and he wrote the 1957 George Montgomery film Black Patch, the 1958 Victor Mature movie Escort West (in which he also appeared) as well as Valley of the Redwoods in 1960.

The writing of The Bounty Killer is, it must be said, in many ways very formulaic but it is also interesting in part. It’s the old one about the tenderfoot from back East who becomes a more ruthless gunslinger than the Westerners. Just off the stage, Willie Duggan (Duryea) is told by gunfighter Johnny Liam (Rod Cameron, 55, in the 51st of his 67 film and TV Westerns) that the only law in the West is worn on the hip.

Rod Cameron

Willie takes Johnny at his word and becomes a ruthless bounty hunter. Of course he falls for sweet saloon singer Carole (Audrey Dalton, Alan Ladd’s squeeze in Drum Beat) and she tries to reform him. You know how saloon singers do. But no dice, Willie cuts down a shotgun into a holstered sidearm, El Dorado style, and roams the West shooting wanted men.

No fancy sixgun artist he

When spurned by the townsfolk Willie gives them a sermon (really) on hypocrisy. They are happy to put up the money for the reward but despise the man who collects it and keeps their streets safe. He has a point. But Willie is drunk, he shoots the barman and now, bitter irony, there is a price on his head! He rides to Carole’s ranch (thanks to a money present from Willie she has given up saloon singing), he throws away his sawn-off and they go off together. But, oh cruel fate, a young up-and-coming bounty hunter shoots him for the reward. And the young bounty killer is… Peter Duryea, Dan’s son.

Don’t expect too much. The Bounty Killer is an old-style B Western, even if in color. But it is still worth a watch. Be careful, though – don’t confuse it with the junk 1967 spaghetti of the same title.



Monday, September 8, 2014

The Legend of the Lone Ranger (Universal, 1981)

Hi yo, Silver. Again.

Brian Garfield, éminence probably quite grise of the guide to Western movies, was, along with many other critics, dismissive of The Legend of the Lone Ranger in his wonderful 1982 book Western Films: A Complete Guide, my vademecum. “Too violent and gory for tykes and too stupid for grown-ups,” he says, it is a “witless melodrama”. So don’t hold out too much hope if you watch it. But actually, I think Mr. Garfield was being a bit harsh. If you are a dyed-in-the-wool Lone Ranger fan, i.e. a normal human being, I think you’ll quite enjoy it. I thought it was reasonable fun, anyway.

It wasn't that bad

The plot follows more or less that of the 1949 pilot with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels, Enter the Lone Ranger. It therefore tells of evil Butch Cavendish and his cruel slaughter of Texas Rangers, and how Tonto saved John Reid who became the masked avenger of his Ranger brother, and foiled Butch’s fiendish plots. It is a bit more grown up than the late 1940s one and contains the odd naughty word but that would appeal to the average 1980s small boy anyway. Someone says about President Grant, “I’d like to piss on him” and Grant calls Cavendish a “diseased son of a bitch”, so that’s quite rude, I suppose. As for the blood and gore Garfield criticizes, it’s very tame by 21st century standards and indeed hardly even noticeable today.

This version tacks on a bit about the Lone Ranger’s childhood. His ma was killed in an attack by bandits on their ranch and a sympathetic Indian boy (Tonto, of course) took orphan John away on his horse to live and grow up with his tribe. There young John Reid (he was never named as John in the radio, TV or earlier film Lone Rangers but the name has stuck since) learns how to shoot a bow and so forth (a skill he sadly does not profit from later in life, or in the movie anyway). John and Tonto become blood brothers, in those innocent days of yore. There’d be a health warning these days on cutting yourself with a dirty knife and mingling your blood. Don’t try this at home, kids.

They meet up as children

This early part (and the closing) happens during the performance of a cheesy ballad, The Man in the Mask. Cheesy ballads were considered obligatory in Westerns in those days. Poor Merle Haggard deserved better. The song is really dire and won a Golden Raspberry award. It was by 007 music creator John Barry, whom Brit producer Lord Grade probably got on board. The rest of Barry’s music is OK, though and even, like the curate’s egg, quite good in parts.

The movie was directed by William A Fraker. Now while I wouldn’t put Mr. Fraker on Mount Olympus alongside John Ford or Anthony Mann or anything, he was a camera operator on The Professionals and director of photography on Paint Your Wagon, he was an associate producer of the 1993 Tombstone, and, above all, he did direct the 1970 Monte Walsh, so you know, respect. He packs a lot of action into this one, with all the tropes: an attack on a stage, stuntmen running along the top of a train, dynamite everywhere (maybe a quotation of the 1956 Lone Ranger film) and mucho shootin’ and gallopin’. The movie is pacey and rattles along at the speed of a six-up Concord.

