BR: Bravados, The (1958)

October 20, 2018 | By

Film: Excellent

Transfer: Excellent

Extras: Good

Label:  Twilight Time

Region: All

Released:  September 18, 2018

Genre:  Western

Synopsis: A vengeful widower awaits the execution of the men who supposedly murdered his wife, only to become the head of a posse tasked with hunting them down after a spirited escape.

Special Features:  Isolated Stereo Music Track / Fox Movietone Newreels / Theatrical Trailer / 8-page colour booklet with liner notes by film historian Julie Kirgo / Limited to 3000 copies / Available exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment and




Note: this review contains several spoilers.

Based on the novel by Frank O’Rourke  (The Professionals, The Great Bank Robbery), The Bravados is one of the darkest westerns produced during 1950s by Hollywood. The premise of a husband hunting down the rapists & killers of his wife isn’t unique to genre, but a striking twist soon worms its way to the story’s forefront: Is Jim Douglass (Gregory Peck) hunting the right killers? And more importantly, does he even care he might be wrong?

There is a certain film noir tenor to the characters as well: when Jim’s 100 mile horseback trek takes him to the small town where the quartet of goons is to be hanged, he’s one of several suppressing a true identity. As a visiting stranger, Jim keeps his reasons for witnessing the hanging of four men mum to virtually all except former flame Josefa Velarde (Joan Collins, fresh off The Wayward Bus and Sea Wife). She suppresses still-strong emotions for Jim, a man whose marriage proposal she rejected long ago because she felt ‘she could do better.’ The itinerant hangman seems initially to be a mordantly witty professional, and the four killers feign loud-mouthed, heartless killers, but two are earnest family men, with one pulling jobs to help his child.

The script by Philip Yordan (Johnny Guitar, Broken Lance, The Fall of the Roman Empire) is very tight & lean, and director Henry King (The Song of Bernadette, Captain from Castile, Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing) effectively establishes an uneasy calm in the film’s first third. The day Jim arrives, there’s an emphasis on establishing the town centre’s geography, following characters as they enter and leave the jail, church, hotel and bar. By nightfall, the prisoners are getting itchy to escape.

As the sun sets, a series of scenes are cross-cut before the violent jail break: the Godly townsfolk attending late night mass where the Padre (reliable character actor Andrew Duggan) urges the congregation to forgive the ill-hearted and soon-to-be-hung; a deputy’s efforts to ignore the prisoners’ teasing chatter are rapidly eroded; and Jim waffling back & forth between brooding in his hotel room and later joining Josefa in church, where the Padre’s sermon about forgiveness feels almost vomitous to a man filled with vengeance.

At the peak of an uneasy calm, the executioner triggers a bloody escape, leaving the sheriff (The Young Lions‘ Herbert Rudley) badly wounded. Jim organizes, disciplines, and leads the town posse to drag the prisoners back dead or alive, but he exploits their naivete and inexperience, leaving the deputy to handle the mob while Jim rides ahead and personally metes out justice to each of the thugs. The first targets of his brisk revenge are wily crack shot Ed Taylor (Albert Salmi), and snickering Alfonso Parral (Lee Van Cleef, who had similarly appeared in Fox’ Young Lions).

The puzzlement of the gang, especially leader Bill Zacharay (Stephen Boyd) echoes the similarly perplexed bank robbers in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969); Zachary frequently wonders ‘Who is this guy?’ and  ‘Why does he want their heads on separate platters?’ Boyd’s fiery eyes and hard edges seemed to convince more than a few studios he was ideal for playing heavies, tormentors, sadists, and perverts, but in spite of the typecasting, the actor seemed to have fun deepening Zachary’s depravity with looks and little bits of  business, notably the leering, petting, and rope tugging with little Emma Steinmetz (Kathleen Gallant) whom the group’s grabbed as insurance against the approaching posse.

