Judge Paul Corupe says this has nothing to do with Pennsylvania Avenue.
"Goodbyes have been said, and maybe it's better that way."—Marshall Coleen Wave (Randolph Scott)
Sony's latest batch of western catalog releases is headlined by A Lawless Street, a dramatic oater that pairs b-movie idol Randolph Scott with up-and-coming star Angela Lansbury. It's a fine, particularly well-acted effort that gives Scott one of his meatiest roles.
Facts of the Case
Most of the residents In Medicine Bend, a small town in the territory of Colorado, are eager to acquire statehood, but the crooked big-shots who all but run the town have other ideas in order to maintain their tight grip over everyone's finances. But Marshal Calem Ware (Randolph Scott, Hangman's Knot) can't be bought by the powers-that-be—he's intent on cleaning up the streets and assuring Colorado's place in the union before he officially retires. When his estranged wife, actress Tally Dickinson (Angela Lansbury, The Manchurian Candidate), arrives in town to star in a production put on by her new beau, the disreputable Hamer Thorne (Warner Anderson, Blackboard Jungle), however, his world is thrown through a loop, and before he can stop it, the town busts out in uncontrollable, illegal chaos.
A fairly popular b-western hero from the 1940s through to the late 1950s, Randolph Scott achieved his greatest popularity with a series of films that matched him with director Budd Boetticher, starting with 1956's Seven Men from Now. A Lawless Street, also produced by Scott, was the actor's very last film before the Boetticher cycle started up, and it's a brief glimmer of things to come, offering Scott a juicy part as a hard-done by lawman whose career has torn him away from the woman he loves.
With an emphasis on drama and historical ties rather than the usual six-gun justice, A Lawless Street is a captivating tale of political maneuvering in the Old West, complete with back-door deals, hired gunmen, and carefully plotted deceptions. Still, against this fast-paced backdrop of intrigue and romance, the film packs its fair share of action and surprises when it needs to, including a shocking third act twist that derails all the viewer's expectations for the finale. There's even a well-staged scene where Scott is attacked in the barber's chair by a vengeance-seeking outlaw. Without blinking, he blows the villain away with a Derringer hidden underneath the sheet tucked into his shirt collar—a scene that would later wind up in the far more violent Clint Eastwood western, High Plains Drifter.
Far from a master thespian himself, Scott never had much of a match in terms of acting, so it's a little startling to see him teamed up with Angela Lansbury here, who is brilliant as always as the woman spurned. She sings a saucy song in the town dance hall, and calmly—but broken-heartedly—tells her husband that she's taking off to Chicago to quietly get them a divorce in one of the film's most powerfully dramatic scenes. Scott was usually short on words as the stoic hero in his b-westerns, but here you can really him stretching his chops on this picture to keep up with her, making the most of his substantial dialogue and a infusing his tired, worn-out Marshal with palpable depth. As opposed to his usual pillars of justice, this character is more of a sad, broken figure who appears to have been off fighting personal demons for the last ten years of his life, and it works beautifully.
The Technicolor process usually looks quite good replicated on DVD, but the hues look fairly subdued in A Lawless Street. There's a nice lack of grain or source artifacts this time though, which is often a problem on these 1950s western releases from Sony. Sound is provided by a passable Dolby mono track—dialogue and music sound just fine. The only extras included are a couple of trailers for barely related western releases. But what's with Sony's ad copy on the back of the disc that identifies Scott's character as "Coleen Wave" and gives the back story rather than what actually happens in the film?
Another Randolph Scott DVD, another collector's only item without much appeal for mainstream audiences. It's unlikely for anyone who's not already a western junkie or a fan of Scott's to venture this deep into the Sony vaults, which is too bad, but those willing to give this fair Technicolor b-western a shot will be pleasantly rewarded.
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