Butch is short for Butcher and it is true that Major Bartholomew Cavendish isn’t very nice. In fact President Grant may have been accurate in his description. Butch is played by Christopher Lloyd, the proper Butch Cavendish, Glenn Strange, having died in 1973 and being thus unavailable.
Butch(er) Cavendish

Grant is played by Jason Robards, clearly enjoying himself, and we enjoy his performance.

President Ulysses S Robards

On his presidential train (a proper Western train of the kind that is sadly rarer and rarer in modern Westerns, though there are two in the 2013 The Lone Ranger) he has as drinking companions General Custer (Lincoln Tate), Wild Bill Hickok (Richard Farnsworth) and Buffalo Bill Cody (Ted Flicker). I’m surprised Wyatt Earp, Jesse James and Billy the Kid weren’t aboard, and wonder how they missed the train.


There’s a girl, natch. Amy (Juanin Clay) is the newspaper editor’s niece. The editor in question is John Hart, who of course was himself behind the Lone Ranger’s mask for the 1952/53 season and whose character’s name, Striker, is a tribute to the LR’s creator, Fran Striker (arcane must-know info for Lone Rangerists everywhere). Striker campaigns against lawless Cavendish and so the gang come and break up his press and hang him. Amy then decides to continue her uncle’s crusade alone. The as-yet unmasked John Reid, now grown, is a well-read lawyer who meets Amy on the stage. When the stage is attacked, Reid saves her by his bravery from a fate worse than death or, er, death, and he greatly admires Amy. You can see it’s mutual. But they only kiss. You know, the film isn’t that adult.

The Lone Ranger's love. He deserts her, though, in favor of Rangering.

When the Rangers, led by John’s brother Dan (John Bennett Perry) and including John as a deputy, pursue the malefactors, Butch has prepared a cleverly-laid trap for them, including a Gatling gun. The Rangers walk their horses into a dangerous canyon (doh) and the good guys are duly slaughtered.

Brother Dan, captain of Texas Rangers

Now a grown Tonto appears and realizes from an amulet that one of the corpses is (a) his blood bother Kemo Sabe (trusty scout) and (b) not quite a corpse. John is nursed back to health by the standard Indian method of herbs and chants, you know how they do.

We get all the malarkey about the silver bullet and the other (equine) Silver. The metal silver, you see, is a symbol of justice and purity. Or something. John finds and breaks Silver the wild white horse but luckily all in slo-mo so the bronc is much easier to ride. When John mounts the tamed Silver and puts the mask on, suddenly the trumpets of the William Tell overture sound, there’s a cry of “Hi Yo, Silver, away!” and the Lone Ranger is born. It makes your heart glad.

I wonder what Clayton and Jay thought

The Lone Ranger himself is one of the snags of this picture, unfortunately. In the 2013 version, The Lone Ranger, they had a deliberately rather bland Lone Ranger because it was a Tonto picture and a Johnny Depp vehicle, but I think in the 1981 one the weak Ranger was an accident. He is played by Klinton Spilsbury, not a name I know, and indeed I believe it is Mr. Spilsbury’s only film. His voice apparently was so squeaky that his part had to be redubbed with that of James Keach (which is quite macho). The acting is weak too, though, and when he puts the mask, big hat and tutu on he just looks camp. On the set he was allegedly so obnoxious that whenever he left, workers used the famous final words of the radio and TV shows, and of this movie, “Who was that masked man?” only they didn’t say man.

Tonto, the equally unknown Michael Horse, is a bit better. Mr. Horse, whose birth name was Michael Heinrich (not quite so Native American, perhaps), is apparently an artist and actor and has appeared in other epics since this one, mostly on TV. At least in his part as Tonto he doesn’t listen meekly to the Lone Ranger’s orders to do the dirty work and reply, “Me do,” as poor old Jay Silverheels had to.

Gallopin'. Mr. Horse looks very like Mr. Silverheels in this shot.

Other Lone Ranger arcana: Bonita Granville, in her last film, is in it (as “Woman, uncredited”). She was the wife of Jack Wrather, producer of the TV series. She had been in the first The Lone Ranger movie, in 1956, as villain Lyle Bettger's wife. I tell you this on a strictly need-to-know basis.

The worst thing about the movie that instead of pulling a derringer when cornered, as he had properly done in the 1947 version, Butch Cavendish uses a knife. That isn’t the same at all.

There are Monument Valley locations, though.

