The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Lawless Breed

The Wild West in the post-Civil War years was synonymous with a lot of things, but maybe none more than the infamous gunslingers, gunfighters and pistoleros that roamed the country. Some are instantly recognizable like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, while others don't have that notoriety. Take John Wesley Hardin for instance, reputed to have killed more than 40 people depending on what you read. Stick with Wikipedia though for any facts because 1953's The Lawless Breed...well, it's a steaming pile of you know what.

It's the years following the Civil War in Texas and young John Wesley Hardin (Rock Hudson) has grown up under a strict, God-fearing father who's tried to instill his own strict beliefs in his son. Wes as he's called, he's not interested. He's worked long and hard to be fast with a six-shooter and wants nothing more than to marry his longtime crush, Jane (Mary Castle), and start working at building up a farm where he can care for and sell horses. That's his plan at least. His father's actions push him away to the point young Wes finds himself in a saloon in a card game that goes poorly quickly. A man across the table draws first, but Wes outdraws him, killing him. Witnesses say otherwise though, forcing Hardin on the run as he tries to prove his innocence. The rewards and bounties grow larger and so does the body count as Wes tries to put the killing behind him (sort of). Can he though or will his name and reputation be too much?

My timing here is interesting. I'm currently reading Larry McMurtry's Streets of Laredo, his sequel to one of my favorite books, Lonesome Dove. John Wesley Hardin is a supporting character in the western novel, portrayed as an unhinged killer with no qualms about shooting anyone for any reason. Then, I saw this pop up on a movie channel and thought I'd give it a try. I shouldn't have...

From director Raoul Walsh, 'Breed' is based off the autobiography Hardin wrote about his life while serving a prison sentence in the 1880s/1890s. To say it stretches the truth a little is a massive understatement. It portrays Hardin as a kid who ends up in the wrong place time and time again and has to kill people over and over again because there's just no alternative. Yuck. Gag me. It's like an anti-revisionist western, hell-bent on portraying one of the west's more dastardly killers as...well, a decent guy! The script is a mess, drifting along far too much even at just 83 minutes, and though the casting is interesting (at times), most of it falls short because that source material is just so weak. Both in character portrayal and visual look, 'Breed' is too clean, too polished and too manicured as it tries to make a killer into the unlikeliest of heroes.

A rising star by 1953, Hudson gives it a go, but this isn't great casting for John Wesley Hardin. It tries to portray him as misunderstood but the next second it shows him as a bit of a scamp, a liar and a gambler who doesn't intend to keep his promises. If we're supposed to feel sympathy for this fella, there's an epic misfire. No matter what happens, the character just keeps digging deeper and deeper, never realizing it's all his fault and that he's to blame. If you're not on our "hero's" side, then things are going to get rough before they get better.

The rest of the cast has some name recognition, but again, the script does them no favors. Julie Adams is Rosie, the saloon girl turned potentially more with Wes, representing herself fairly well with a script that has her wearing very little and leaning forward a lot seductively. I'm sure her back was bothering her, nothing sinister about being able to see down her shirt/dress/blouse. In the oddity department, John McIntire plays dual roles, one as Wes' Bible-thumping Dad and the other as his more fun-loving but hard-working uncle. The Uncle is better than the Dad, but still, it's odd to just go along with.  Also look for Dennis Weaver, Lee Van Cleef, Michael Ansara, Forrest Lewis, and Hugh O'Brian in supporting parts.

I kept waiting for something enjoyable, entertaining or interesting to come along but to no avail. By the time the framing device of Wes and his autobiography wraps up...well, it's not good. The newspaper editor looks longingly off-camera and when asked how the story ends says "I'm not sure. It's a story that hasn't ended yet." The ending itself is laughable compared to Hardin's real-life death, read about that HERE with SPOILERS obviously, to the point I actually groaned when "The End" popped up on the screen. It's a B-western, but it's a bad one with very little other than the lovely Julie Adams to recommend giving it a watch. Give it a big, old wide berth!

The Lawless Breed (1953): */****

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