Fox // 1953 // 81 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // April 3rd, 2014
The most notorious killers of all time...all in one motion picture!
On 7 September 1892, "Gentleman" Jim Corbett defeated the legendary John L. Sullivan in New Orleans to win the World Heavyweight Championship. He held that belt until 17 March 1897, when he was defeated in the sixteenth round of a contest against Bob Fitzsimmons that took place in the burgeoning frontier town of Carson City, Nevada, of all places. The fight was actually filmed and released in theaters and, at a hundred minutes, became known as the very first feature film. An interesting fact, but of no matter to the case at hand. That fight, however, was restaged in 1953 for City of Bad Men, a weird cross between a western and a noir that uses the fight as the centerpiece of its heist climax. It works about as well as it sounds like it would.
Brett Stanton (Dale Robertson, Return of the Texan) arrives back in Carson City with his brother Gar (Lloyd Bridges, Airplane!) and their gang with the idea of robbing the bank where bettor's money will be stored during the fight, for which the town has been packed with rich people. While there, he meets up with Linda Culligan (Jeanne Crain, Letter to Three Wives), his old flame who is now engaged to the fight promoter. He has kept his intentions secret, though, and after being given a deputy badge to help keep order during this circus of an event, he starts to wonder whether he wants Linda and the clean life more than the riches he has promised his men. But it's not easy to leave that life behind, especially when it's your brother and he has a gun in your back.
The Corbett/Fitzsimmons fight, as the centerpiece of City of Bad Men, makes it seem like something that could work. At the very least, I've never really seen anything like that from this era and, with Jeanne Crain, one of my favorite actresses of the time, as the top-billed star, I figured that, if nothing else, I'd get to watch her for a while, which is always a treat. Unfortunately, she's hardly in it and the boxing match, while indeed the reason for the heist, is only really there for color and comes off a little bit anemic.
Plus, both Dale Robertson and Lloyd Bridges are terribly stiff in their characters and never come off as either believable brothers or believable crooks. The more they're on screen, the more bored I became until I was just praying to get Crain back on screen. Sadly, that barely happens. Director Harmon Jones (The Pride of St. Louis) adds nothing to the film, but doesn't really hurt it either; this is pure journeyman work that isn't awful to watch, but isn't really worth your time.
City of Bad Men comes to DVD as part of Fox's Cinema Archives on-demand service and the results re as expected. There is little physical damage to the full frame Technicolor print, but there are unfortunate color problems. Mostly, it's fine; nice and bright, with natural flesh tones and good looking landscapes, but there are certain scenes that clearly come from a second print, as the colors there are as washed out as could possibly be. Outside of that, though, it's a pretty good representation. There are no real problems with the sound, but there's nothing that good about it, either. No extras on the disc, which is expected.
City of Bad Men has an interesting concept with the boxing recreation, but that's about all it is. The western business is simply a setting, while the heist itself is predictable and, fundamentally, not that interesting in the first place. There is only interest here if you want to see the staging of the fight or you like watching Jeanne Crain do stuff. Other than that, this one is pretty much a failure.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 81 Minutes
Release Year: 1953
MPAA Rating: Not Rated