OK, I know the film bombed and was lambasted, and won all sorts of ‘worst movie’ awards, but my opinion (which counts, you know) is that it really isn’t that bad. It's about like the 1958 one, The Lone Ranger and the Lost City of Gold, in quality, but updated for the 1980s.

I would have preferred Clayton and Jay but Moore was 57 and did his last screen Lone Ranger in 1958 and Silverheels was 59 and last climbed into the saddle in 1973. 

I may be easy to please as far as Westerns are concerned but I thought it was quite a lot of fun. And where else are you going to get a final shoot-out in which President Grant lights dynamite fuses and Wild Bill Hickok, General Custer and Buffalo Bill stand together and shoot bad guys?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

John Wesley Hardin

Serial killer

On this blog we have looked at the (real and celluloid) lives of many famous figures of the old West: lawmen like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson, outlaws like Jesse James and Billy the Kid, colorful figures like Wild Bill Hickok and Buffalo Bill Cody, General Custer and Sitting Bull, and even lesser lights like Al Sieber, the Reno brothers or the Doolin gang.

But we have never talked about one of the most celebrated and notorious of all the gunmen, John Wesley Hardin.

John Wesley Hardin

We can redress that oversight now, though, because I have just re-read a book I bought in 2008, the one many regard as the definitive biography of the Texas gunfighter, John Wesley Hardin: Dark Angel of Texas (University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1996) by the El Paso writer Leon Metz.

Solid, reliable

It is a curious fact that Americans, then and now, like to elevate to the status of bold hero men who were psychopaths and serial killers. But they do. And perhaps not only Americans. If the homicidal man (it’s always a man) in question didn’t have positive aspects to his character, well, we invent them. That’s how Jesse James and Billy the Kid became heroes. These men were in fact very unpleasant murderers, often (in the case of Hardin and James anyway) killing for racist reasons, in anger, for greed or just because they could. But they become “social bandits” in the Marxist credo. They help the poor and are protected by them. Excuses are invented: ‘he was only defending his family against the grasping railroad company’ was a common one. “He’s a good boy really,” their mothers say.

The worst of them, Hardin included, hypocritically put on a mask of virtue to justify their actions. “I never killed a man who didn’t deserve it,” he said, as if he were by right an Almighty judge. “I only killed bad men,” he said, as if that makes it somehow alright.

One of my favorite Dylan albums

As Bob Dylan sang, on one of his greatest ever albums:

John Wesley Harding
Was a friend to the poor
He trav’led with a gun in ev’ry hand
All along this countryside
He opened many a door
But he was never known
To hurt an honest man

It was nonsense, of course. Hardin killed plenty of honest men and there is no evidence whatever that he was “a friend to the poor”. Furthermore, though these appalling gunmen claimed that they only killed an opponent “in a fair fight” (that excusing all, of course) often they did no such thing, being perfectly willing to shoot people to death in the back, from hiding or in any other way they could gain an advantage.

The song goes on:

’Twas down in Chaynee County
A time they talk about
With his lady by his side
He took a stand
And soon the situation there
Was all but straightened out
For he was always known
To lend a helping hand

All across the telegraph
His name it did resound
But no charge held against him
Could they prove
And there was no man around
Who could track or chain him down
He was never known
To make a foolish move

Copyright ©1968 by Dwarf Music; renewed 1996 by Dwarf Music

I don’t know where Chaynee County is and Hardin certainly did not take a stand with his lady by his side. In fact he was a poor husband and father who virtually deserted his family. As for “no charge against him could they prove,” well, he was tried for murder, convicted and spent sixteen years at hard labor in the penitentiary. Still, it’s pointless criticizing Bob Dylan for historical inaccuracy! He was singing a great song of his own poetic creation, as if it were one of the old gunfighter ballads. But it does show the adulation that Hardin and other serial killers were accorded, and even still are in certain quarters.

JW Hardin posing in Abilene

Because he wrote an autobiography, John Wesley Hardin’s history of homicide is better known than that of most of his contemporaries. However, his own account of his life was unfinished, rambling, and full of important gaps and prevarications. We do not know how many people he murdered because he claimed ‘credit’ for some deaths he did not cause and omitted others which we know he did. Even the number of victims can be the occasion for a rather morbid interest, the ‘notches on the gun’ syndrome. Mr. Metz keeps a running tally for most of the book, even though it is a doomed effort because impossible to keep the count accurate. The most we can say, finally, is that the number of people Hardin destroyed might have been as “few” as twenty and could have been as many as fifty. Either way, it is a horrendous total.

Hardin himself, of course, was finally shot to death in a squalid saloon in El Paso at the age of 42, and you can’t help but think that it was a fitting end.

