Not Rated | 1h 38min | Drama, Western | 1958
The outstanding actor Gregory Peck isn’t usually associated with Westerns; he’s typically viewed more as a man who starred in contemporary (at the time) dramas. But Peck’s performances in Westerns often exemplified the best of the genre. After all, this is the same man who starred in films like “The Big Country (1958)” and “The Gunfighter (1950).” In director Henry King’s 1958 Western, “The Bravados,” Peck adds yet another notch to his imitable Western film résumé.
Here, Peck fills the dusty, well-worn boots of rancher Jim Douglass. Douglass has been trailing four men who he’s convinced raped and murdered his wife. After six months, he’s tracked them down to the small town of Rio Arriba, where they’ve been jailed and are scheduled to hang the very next day for an unrelated murder. Needless to say, Douglass doesn’t want to miss the show.
A deputy promptly stops Douglass just outside of town and tells him that his boss, Sheriff Eloy Sanchez (Herbert Rudley), isn’t allowing anyone in town until the day after the hanging—except for the hangman, who is on his way. But Douglass’s grim expression compels the deputy to guide him into town, but only if the rancher temporarily turns over his guns to the deputy.
When Douglass and his deputy escort arrive in town, the locals don’t waste any time winding up the gossip mill. While some don’t know what to make of Douglass—who usually answers questions with monosyllables (if at all)—others suspect he may be there to help break the four killers out of jail.
An old flame of Douglass’s, Josefa Velarde (a young Joan Collins), happens to live in the town and tracks him down to the local watering hole. Just as Josefa thinks there may be a chance to rekindle their romance, he tells her that he married another woman after being with her, so she leaves in disappointment, not knowing that he’s actually a widow.
Sheriff Sanchez is sympathetic to Douglass, sensing that somehow the four outlaws hurt the rancher’s life. Indeed, Douglass confides in Sheriff Sanchez that the four are responsible for his wife’s murder. The sheriff lets Douglass inspect each of the murderers, and in a chilling scene, Douglass intimidates the killers one by one. The four are the gang’s leader Bill Zachary (Stephen Boyd), Leandro Lujan (Henry Silva), Alfonso Parral (Lee Van Cleef), and Ed Taylor (Albert Salmi).
Later, Josefa senses Douglass’s inner turmoil. Because of the horrific circumstances surrounding his wife’s death, Douglass has lost his faith. But as a Catholic man in a Catholic town, he agrees to walk her to church, where all of the townsfolk have gathered for services.
But while everyone is attending church, the four outlaws escape and are once more on the run as fugitives from justice. When it is discovered that the criminals stole horses and escaped through a nearby pass, the town forms a posse in order to track them down on a “dead or alive” retrieval mission.
Douglass, who already has a good amount of experience tracking the fugitives under his dusty belt, decides to lead the posse. From there, gun smoke emits from the barrels of various pistols and rifles, and the body count begins to rise.
Just as with “The Gunfighter,” this is one of Peck’s finer performances. He is similarly understated yet carries a smoldering intensity that manifests itself in his piercing stare and no-nonsense demeanor. Peck’s Douglass doesn’t talk a lot—he doesn’t have to. Indeed, he bristles with the quiet, barely-kept-in-check ferocity of a man on a do-or-die mission to avenge his wife’s murder.
Joan Collins is great as always as Douglass’s love interest—she pecks (no pun intended) away at his tough exterior as the posse gradually closes in on the main bad boys. Likewise, Andrew Duggan has a small yet powerful role as the town’s padre, who immediately recognizes Douglass’s inner conflict—a good man who is slowly sinking into a cauldron of hatred.
“The Bravados” has many biblical references and could easily be considered a “Catholic Western” (Peck was Roman Catholic). It shows that sometimes even the best of us can lose our way if blinded by the thirst for vengeance. Ultimately, it’s a tale of redemption with a surprise ending that I didn’t see coming—but one that left me grinning from ear to ear.
Director: Henry King
Starring: Gregory Peck, Joan Collins, Stephen Boyd
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Release Date: June 25, 1958
Rated: 4 stars out of 5