The next recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of High Noon is this classic starring Gary Cooper.
Cooper plays Link Jones, a former outlaw, who is forced to hook back up with his gang when he is stranded alongside two other passengers when a train robbery is aborted. Meeting up with the gang, and neither side seems to much care for the other, Jones agrees to help out on one last job.
He is trying to leave his past behind but it seems no matter where he goes, he is recognized, though people can’t quite place him, and he lies about his name and where he’s from on more than one occasion. And as we see, the past catches up with him in a big way, as the name Dock Tobin (Lee J. Cobb), his old gang member gets mentioned a lot, before the baddies show up to rob the train.
His travelling companions include Sam Beasley (Arthur O’Connell), a gambler, and a dancehall girl, Billie Ellis (Julie London). But the baddies are already aboard as well, and Jones soon finds himself back into the life he had hoped to forget, seeing as he is travelling to go pick up a new school teacher for his small town.
When he, Sam and Billie are left behind during the botched robbery, they make for a small homestead where he used to live when he was in the gang. They still reside there. It’s here that he bumps into Dock, who is Link’s uncle, and Coaley (Jack Lord).
To protect the two under his care, he says he’s come back to join up with Dock, and the old man plans to use him for a bank job, and get him back into the old life he tried so hard to leave behind.
And everything around him seems to be drawing him, forcing him back in, and it’s almost an easy choice for him to settle back into it, but there is honor in him now, and he wants to do what’s right. Things come to a head as the bank job gets underway, and a classic showdown is played out across the screen.
Cooper’s performance is enjoyable from the off, he looks in wonder at the locomotive, settling into it is a great moment, and he fits into the role nicely, as he did with High Noon, smart, tired, and a man with a rediscovered sense of honor. I also really dig the vibrant color of the film, it looks great and and the colors practically leap off the screen.
It’s very awesome to see Lord as a baddie, he looks all dirty and untrustworthy, and he embodies his character with a real menace. Lee J. Cobb, who, for me, has always just been Lt. Kinderman in The Exorcist, is loud, violent and the loud-voiced patriarch of the gang.
This was yet another film I had never even heard of, and was more than happy to check it off the ‘Seen It’ list.