John Selman Sr., the man who killed JW Hardin

Part of the bloodletting came from the feud culture in east Texas where Hardin spent his youth. In the Reconstruction era many Southerners felt themselves without the protection of the law. The Texas Rangers, many of whose members had enlisted to fight for the Confederacy, were disbanded in 1870 and replaced by a Texas State Police force (1870 – 73), which was hated by many white ex-Confederates or Confederacy supporters. Some of the police’s members were black, which in itself was simply unacceptable to Hardin and those like him. The Rangers were recommissioned in 1873 but under Leander H McNelly were guilty of ruthlessness, intimidation, inducing confessions by torture and summary executions. In any case there were rarely more than a hundred of them. In this climate, it was considered acceptable to “take the law into your own hands” and if a member of your family or a close friend was slain, you had the perfect right – indeed, the duty – to avenge that crime and kill the guilty party or even an innocent member of the guilty party’s entourage.

John Wesley Hardin was admired by many for killing Union soldiers, Mexican vaqueros, the “Negro” Mage (Major Holshousen), black state policemen and an Indian. These people “deserved” it. His dexterity with firearms, especially his ability to twirl revolvers on his fingers and perform the “border roll”, was also greatly admired.

Hardin's pistol

Mr. Metz deals at some length with Hardin’s confrontation with Wild Bill Hickok in Abilene. Hardin was there having driven a trail herd north at the time that Hickok was marshal, and Hardin openly flouted the no-gun ordinance and was allowed by Hickok to get away with it. Whether Hardin got one over on Wild Bill with a border roll cannot be confirmed but is certainly possible.

Hardin’s murderous career was in fact relatively short. He killed his first man (as far as we know) in November 1868, when he was fifteen, and was arrested and imprisoned in August 1877, so his killing spree lasted nine years. He may have killed or engineered deaths after his release, in El Paso in 1895, but nothing is confirmed there.

In some ways, Metz’s description of Hardin’s last years in El Paso is the most interesting part of the book, perhaps because the author knows the history of El Paso so well (he has written a life of John Selman, who killed Hardin) and knows the place intimately. Hardin’s final years really come to life.

There have been plenty of novels featuring John Wesley Hardin. Try, for example, James Carlos Blake’s The Pistoleer (Berkley Publishing, 1995), which is of course an imaginative rendering of his life but is clearly based on such facts as are known. Hardin has also appeared in movies, played by various actors, but these are miles away from the true Hardin, sometimes about as far as you can possibly get. The excellent Western actor John Dehner first played JW Hardin, in The Texas Rangers (1951), then Rock Hudson in the frankly rather silly The Lawless Breed in 1953.


Jack Elam, no less, was a burlesque JWH in Dirty Dingus Magee in 1970,


and David Busse is to play him in the forthcoming The Hard Ride, currently in production.

On TV, Richard Webb was Hardin in the inevitable episode of Stories of the Century in 1954.

Richard Webb on the trail to Abilene

Of course it was Matt Clark who arrested Hardin, in Abilene, after Hardin had shot and killed 'Marshal Corbin' (no sign of Hickok). When the life of Hardin was so jam-packed with shootings and other crimes, why they had to invent totally new fictional ones is a mystery. Looking back on it, Stories of the Century really was a pretty bad show. And anyway, what are "official" newspaper files?

Hardin also appeared in episodes of Judge Roy Bean in 1956 (Lash La Rue!), Studio One in Hollywood in 1957 (Richard Boone, that’s more like it), The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp in 1955 and '57 (both played by Phillip Pine), Bronco in 1958 (Scott Marlowe), Tales of Wells Fargo in 1957 and '58 (Lyle Bettger, who probably caught the charm and charisma that Hardin was said to have had), James Griffith in an entertaining 1959 episode of Maverick,

James Griffith in Maverick

Brad Johnson in 1959 in Zane Grey Theatre, Neville Brand (good old Neville) in Death Valley Days in 1962, Charles Bronson in Vacation Playhouse in 1965, and Randy Quaid in Streets of Laredo in 1999.

Metz’s biography, taken with the autobiography (The Life of John Wesley Hardin, As Written By Himself, Smith and Moore, Seguin, Texas, 1896, modern edition with an introduction by Robert G McCubbin, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1961) and the letters (The Letters of John Wesley Hardin, Transcribed and Compiled by Roy & Jo Ann Stamps, Eakin Press, Austin, Texas, 2001) will give you as accurate a picture as you are going to get of the life of the criminal John Wesley Hardin (1853 – 95).

Happy reading!

The late JW Hardin