That undercurrent of malevolence is ratcheted when Zachary finally has a moment with Emma in the cabin of a mountain miner, and although the violation happens off-screen, when the posse reaches Emma, it’s clear she’s been brutally assaulted – a move that validates Jim’s resolve to hunt down the last two prisoners, but also forces the film’s most hasty conversion, in which Josefa suddenly shifts from questioning Jim’s morals to demanding action and merciless justice.

It’s a scriptorial maneuver that has two functions: it kicks the lone assertive woman among the cast to the margins so the male lead can get on with the last leg of his quest, and unfortunately downgrades Josefa from the town’s lone independent businesswoman to not only Jim’s love interest (and future business partner), but an emerging surrogate mother for the daughter he’s neglected during his hunt. She ultimately fills the void he’s partly created in his life, but the finale suggests she’s become more dependent on him.

The final chapter has Jim crossing the border solo into Mexico. The two remaining prisoners differ in tone and resolution: Zachary’s death comes fast because the real tension stems from the moment Jim realizes he’s most likely got the wrong man, but doesn’t care and sees the killing through; and the lengthy ride to the small shack where “half-breed” Lujan (Henry Silva) shows his wife the gold he stole from the prospector that’ll help their sick child. When Jim reawakens from a good smack to the head, he faces unlikely conflicts: accepting food and water from the family he’s terrorizing; reassessing the last killer on his hit list as a father not unlike himself; and letting go of the hatred instead of finishing the hunt.

Silva’s role is small but pivotal in forcing Jim to realize he’s executed three men for the wrong reasons, especially Alfonso, a (supposed) father who begged for his life. In spite of some closure, the blood on Jim’s hands remains fresh, partly because Peck plays the former farmer-turned-hunter as a reticent, haunted man forever fighting off rage, even in the finale when embracing his daughter and Josefa outside of the church.

Besides its superlative cast and director, Bravados benefits massively from the painterly work by Leon Shamroy, one of Fox’s most gifted cinematographers who worked frequently with King (The Black Swan, The Prince of Foxes, The Snows of Kilimanjaro) and seemed to design the film’s colour palette like a classic Technicolor drama within the new Deluxe process.

Shamroy’s knack for ‘colour noir’ was evident in Leave Her to Heaven (1945), and in Bravados he offers high contrast lighting, deep blacks, and pools of saturated blues, amber and reds for the night scenes, Jim’s hotel room, and the church location; and bright day shots of rich blue skies, deep greens, and fantastic yellows for the field grass and Mexican landscape. The film’s visual design resembles a series of religious paintings about morality in ambiguous, conflicted, and depraved states, with characters starkly shot to enhance their grimness. The happiest adult characters consist of arguably a meager two: Emma, ultimately violated by Zachary, and suitor Tom (Barry Coe), a local boy ‘not good enough’ for her father, the town’s general store owner. In the finale, the couple is able to reset their relationship to pre-rape status (their jovial demeanor is classic 50s cinema optimism), but as a moral tale about revenge and justice, The Bravados is exceptionally grim and brutal.

Twilight Time’s Blu sports a gorgeous transfer, and the digital noise reduction isn’t too palpable nor tones down the grain of the stock in several day for night shots. The isolated music track features Hugo Friedhofer’s excellent score which reiterates Alfred Newman’s brooding main theme in robust stereo, and the vintage promo newsreels from the prior DVD release have been retained.

Henry King directed Gregory Peck in 6 classic Fox productions: the WWII drama Twelve O’Clock High (1949), the biblical epic David and Bathsheba (1951), the edgy westerns The Gunfighter (1950) and The Bravados (1958), and the literary-centric dramas The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952) from the Ernest Hemingway story, and F. Scott Fitzgerald biopic Beloved Infidel (1959), after which King directed his final work, Tender Is the Night (1962) from the Fitzgerald novel.



© 2018 Mark R. Hasan





External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmographies: Alfred Newman / Hugo Friedhofer
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Amazon Canada —  Amazon USA —  Amazon UK



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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