Dean Martin is one of my favorite movie stars and/or entertainers. As far as his movies go, I typically think of the Rat Packer as a heroic good guy, ranging from drama in movies like Some Came Running or The Sons of Katie Elder to goofy comedies like the Matt Helm spoofs. But in a few departures from that heroic good guy, Martin switched it up, playing some bad guys, like 1967's Rough Night in Jericho.
Working with his longtime friend and former peace officer, Ben Hickman (John McIntire), former deputy and gunslinger Dolan (George Peppard) ride into the town of Jericho looking to set up a business. They've been hired by a widow, Molly (Jean Simmons), to help revive a stagecoach company that's recently gone under. What they find is something far different from what they expected. The town is run by sheriff turned town boss Alex Flood (Martin) who has his hand in every business and establishment in and around Jericho. Not surprisingly, Flood wants the new stagecoach company gone, even wounding Hickman as they arrive. Molly begs Dolan to help get rid of Flood, but ever the gambler, he doesn't like his odds. But in trying to push them out of Jericho, Flood pushes too far, and Dolan is going to push right back.
This is just another in a long list of reasons why I like westerns. Released in 1967 when westerns were very much trying to change with the times (cough more violence cough), I had never even remotely heard of 'Jericho.' From director Arnold Laven, it stars two of my favorite stars in Martin and Peppard, but it had never even crossed my radar. Always keep looking for those hidden gems because you never know when you will find one. It's somewhat limited by a smallish budget -- lots of indoor sets standing in for "outdoor" scenes -- and the score from Don Costa isn't anything out of this world. But in the end, things fall into place for an enjoyable, sometimes surprisingly violent western.
Your enjoyment will no doubt come from how big a fan you are of 1. westerns and 2. Dean Martin and George Peppard. I'm guilty on both counts so read on with a grain of salt. For starters, it's always fun to see an actor play against type like Martin is doing here. His Alex Flood is a charming, capable, intimidating bad guy; a former sheriff who cleaned up the town and basically took over in the process. Peppard does what he does best; cocky disinterest, looking like he's bored at times but being eternally cool in the process. Their scenes together are the high point of this western. Two tough guys talking over a bottle of whiskey, over a card game, both trying to intimidate the other one into leaving town. I loved the dynamic, both men knowing what the other is capable, but neither willing to blink or give up.
Playing the love interest of the not so painful love triangle, Jean Simmons wouldn't seem to be an obvious choice for a western. Go figure, but she's a worthy opponent and target for Martin and Peppard. Slight and soft with her voice, she's nonetheless one tough lady, even when Martin's Flood starts whaling on her. McIntire is in bed (wounded) much of the movie, but once he heals up, his crotchety veteran of the west fits right in with the toughness of the story. Filling out the ranks as Flood's evil henchmen who will no doubt meet nasty fates are Slim Pickens, Steve Sandor and and Brad Weston. Don Galloway has a good supporting part as Jase, the former sheriff of Jericho run out of town because he stands up to Flood over a hanging.
Two years before the groundbreaking The Wild Bunch was released, here comes 'Jericho.' Obviously not on par with that classic, this movie is nonetheless surprisingly violent. It's not as graphic, but it's certainly getting there. It is effective though because it is a surprise. At one point, we see a man get blasted in the face by a shotgun, blood flowing down his hands and arms. Realistic? No, but the point is made. Plenty of blood squibs (cheesy maybe, better than people clutching at wounds? Yes) as countless good and bad guys bite the dust. A highlight in the nastiness department comes in a fight between Slim Pickens and Peppard, Pickens' evil Yarbrough favoring a horse whip. Brutal, knockdown fight that feels real, not forced at all. Lots of positives, only a few minor negatives. Generally forgotten, well worth tracking down.
Rough Night in Jericho (1967): ***/****