Columbia Pictures // 1954 // 77 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jason Panella // May 2nd, 2013
The Man With the Rope Scar ON HIS NECK!
Three years ago, Jim Guthrie (Dana Andrews, Laura) was strung up by a lynch mob for the murder of his fiancee's brother. Jim somehow escaped, and now he's back with a rope scar on his neck and three hours to prove his innocence. With a summary like this, Three Hours To Kill could have been a hardboiled detective picture. But it's a western, and a fine one at that.
Three Hours To Kill works especially well because of its tight constraints. It uses only a handful of locations, utilizes a small cast well, and keeps the narrative short and sweet. Guthrie works his way through the various suspects, many of them former friends who were quick to put a noose around Jim's neck. He also bumps into his ex-fiancee, Laurie (Donna Reed, From Here To Eternity), which causes a lot of unresolved tension to surface. The bulk of the movie takes place in the early evening, and ace cinematographer Charles Lawton Jr. (The Lady From Shanghai, 3:10 To Yuma) wonderfully handles the creeping shadows. It's a nice visual motif, but also works to remind the viewer that Jim doesn't have much time to solve the case or flee town.
Helmed by B-picture veteran Alfred Werker (He Walked By Night) and co-written by The Fugitive creator Roy Huggins, Three Hours To Kill effectively blurs the line between western and film noir. As the leads, Andrews and Reed are great, and the supporting cast -- including genre regulars like Dianne Foster (Night Passage) -- is equally good. The film never reaches the heights of Anthony Mann's comparable work (like Winchester '73), but Three Hours To Kill is still a moody and effective little blast of frontier noir.
I'm often wary of the quality of MOD (manufactured-on-demand) DVD-R releases like this, but Sony did a nice job with Three Hours To Kill. A large part of this is due to the 1.37:1 video transfer -- the picture is clear and sharp, and Lawton Jr.'s cinematography really pops. The mono audio track is also nice, overall, though there are a few spots where the dialogue is too low in the mix. Not much in the way of extras, though: just the film's original trailer.
Keep the lynch mob away. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Columbia Pictures
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 77 Minutes
Release Year: 1954
MPAA Rating: Not Rated